The Benedictine matter
On Tuesday, December 6, the Goochland Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on an application for a conditional use permit to allow Benedictine High School to move its operations to property owned by the Benedictine Society of Virginia. The site in question is on the south side of River Road, just east of Rt. 288.
The facility, which was built about 50 years ago, before Goochland adopted zoning, began life as a preparatory high school for seminary bound students. A dwindling interest in the priesthood among other things, led to its closing.
For a time after that, the property was used to rehabilitate those with chemical dependency problems and is currently used as an abbey for Benedictine Monks. The grounds are used as athletic fields for Benedictine High School, which has been located on Sheppard Street in Richmond’s museum district for a century.
Benedictine has owned the property in question for some time and the cadets regularly engage in athletic and other activities on the site.
About four years ago Benedictine leadership began to explore moving the school to the Goochland property. Two groups, some residents of the River Road corridor and a faction of Benedictine alumni, expressed strong opposition to the move.
Those opposed to the move are not happy. During the public hearing held by the planning commission in July, whose minutes are on the county website www.co.goochland.va.us under the planning commission tab, those factions expressed themselves at length.
Before that meeting county residents were inundated with mailings and robocalls from unidentified sources claiming that Goochland taxpayers would be forced to fund the extension of water and sewer lines to the Benedictine property and that the influx of these students would place an unacceptable burden on county law enforcement and fire-rescue resources and drastically increase traffic on River Road.
The property has a finite water allocation of 10,000 gallons per day. At the July hearing, representatives for Benedictine contended that the cadets actually use less water than state department of education amounts used for comparison. Unfortunately, no supporting evidence such as current water bills from the Sheppard Street facility and student enrollment was presented to back up the claim.
The information in the December 6 board packet, which is available on the county website www.co.goochland.va.us, states that Benedictine expects its corps of cadets to grow to more than 500 in future decades even though the finite water allocation will support fewer than 400. No alternate water sources are mentioned.
The supervisors held an initial public hearing at their September meeting after acceding to a request by Benedictine to defer a vote for 90 days. That hearing was quite a show complete with original banjo music.
All sorts of “facts” are swirling around right now. Opponents cite a 2007 from the late Don Charles former Director of Community Development stating that the county does not permit private wastewater treatment plants.
At its June 3, 2008 meeting, the board of supervisors unanimously voted to adopt an ordinance allowing alternate on- site sewage systems that included stringent maintenance and inspection requirements.
The issue with the existing Benedictine wastewater plant is what will happen if it, for whatever reason, stops working. The costs for any repair or replacement will be the sole responsibility of Benedictine. Goochland County does not fund repair or replacement of any utilities belonging to private entities.
The real question is will the county close the school if its wastewater treatment plant stops working and does Benedictine have the funds to quickly resolve the situation.
Also, as the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will be keeping careful watch over any discharges made by Benedictine into the James River violations on that front should be treated seriously.
Although the county seems to indicate that Benedictine cannot move its school to Goochland without the CUP, the school’s website seems to indicate that the move is a done deal. Renovations on the facility are in progress. A section on the Benedictine website entitled “the next hundred years” is set in Goochland.
Benedictine contends it will cause students and parents to access the school from the western terminus of River Road at Rt. 6. According to one of several pro move pamphlets mailed to Goochlanders in the past weeks, Benedictine contends that moving all school operations to Goochland will actually reduce the traffic on River Road because there will be no back and forthing to Sheppard Street.
Local residents contend that a high school has no place in their community. They fear Benedictine could pave the way for Collegiate and St. Catherine’s to complement their area athletic facilities with schools.
Should the CUP be denied, Benedictine will continue to use the River Road property for athletic events.
So, what’s in it for Goochland?
Supporters of the move claim that having a prestigious private school in our midst is a good thing. The school will provide a local option for those who wish to send their sons to a private school. They believe home values will be enhanced by proximity to Benedictine.
Opponents of the move cite traffic, noise, strain on utilities and other county resources. They believe the school will have a negative impact on nearby home prices.
Regardless of the vote on the CUP, it seems likely that the losing side will take legal action.