Monday, July 1, 2013

Muddy waters

For a while, it looked like the kerfuffle over the relocation of Benedictine College Preparatory (BHP) was resolved. The school and the county worked through all of the details of converting the property into an educational facility. The school found an adjoining property owner willing to sell some land to facilitate construction of the wider entrance required by VDOT.

Construction started and stopped, and started again. Now it is complete.

Just when it seemed like things were moving forward, an appeal concerning the plan of development approved by the county in accordance with standard procedure, was filed with the Board of Zoning Appeals by some people who live near the school.

Allegations in the appeal focus on concerns about the plan’s failure to adequately address the downstream consequences of runoff from the newly expanded entrance. Although VDOT would seem to be primarily responsible for all matters dealing with access to state highways like River Road, the matter was bounced back to the county.

If the motivation behind this appeal is fear that changes to grading and increased paving will cause storm water runoff to damage adjoining properties, the current heavy rains should provide ample, irrefutable evidence to either refute or support the allegations.

The county and BCP contend that the appellants: Andrew Thexton, James E. Harris Jr., Delano and Berlene Richardson have no standing to bring the complaint and that the BZA has no jurisdiction to rule on the matter. Resolution of the appeal challenging the January 29, 2013 approval of a POD is still up in the air after two protracted BZA sessions.

At the June 17 session the BZA voted 2-2 in the matter of jurisdiction after meeting in closed session with its attorney Maynard Sipe.

The tie vote usually is construed to uphold the county’s position, because, according to its own bylaws, a majority vote is required for the BZA to overturn the extant policy.

However, the prevailing notion this time is that the tie rule applies only to matters in the appeal, not procedural issues like jurisdiction.

The county and BCP disagreed with that interpretation and moved to have the jurisdiction vote reconsidered on July 12. If the BZA still considers itself to have jurisdiction it will reconvene in August to hear testimony of witnesses about the particulars of the January appeal.

At the June 17 hearing, BCP headmaster Jesse Grapes said that the school will open as scheduled for the fall semester. County Attorney Norman Sales said that the county is able to issue a certificate of occupancy for BCP regardless of the pending appeal.

To the untrained eye, topographic maps included in the POD indicate that the land around BCP slopes toward the James River and Rt. 288. As water flows downhill, any erosion should be on BCP property. If detailed arguments are eventually heard by the BZA, no doubt civil engineers on both sides will present mind numbing evidence to support their contentions.

The gracious plenty of rainfall the area is now receiving should provide ample opportunity to gather evidence to support or refute the storm water runoff issue and help to resolve the matter.

Aside from the concerns about storm water runoff, vaguer issues seem to be muddying the waters. The District 5 seat on the BZA remains vacant, so its citizens have no representation in the proceedings. At an organizational meeting in late April, District 1 BZA member Dr. Richard Carchman contended that an empty seat for the district where the matter is located does not pass the smell test.

Yasmine Hamad, appointed to the District 4 seat earlier this year, has become an integral part of the BZA. Board of Supervisors’ chair Ken Peterson, who represents District 5, said that finding someone free of bias in this matter that is willing to jump into this fray has been challenging. He is leery of making any appointment that could be construed as trying to influence the outcome one way or the other. District 5 residents with no opinion in the matter willing to deal with irate phone calls and massive briefs, should contact their supervisor.

Peterson did explain that the Board recently voted to add alternate members to the BZA to ensure that a tie scenario does not happened again.

When the smoke has cleared, the winners in this dispute will be the attorneys involved. According to the county’s online check register, Goochland has shelled out more than $45,000 in outside counsel fees since last December. The opponents and BCP have also retained counsel. A legal stenographer was hired by BCP to record the proceedings. The meter is still running. Guess who pays that tab?

To be sure, no one should be deprived of due process or denied a mechanism to question actions taken by the county that could harm their property. Members of the BZA should strive to make impartial rulings based on the law rather behind the scenes maneuvering.

However, if this BZA appeal is one more attempt to sandbag BCP’s move to River Road, the opponents need to get over it. Barring an act of God, the school will open for classes this fall at the River Road site.






No comments: