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Planners endorse permit for academy

Posted on Wednesday, June 19, 2013 at 9:31 pm

MILFORD – The Caroline County Planning Commission voted unanimously Wednesday night to recommend approval of Abundant Life Academy’s request for a permit to relocate its Christian boarding school from Utah to Caroline.

The school’s request for a special exception permit now goes to the Board of Supervisors, which has the final say-so. The panel is expected to take up the request and to hold a public hearing on it at its regular July 9 meeting.

This is the second time the academy has sought a special exception permit in order to use the former Remuda Ranch facility on Passing Road about eight miles east of Sparta. The Planning Commission also approved the school’s request last year, but the Board of Supervisors turned it down.

Paul Branning, the New Jersey businessman who owns the academy, said after the Planning Commission meeting that this time is different. He believes the Board of Supervisors will approve the request this time around “because we’re better prepared this year.”

The academy caters to troubled high school teens, and some residents near the property last year were worried about children running away from the facility and getting into trouble.

This time around the academy has submitted detailed plans for screening students for admission as well as the security measures it will have in place, noted Branning. “I believe we answered all those questions,” he said.

The academy also is in the process of reaching out to and engaging the community, he said. It held a meeting on the property Tuesday night with neighbors to address any concerns they may have, said Branning.

The Planning Commission voted 5-0 to recommend approval of the request – Milton Bush, Pete Davis, Bob Fiumara, Les Stanley, and Tim Thompson. William Smith was absent.

Several members of the commission complimented school officials for the thoroughness of its application. Davis, chairman, said the academy had done a “great job.”

The academy’s application drew little public comment during a public hearing.

The Planning Commission was briefed on the request by county planner Angeline Pitts and then heard from Charles Payne, an attorney representing the academy, Keith Ferguson, who will be its principal if it succeeds in coming to Caroline, Richard Yost, superintendent of Fredericksburg Christian Schools, which has been providing consulting services to the academy, and a security consultant.

The school will have a little over 40 employees, and 90 percent of them will be local hires, said Payne. The academy will have an annual payroll estimated at $1.6 million and will spend an estimated $700-800,000 yearly with 30-40 local vendors.

Students who are admitted to the academy will be children who are not under court orders nor are they juvenile delinquents, according to Payne. They will be carefully screened according to health, legal, and other guidelines that are similar to those used by other boarding schools in Virginia, he said.

The Planning Commission also voted unanimously to approve a request by the State Fair of Virginia to move some activities at its venue, The Meadow Event Park in Doswell. Livestock exhibits will be moved to the south side of state Route 30, and rides and amusements for small children will be moved to an area east of the mansion on the property.

In addition, it voted 5-1 three times to approve three proposed zoning ordinance amendments to allow the development of rural resorts. Stanley cast each dissenting vote.

The amendments are being sought by Silver Cos. in order to develop a retreat center on property it owns along U.S. 17 near historic Moss Neck manor in Rappahannock Academy.

Both the State Fair’s request and the rural resort zoning amendments now go to the Board of Supervisors for action.