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Planners set hearing on academy request

Posted on Monday, June 17, 2013 at 1:37 pm

The Caroline County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing this week on a request by Abundant Life Academy to establish a Christian boarding school for troubled teens at the former Remuda Ranch property.

Many of the questions that arose in conjunction with the academy’s 2012 request have been answered in its new application, planner Angeline Pitts told the panel at its regular June 5 work session.

Neverthless, “There are a lot of questions that need to be answered,” said Commissioner Les Stanley.

The public hearing will be held when the commission holds its regular meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Community Services Center in Milford.

Caroline Sheriff Tony Lippa reviewed the application earlier and approved it with a few conditions. The school’s security program should be in place before children arrive, and any crimes should be reported to the sheriff’s office, he said. He also recommended that the county be reimbursed for costs associated with finding or retrieving children who run away more than once, similar to a policy for responding to false alarms.

Lippa wrote that he had “no problems” provided that students are admitted to the academy based on its screening guidelines.

Commission chairman Pete Davis asked if the academy would be willing to make Lippa’s recommendations part of its security plan. His recommendations could be made conditions of the special exception permit the school is seeking, responded Pitts.

Stanley reiterated that the academy should have a “well written comprehensive security plan in place.” The academy’s application includes details of a security program.

Commissioner Milton Bush spoke favorably of the school’s request. The academy possibly could save the county money for students who are sent out of Caroline for special services, he suggested. “We need something like this,” said Bush, for children who are not in public schools.

The academy is currently located in Utah. It is seeking a special exception permit in order to operate a boarding school at the former Remuda Ranch site, which is located off Passing Road about seven miles east of Sparta.

The property, which is in the Bowling Green District, is owned by Beverly Run, a limited liability corporation controlled by Hanover County businessman A.D. Whittaker and others.

The academy requested an expedited review process because it wants to be open and running by September for the 2013-14 school year.

The academy sought permission last year to relocate to Remuda Ranch. The Planning Commission recommended approving a special exception permit for the academy, but the Board of Supervisors voted twice by 4-2 to deny the permit.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved three zoning ordinance amendments in April to allow for boarding schools. The amendments define boarding schools, allow them in a rural preservation zoning district by a special exception permit, and establish standards for boarding schools.

Abundant Life Academy would have an initial enrollment of no more than 88 students, although that number could grow to 200, according to its application. It would offer typical high school activities for students, including team sports such as football, basketball, and soccer.

The academy would hire about 40 employees with annual salaries ranging from $21-110,000. It also submitted a list of about three dozen businesses in Bowling Green and Caroline that it expects to use as vendors.

It plans to make an investment of about $8 million worth of capital improvements to the property, which would generate additional real estate tax revenue to Caroline.

The academy asked police veteran Chris Alberta to review its admission standards, current security procedures in effect in Utah, and other factors related to security.

“Students at ALA at not court ordered and admission standards are similar to private military academies located throughout Virginia,” wrote Alberta. “By and large the student body population is comprised of young people, mostly teenagers, who have reached a fork in the road between a productive life and one that may spiral into destructive behavior without proper guidance and positive influences.” The academy does not admit students who have exhibited violence or have a chemical addiction, he noted.

The Planning Commission will also hold a public hearing at the same meeting on a request by the State Fair of Virginia to relocate some events at its property at The Meadow Event Park.

Fair officials have submitted an application to amend a proffer on the site. They are seeking two changes. One would allow moving the fair’s ‘kiddie land’ – rides for small children – to a larger area, and another would permit relocating the livestock exhibit area to the south side of state Route 30 adjacent to the equestrian facilities.

The Planning Commission also is expected to take up proposed zoning ordinance amendments that would allow for the development of rural resorts. The amendments are being sought by Silver Cos. in order to develop a retreat center on property it owns near historic Moss Neck manor.