Charter school to face opposition over special use permit for new location
Neighbors who live near the proposed site of a new charter school in Haywood County plan to oppose a special use permit that would allow the school to be built in their community.
“There is a lot of concern about the quality of life and integrity of the rural community and the traffic,” said Tanna Timbes, who lives near the property. “Modular buildings like they are proposing are going to ruin the integrity of our community.”
Shining Rock Classical Academy has made a $1.1 million offer to buy a 35-acre vacant tract on the outskirts of Waynesville at the intersection of U.S. 276 and Raccoon Road.
The school is opening in two weeks, and will temporarily lease a building at Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center for the first half of the school year. By January, the school hopes to be operating out of modular units on its new property.
However, the timetable depends on the special use permit going smoothly so site work can commence. The timetable is also contingent on conflicts being resolved with a farmer who is growing corn on the property where they plan to build (see related article.)
The property marks the edge of the rural-urban interface. Housing density declines and the landscape gives way to a rural pastoral setting as you head out of town — a setting Timbes said would be compromised by a school.
“That is definitely a concern and is something that bothers everybody,” Timbes said.
The property, which lies within Waynesville’s land-use planning boundary, is zoned as low-density residential, prohibiting anything along the line of condos, gas stations, offices, or stores.
There’s an exemption specifically for schools, as long as it passes muster with the town planning board for a special use permit.
A public hearing on the special use permit to “evaluate the potential for adverse impacts on adjacent property” will be held at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 17, at the new town hall.
Neighbors within 500 feet of the property in every direction will get a letter from the town by week’s end informing them of the public hearing. A sign will also be placed on the property to alert nearby residents of the pending zoning decision.
“We are getting the word out in Francis Cove for sure,” Timbes said.
There are six criteria that must be met for a special use permit. Some wouldn’t really apply, such as noxious odors, offensive smells or public health issues.
Other criteria are seemingly subjective, however, like whether the school “conforms to the character of the neighborhood.” Traffic congestion — and whether the charter school is taking “adequate measures” to minimize it — will also be weighed by the planning board.
Timbes said traffic is one of the community’s concerns.
The two roads flanking the site are narrow two-lane roads with little shoulder to speak of. The school projects an enrollment of over 500 students in grades K-12 within 10 years. Given uncertainties over whether the school would have busses, Timbes believes the traffic congestion picking up and dropping off students would be an issue.
The school is required to conduct a traffic study as part of its special use permit application, according to Town Planner Elizabeth Teague. Teague said the traffic study would take the long-range occupancy of the site into account, in addition to the current short-term enrollment.
This is the second time the school will go before the planning board for a special use permit.
The school initially planned to locate on a vacant tract along Ratcliff Cove — a similar tract on the rural edge of town not far from its current site.
The charter school board changed its mind about the first property in June, however, citing delays getting the site ready and higher than projected costs.
It had already gone through the special use permit on the first tract — at least partly. The school’s permit was approved by the town planning board, but neighboring property owner John Queen appealed it. The appeal ended up in Haywood County Superior Court but was never heard because the site fell through and the appeal became moot.
The school was prevented from doing anything on the site while the appeal was pending.
“It puts a stay on it until the appeal is heard,” Teague explained.
Any delays with the special use permit this time could jeopardize the school’s timeline of being up and running on the site by January.
After its last site fell through, school leaders had just three months to find a temporary location before the start of school in August. Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center agreed to lease a building to the school from mid-August through December for $28,000.
Ken Howle, the director of advancement at Lake Junaluska, said an extension of the lease beyond December is a possibility.
“If we have not leased out the space to another organization we would welcome Shining Rock to request an extension to their lease agreement with us,” Howle said.
Shining Rock has submitted a site plan to the town planning office showing how the modular units, parking lot and road would be situated. The charter school board hired Patrick Bradshaw of Civil Engineering Concepts, based in Waynesville, for $40,000 to develop the site plan and shepherd the site development process.
In addition to the special use permit, the school would need:
• An erosion control permit from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
• Approval of its building designs per aesthetic requirements in the town’s development standards.
• Approval from the Waynesville town board if the school wants to connect to the town’s water and sewer system.