Shining Rock hires local lawyer for land negotiations
Despite resistance from surrounding landowners, Shining Rock Classical Academy is moving forward with plans to set up Haywood County’s first charter school on the corner of Raccoon Road and U.S. 276 in Waynesville.
The charter school board approved hiring local attorney Burt Smith during a special called meeting last Friday to represent them in a dispute with the property owner and the farmer who is currently leasing the property.
Shining Rock is under contract to purchase 35 acres of farmland from Charles Collins, owner of Collins Orchard, for $1.1 million. With 75 days available to determine if the site will be feasible for a school, Shining Rock quickly began the process of soil testing.
Wilson was shocked to find part of his corn crop damaged by an engineering firm driving through the cornfield to scope out places to drill. Shining Rock has offered to compensate Wilson for the damage, but an amount hasn’t been settled on yet.
In the meantime, Wilson’s lawyer, Frank Queen, sent Shining Rock a letter stating that no one shall trespass on the property until Wilson’s lease is up next May. With the due diligence time ticking away, the charter school board is eager to reach an agreement with all parties so soil testing can continue.
Now that Smith has been retained, Shining Rock Academy School Board Chair Tara Keilberg anticipates the dispute will be settled soon. She told board members Smith would be charging a flat $250 an hour fee with no retainer.
“With the direction we’re taking, I think this is going to be brief,” she said at the meeting. “Hopefully we can resolve this quickly — I don’t see it going on and on.”
Board member Tim Foley, who was participating in the meeting via telephone, asked if the board could set a limit on how much it was willing to spend on negotiations so they could come back and revisit the issue if it reached more than the approved amount. He suggested a $10,000 cap.
Keilberg said she didn’t see it getting close to that amount and recommended setting the cap at $2,500. The board unanimously approved hiring Smith with the caveat that his fees are not to exceed $2,500. The board also went into closed session to discuss “facilities” but no vote was taken after returning to a public session.
Shining Rock is also preparing for an Aug. 17 public hearing at 5:30 p.m. during the Waynesville planning board meeting to request a special use permit to allow the school to be built on the Raccoon Road site. The property is currently zoned as low-density residential, which doesn’t allow for things like stores or condos, but there is an exception for schools as long as the town approves a special permit. Shining Rock will need to show that the school won’t have any adverse impact on adjacent property.
Property owners within 500 feet of the proposed site have been notified and more than 60 members of the community came together last Sunday at the Francis Cove community pavilion to discuss the upcoming hearing. Many people in the community have expressed their opposition to the charter school and think the school will cause traffic congestion and may change the community’s landscape.
Keilberg said the school received notice of the Francis Cove community meeting last Thursday. Board member Nancy East sent an email to one of the organizers — Tanna Timbes — asking if someone from Shining Rock could attend the meeting to provide information, but she was told the meeting was only for community members.
“We did what we’re supposed to do and offered our presence,” Keilberg said. “We’ve also posted our site plan and elevation sketch from the architect on our website so people can get an idea of the landscaping. It’s not just going to be ugly trailers plopped down — we’re trying to make it as attractive as possible.”
She thinks the school will meet the six criteria needed to receive a special-use permit from the town of Waynesville. Patrick Bradshaw, the civil engineer hired to develop Shining Rock’s site plan, will be speaking on the board’s behalf during the hearing. Keilberg said parents who drive by the site on a regular basis or those who live in the area have been invited to speak briefly at the meeting about what they think the school will bring to the area.
“We want to get along with our neighbors,” she said.