- Published on Wednesday, 08 August 2012 15:10
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That’s the question school officials were asking the Colonial Beach Planning Commission at last Thursday’s regular meeting during a public hearing to grant a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for a new private school for special needs students.
Kathleen Fitzsimmons has requested a conditional use permit to utilize the former Westmoreland Baptist Church building located at 204 Garfield Ave. for a private school for special needs students in Colonial Beach.
The school located just across from the rescue squad would operate as the Gateway Private School and would feature an educational program designed to provide each youth with the opportunity to succeed in life, to find their own strengths and to make a commitment to a future of pro-social self sufficiency, according to the application submitted.
Fitzsimmons application states that the school provides an opportunity to youths between 3rd and 12th grades who have educational, emotional or learning difficulties.
Colonial Beach Superintendent Donna Power attended the planning commission hearing for the requested CUP. Power was concerned with how the schools opening would affect the public school system’s funding. Power expressed her concerns saying, “I just have a few concerns or clarifications from the town’s public school system.” Power questioned the private schools source of funding, whether it be state revenue or tuition based. Power asked, “Does the school have intentions for charter?” Power explained, “That of course would have a direct impact on the financial security and budget of the present public school system.”
Power also notified the commission that the application indicated that the Colonial Beach Public Schools were sponsoring the application. Power denied this was true stating, “We have no knowledge of that.”
The confusion may have stemmed from a letter from Building and Zoning Director Gary Mitchell to Fitzsimmons, contained in the application papers provided to the commission, where Mitchell listed issues, questions and comments from various entities through out the town. Among those issues listed under Colonial Beach School Board six questions where listed; if the school had been issued a license to educate and if teachers would be qualified to teach special needs children. Also asked was if the school would provide transportation, would the school be subject to Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) mandates, would the school receive any public funding and when the school would open.
Planning Commission Chair Moureen Holt address Powers concerns saying, “Anything to do with funding, charter or tuition; all that has to do with town council. The planning commission only addresses meeting the comprehensive plan and zoning requirements.”
Mitchell first gave the commission members a brief overview of the building and zoning’s staff report outlining the conditions of the CUP.
Most notably the applicant will be required to have a lot consolidation plat prior to or upon approval of a certificate of occupancy since the building in question sits on three plats of land.
VDOT has also recommended that the applicant installs a standard VDOT commercial entrance for this site. The building and zoning staff have added this condition to the CUP.
The town has adopted a Safe Routes to School Program, the issuance of a the applicant’s CUP will not affect any work being done for the SRTS program. The site of the new school has a sidewalk nearly all the way around the property, staff is recommending the extensions of that sidewalk to the property line allowing it to be tied into the town-wide expansion of sidewalks.
The applicant will also be required to perform standard upgrade landscaping to meet with the Chesapeake Bay Act and the town’s zoning ordinances. Staff will work with the applicant to educate them on these needs.
The applicant will be required to provide a design review of the building plan by a professional.
The general development plan submitted showed the site is beyond the 36% impervious coverage ratio allowed by zoning which will be allowed since it is an existing condition, but further increase in the impermeable surface would require storm-water mitigation by the applicant.
The applicant, Fitzsimmons, stated that she is in agreement with all these conditions.
Fitzsimmons spoke to the commission, first thanking them for the opportunity to bring a private school to the community. She gave a brief background saying, “We have been a private day school in Fredericksburg for three years, prior to that we were a residential school and we still run resident group homes for youths.”
Fitzsimmons said “We do have a solid reputation and currently are serving Westmoreland, Colonial Beach, King George, Stafford and Essex. Because kids are transported many miles to get to a site that addresses special needs, we think it would be very advantageous to open a site here in preparing to move forward.”
Through question and answers by the commission, it was learned that the school is applying to serve 25 students year-round and the hours of operation would be 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. The school hopes to open by September 4 and will employ around staff members, including instructors. The issuance of the permit will not affect the cost of the SRTS program and transportation will be provided by the private school.
Another condition recommended by staff was that, “All teachers and staff, as well as the operator of the school, shall have the proper licenses and endorsements from the State of Virginia Department of Education as required by law prior to opening for operations.”
Commissioner David Coombes disagreed with this condition explaining, “I don’t think it is any of our business whether the teachers or staff of this school have the proper licenses, etc. It goes far beyond the bounds of what we should consider and I just want to reiterate what I term regulatory over reach. This needs to come out of here.”
Coombes motioned to send the CUP to town council with a favorable recommendation excluding the condition requiring licensing. The recommendation was approved with exclusion unanimously.
Fitzsimmons was informed that the council would advertise for public hearing and try to hold a special meeting on Thursday, August 16.
In other news Josh Frederick gave a brief status report of the subcommittee established to address the town’s sign ordinance.
Frederick said, “Two weeks ago the group met to look at updating the sign ordinance, to accommodate digital signage and to streamline and remove redundancies.”
“I think we have developed a common scope of what your looking for,” Frederick continued, “We’re still in the comment phase, I think at our next meeting in September we will have a draft to give you guys to comment on and hopefully advertise.”