Supervisors to hear substantial accord issue

The Board of Supervisors voted last week to hold a public hearing on June 23 on the Planning Commission’s recent finding that the conversion of Chester Middle School to a ninth-grade academy is in compliance with the comprehensive plan.

At the panel’s afternoon meeting on May 26, Board of Supervisors Chairman Dan Gecker said he was aware of a desire to move the report on the Planning Commission’s substantial accord determination on the conversion of Chester Middle to a ninth-grade academy for Thomas Dale High School to the evening meeting.

School officials have said moving Thomas Dale’s freshmen to the Chester Middle building will help alleviate overcrowding at the high school.

The substantial accord procedure “promotes coordinated planning in the siting of public facilities and maintains compatible land use patterns,” according to the policy. Last month, Planning Director Kirk Turner filed the application for substantial accord because he felt the finding was necessary for the school’s new use, he said. School officials have said the School Board did not need to seek substantial accord for the change.

On May 18, the Planning Commission voted 3-2, with Matoaca District Commissioner F. Wayne Bass and Midlothian District Commissioner Reuben J. Waller Jr. in dissent, to find that using Chester Middle as a ninth-grade academy next year is substantially in accord with the county’s comprehensive plan.

At the supervisors’ evening session on May 26, Gecker said the item was deferred because residents had asked to speak to the board about the substantial accord finding.
“This is an item that typically would not have public comment,” he said. “It is the acceptance or rejection of a report by the commission to the board on substantial accord.” The public comment would have taken place at the commission, he said.

The issue before the board was the land-use issue, not the operational issue, Gecker said. He said he knew there’d been a lot of press about the school’s conversion and whether it was in the best interest of Chester, but that wasn’t the matter before the board.

But, he said, the chairman can allow speakers as his discretion.

“We’re certainly happy to have you all come and speak, but please understand the limitations of our role,” he said.

Matoaca District Supervisor Marleen Durfee said the supervisors were not in a position to undo any part of the decision the School Board made, but she was concerned there was confusion on when the matter would be coming to the Board of Supervisors. She said she’d like to defer the matter for 30 days so residents would have a chance to speak to it.

Vice Chairman Jim Holland said he agreed with Durfee, and seconded her motion to have a public hearing on the matter in June. Clover Hill Supervisor Art Warren said he also supported the motion, and the board should err on the side of more, rather than less, public comment.

Ultimately, the board opted to hold a public hearing on the matter at its June 23 meeting.

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