The Clarke County Planning Commission has approved a 22-lot subdivision proposed by the Salvation Army just west of the current Clarke County High School. The application for the “by-right” subdivision had been delayed by negotiations between the Salvation Army and the County over the consumer disclosure statement (CDS) associated with the property. Planning Commissioners and county officials have today accepted a negotiated CDS agreement with the Salvation Army which makes the subdivision application compliant with County subdivision ordinances.
“The Salvation Army’s subdivision plot application is in order” said Clarke County Zoning Administrator Jesse Russell. “They have also submitted the consumer disclosure statement as required.”
Russell recommended that the Planning Commissioners approve the request with the condition that a road construction bond be placed with the County Zoning Department prior to commencement of any construction.
With no further discussion or debate the Planning Commissioners approved the project unanimously with commissioners Dunning (White Post) and Steinmetz (Berryville) absent for the vote, however Dunning joined the meeting after the issue was decided.
While Salvation Army lawyer John Farrell, who faced no questioning from the commissioners, was pleased to have final approval in hand there was still some dissent prior to the application’s approval.
Supervisor Barbara Byrd (Russell) expressed concern and uncertainty over the revised CDS statement.
Addressing the commissioners Byrd asked “Is this true that the Salvation Army has submitted a full consumer disclosure statement? Is this a full disclosure?”
“I believe that’s the case” replied Chairman Ohrstrom.
“So there will be no gray cloud of doubt on this at all, correct?” Byrd asked.
“It’s a consumer disclosure statement that’s totally accurate as of the day it’s filed” Ohrstrom responded. “Things can change after that.”
“Well I’m just a little worried about this and I was concerned about what they may be trying to hide and why they were not actually submitting a full disclosure. I hope that if this transaction does go through that they will hold true to their promise of giving the 71 acres to the School Board for use by the youth and the children of our county.”
With no public comment beyond Mrs. Byrd’s statement, the Commissioners closed the public hearing and approved the application.
“Mr. Chairman, I’m going to miss you” Farrell said to Planning Commission chairman George Ohrstrom upon exiting after the vote. “And Merry Christmas.”
“Same to you” Ohrstrom replied.
The Salvation Army’s application ends the most recent chapter of a complex seven-year saga that has included two Clarke County School Boards, the Clarke County Education Foundation, The Town of Berryville and a wealthy landowner who donated property for a school site in exchange for altering the course of a sewer line that had been planned to cross her property.
The donated school site was later rejected by the current School Board in favor of the current location of the soon-to-open high school.
Although the approved subdivision contains a 71-acre site intended for “education use” the likelihood of the site being donated to Clarke County may have been jeopardized by the protracted negotiations prior to the application’s approval.
Sources familiar with the Salvation Army say that the organization has been offended by its treatment by County officials during the subdivision application process and want’s little more to do with Clarke County.
If the County’s relationship with the Salvation Army has been harmed, little will have been gained in the trade. In the end, the County appears to have agreed to most of the Salvation Army’s initial application request, including ultimately waiving recordation of the consumer disclosure statement in favor of simply recording the statement on the subdivision plat.
“According to our counsel the CDS meets our ordinance requirements” said Planning Commissioner Richard Thuss (Buckmarsh).
Planning Commissioner Pete Dunning said that he wasn’t satisfied with the consumer disclosure statement but agreed that the applicant had met the letter of the County’s ordinance.
“My gut feeling is that there is more to this” Dunning said after the meeting. “Why make such a ruckus if you’re not trying to hide something?”
With the Planning Commission approval the Salvation Army faces no further hurdles to either directly developing the property, selling the property to a developer or selling lots individually.