The 400-acre Salvation Army tract, once a potential site for the new Clarke County High School but later rejected in favor of the school’s current Main Street location, is now in the planning stages for a major sub-division. The proposed development on what is currently a farm will stretch between Westwood Road and Triple J Road and could include up to 22 new houses.
H. Robert Showers, attorney for the Salvation Army has requested approval for a 22-lot subdivision. The property, located at 642 Westwood Road in the Longmarsh Magisterial District, is zoned Agricultural Open Space Conservation (AOC).
“The reason that the property contains so many dwelling rights is because it was assembled from seven separate tracts” Clarke County Zoning Administrator Jessie Russell told the county planning commissioners on Friday. “The drainfields and wells on the site are already approved” Russell noted. “Some well locations had to be shifted due to proximity to property lines and agricultural areas. Virginia Department of Transportation has approved the access points to the property which also includes from Triple J Road.”
Salvation Army Tract Site Plan (Click to view the development plan for the Salvation Army tract)
Although the Salvation Army applied and gained approval of the site plan for the property over six years ago, no formal development proposal materialized until now, in part, due to the protracted negotiations with the county over the eventual selection of a different site for the new high school and due to the economic decline of the housing market.
In 2005, Clarke County received 221 new building permit requests. The number of building permit requests has steadily declined since then to only 19 new requests in 2010. The county received no building permit requests in February of this year.
Despite the fact that the site plan has received administrative approval, several planning commissioners expressed concern about whether the site should be required to meet the County’s recently adopted and more stringent storm water management and groundwater quality management guidelines.
“I think that a karst-study needs to be done now even though such a study wasn’t required when the application fees were paid” said Commissioner Robert Wade (Millwood). “I’m surprised that so many drainfields were approved. I would have expected a number of problems.”
Zoning Administrator Russell confirmed that even though many sinkholes are present on the property the building lots were approved with conventional septic systems rather than alternative septic management approaches recently approved by Virginia’s General Assembly.
Russell said that although the county’s consulting engineer firm, Chester Engineers, is reviewing stormwater management for the site, a formal storm water management plan is not required by law.
At least one planning commissioner appeared to question the county’s authority to request a karst study for the site given that approval for the site plan had already been given.
“Why are we requiring a karst plan” asked Chip Steinmetz (Berryville).
County Planning Administrator Chuck Johnston replied that even though approval for the plan was granted six years ago, the county still retained the right to review the plan under current planning guidelines.
Johnston said that after speaking with Clarke County’s attorney he believes that the Salvation Army application has not achieved a vested status.
“Because the developer waited so long to submit his plan it needs to be reviewed under our current regulations” Johnston said to Steinmetz. “A project is not vested until it has had some level of government review.”
Commissioner Steinmetz also noted that based on the site plan’s 9.3 acres of paved road surface, storm water management could be a problem.
“With that much road surface serving so many homes, storm water management needs to be looked at” Steinmetz said.
“Even if every one of the 23 homes was 4,000 square feet that would still be less than one percent of the total surface area of the property “ replied Planning Commission Chairman George Ohrstrom. “That’s still way under the threshold requirement for a storm water management plan.”
Interestingly, Lot 22, a 71-acre site included in the plan and once considered for the location of the new high school, is still shown as a “possible education site” per an agreement between the Salvation Army and the Clarke County School Board. The school board agreement precludes any building lots being designated within the 71-acre tract.
Lot sizes in the application range in size from two acres to three acres (14) to 114 acres (1).
“I agree, there’s a lot that needs to be reviewed and answered with this application” Jessie Russell said. “Once it has been approved the applicant will probably sell the property to another party that will develop it.”
Although no formal action was taken on Friday, the planning commissioners agreed to send the application to its sub-division subcommittee for further consideration.