Salvation Army Requests 22 New Houses

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.


  1. Time4change says:

    Maybe before they let more people build they should figure out how to pay for all the things people who already live here need. This county got itself into trouble letting all those developers line their pockets but not paying into schools or anything else for the extra people. If the BOS doesn’t want to let in business they should tell developers no too.

  2. Maybe the Salvation Army shoud proffer an elementary school for all the new kids

    • Fly on the wall says:

      or…require the developer to proffer up sufficient money up front to help pay for the planned renovations to Cooley (which will move into the current CCHS building once the new CCHS opens) and Primary (which is the current Cooley); these homes will be in the Cooley attendance zone, so it makes sense to place a $10,000 proffer (which would be passed along to whomever buys each house). That’s an extra $220,000 for school improvements.

  3. livein22611 says:

    If we are paying for conservation easements then why would you re-zone AOC land for development? Let’s just leave that big sink-hole stormwater nightmare alone and let the deer run free. Gee, more kids for our schools and more strain on the county services but no economic boost. Sounds like a no-brainer.

    • Clarification says:

      There is no rezoning involved in this subdivision application. The current owners have the right to build 22 houses on this land, under its current zoning class (AOC). Further, they have found approved well & septic sites for each of the 22 lots involved.

  4. It’s my understanding that under Virginia law, a county/municipality can’t require a developer to do anything other than meet the adopted ordinance requirements and pay the fees associated with permits.

    Proffers are voluntary contributions on the part of the developer. The County can suggest proffer amounts and/or contributions of real estate for instance. In this case the rezoning comes first though, since it doesn’t appear that the owner is also the developer. And, since the zoning is by-right and allowable under CC’s ordinance, the County can’t arbitrarily deny a zoning request if it meets appropriate criteria.

    Reviewing the request under the current development standards may yield a smaller number of allowable lots though.

  5. Tony Parrott says:

    I’m all for leaving it alone if I can get authorization to hunt those deer.

    At least with the increase in kids (2.5 per household = 55 more) the composite index will give us more money from the state. Of course that means nothing unless the county is putting in more money too.

    • The Galloping Grommet says:

      Don’t you mean the ADM (Average Daily Membership)? Unless they only build one room shacks on the lots, the composite index (ability to pay) will probably go in the wrong direction for us.

      • Tony Parrott says:

        You are absolutely right! Thanks for bringing it up. Adding to the ADM does lower our composite index but when you add the values of the homes being constructed to the index it goes in the other direction. Why you may ask? Because the state uses the composite index to calculate the ability of the locality to pay for education. If the state views us as having high local true value of property and high local adjusted gross income they feel we can pay more towards local education.

        I’m sure you already knew this but it’s more for the other folks.

        • So, by keeping property values high, the BOS makes the state think we have more disposable income, but keeping the tax rate low proves we don’t. BUT, the state doesn’t care, thus less money from the state for our schools.

          Again folks, thank your local BOS representative for making sure our kids get screwed in the education department.

          • Tony Parrott says:

            Oh that’s good but it gets even better than that. Say the state views the value of our property at (for ease of use) 1 million dollars. The county can tax you on that million but if your property is under land use the county will tax you at a much lower rate (or devalue your property I can’t recall) but the state still counts the property value at 1 million. This adversely affects the composite index. Now if the property is under conservation easement the county will tax/devalue your property at a lower rate and the state will devalue the property thus a positive effect on the index. Now for the fun part; in order to pick up another $2.5 million in state funding we would have to put a BILLION $$$$ worth of property in conservation easement.

            So can anyone from the class tell me what would happen to our local tax revenues if we put a billion dollars of property in conservation easement?

            And I haven’t even talked about the lack of business tax revenue yet…..At least not in this thread.

        • virginiacop says:

          Gains in State funding for the addition of students would be greater than losses associated with the ability to pay. The formula along with associated data for the entire Commonwealth is available on the state DOE website. The convoluted formula used to calculate ability to pay would be only slightly changed by the addition of 22 new homes. The ability to pay is normalized across the Commonwealth. We are only effected if our increased or decrease in land value and income data is greater/less than the average of increases or decreases in other counties. And even then it is only effected in an amount relative to others, not a fixed baseline.

          The increased revenue from property taxes would be significantly greater than any (if at all) decreases to our state education funding. I would think even after additional costs for other county services are considered.

          This is the problem I have with the conservation easements. While they might create a very slight decrease in our land value, the loss of property tax revenue is much greater than any (if at all) increases due to the state formula. Plus, we only benefit by the amount our land value decreases beyond the average across the Commonwealth. Viewed in isolation an easement may appear to increase funding but not when considered in the big revenue picture.

          It’s ironic that at least one of the school board members get’s a substantial property tax reduction every year due to a conservation easement while at the same time expecting the rest of us to pay up.

          One could argue that the costs of educating the additional students would be greater than the increased revenue, however the school system has to maintain a certain baseline and most costs can not be associated with individual students. Adding one third grader doesn’t necessarily increase the teacher cost as the students can more often than not be absorbed into a classroom and we are already decreasing staff to cope with reductions in the student census.

          The property owner should be allowed to do with their property what they want as long as it complies with the relevant zoning restrictions. I for one would welcome the jobs associated with the construction and the increase in the tax base.

          • Two comments that are relevant to the overall picture, not just the impact on education funding:

            RW, the BoS doesn’t determine property values – that’s done by companies that localities hire to assess their real estate situation. To your other point however, I for one do believe that there is a lot more disposable income in this county than people are willing to dispose of… particular as it relates to education.

            VaCop, residential development never pays for itself. The added income on your revenue column will never exceed the added expense that this type of development generates (with the possible exception of Over 55 or retirement communities where there is substantial discretionary income and little required of the locality in terms of services provided). Particularly when some portion of the property in question will ultimately be taxed under land use evaluation.

          • livein22611 says:

            A 55 and older community may not be adding kids to the school system (let’s hope not!) but they will be the ones using the fire and rescue departments at higher rates. No residential development ever pays for itself. We don’t need this develpment and it’s time to be done with this piece of property.

          • virginiacop says:

            What would be the specific added expenses?

  6. virginiacop says: “It’s ironic that at least one of the school board members get’s a substantial property tax reduction every year due to a conservation easement while at the same time expecting the rest of us to pay up.

    Amen. The hypocrisy just kills me!

    • livein22611 says:

      The school board doesn’t set the tax rate, the BOS does. Wonder how many of them have land in conservation???? Frankly, I don’t know anyone who would willingly overlook a tax write-off and pay more in taxes. Wish I could my house and land in easement. But if you’d like to contribute more to the county then go right ahead.

  7. Mimi Stein says:

    One other point to note — the County does not set the tax rate for property receiving some type of land use tax deferral (including land in easement). That rate is set by the State and is based on a whole host of factors. It is also important to note that property owners in land use or who have put their property in easement pay the full tax freight for their house and yard area — that is, the portion of the property that creates the need for government services. The State, when it set these programs up, recognized that cattle and corn fields don’t require schools, health departments, or building inspectors. Houses do. The problem is not that those landowners aren’t paying their fair share to support the government. They are. The problem is that we are trying to fund a 21st-century government (including an appropriate school system) with an 18th century form of taxation, created when people were land- and live-stock rich, but cash-poor, and public schools were eight grades in one room. (It was not that long ago that people in this State paid their County taxes with livestock — the practice continued well into the nineteen-sixties). In my opinion, the State needs to undertake an entire overhaul of its tax system, including a discussion of how localities are expected to fund services. And don’t even start me on the paternalism of the Dillon Rule, which makes localities subject to Big Daddy government (and the swarms of lobbyists) down in Richmond).