In a 4-2 vote last week, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors approved a special use permit that will allow a small private school to expand enrollment. The school in question is the Regents School of Charlottesville, where last year 83 plaid- and khaki-clad kids from kindergarten to eighth grade attended classes infused with Christian lessons. It’s located in an area designated as rural, and existing zoning codes don’t offer much guidance for the expansion of small private schools, making way for a debate about balancing a need for growth with safety along a busy route.
“We’re really not trying to be a huge school,” Head of School Courtney Palumbo said. “We’re allowed to have up to 130 in the coming years, and we don’t anticipate that will happen.” But the little school community wants the headroom, she said.
The original proposal, which requested a special use permit to allow 98 students this year and 130 by 2015, was shot down by the Planning Commision earlier this year. The 4-year-old school’s entrance is located directly on Route 250, and commissioners worried that an increased number of vehicles exiting the school and turning left onto the road would up the risk of collisions.
School officials revised the plan and presented two options to the board last week. The first option proposed a “modified pork chop,” a triangular concrete barrier, be built at the existing entrance to prevent vehicles from turning left on Route 250. Option one also included an agreement with nearby businesses that would allow parents to turn around in their parking lots to avoid turning left, plus the implementation of a vanpool to keep vehicle volume to a minimum. Option two included the originally proposed entrance built onto Broomley Road, which runs perpendicular to Route 250, plus a traffic control island prohibiting left-hand turns from the existing entrance. Supervisors and school officials agreed that a new entrance would create more problems than it would solve, and speakers during the public hearing urged the board to consider the first option.
After nearly three hours of hearing public comments and discussing the projected traffic impacts, the board voted to approve the special use permit. Supervisors Diantha McKeel and Liz Palmer cast the two votes against it.
“I have no doubt that it’s a wonderful school,” McKeel said. “It’s not about that. It’s about safety. It’s always got to be about safety.”
Palumbo said she understands the safety concerns, but at least for the foreseeable future, she doesn’t expect the school’s enrollment expansion to have a drastic impact on traffic.
“This basically allows us to accept the students on our waiting list,” Palumbo said, bringing enrollment up to 98 for this year. She added that many of the children on the list are siblings of current students, so the number of cars coming in and out of the parking lot shouldn’t change much.
Palumbo also noted that any changes wouldn’t have to be permanent, as the school will likely find a new home within the next few years. The Regents School started out in the basement of the Jefferson Park Baptist Church before relocating to the campus of the Christian Aid Mission near the intersection of Ivy and Broomley roads, and will likely move to at least one more temporary location before settling downpermanently.
“We’re grateful to be here for as long as we can, and we want to do everything we can to avoid these problems,” Palumbo said.