A request for a change in conditional use, while paying no school proffer, was deferred (delayed) last week during a meeting of the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors (BOS) when Bermuda District Supervisor Dorothy Jaeckle could not get support from other Board members to allow the changes the attorney representing Iron Bridge Corner LC requested and have the case approved.
Attorney and Chesterfield County School Board member Carrie Coyner changed the proffers (promises) on the case from last month when she asked the Board for 15 three-bedroom apartments in the complex that would contain up to 100 units overall. Her new request would seek one- and two-bedroom apartments and give up the three-bedroom units.
Initially the case hinged on removing the age restriction on any future use of the property. Supervisors didn’t have as much heartburn with that issue as they did with the number of bedrooms in the units and how that number would affect schools.
During the February meeting, Ms. Coyner worked to prove that one- and two-bedroom apartments do not yield enough students to impact schools. Director of school planning Cynthia Richardson had told the Planning Commission that Salem Church Middle School would be overcrowded because the school already had a number of trailers, and the new apartments would exacerbate the overcrowding there. She changed her assessment when the case reached the BOS, saying the trailers are being use during renovations to the school.
Coyner is also working to have her client relieved from paying cash proffers per unit. The amount that would go to schools is $5,897, but the school division sets its costs at $8,882. The cost to schools is based on upkeep, renovation or building new schools.
As the case has moved through the Planning Commission, which denied the case, and now the second attempt at the BOS level, the negotiations have begun to favor Chesterfield. But as Board Chairman Dan Gecker has stated, this case would set a precedent that he can’t support.
“As you know I don’t agree with this. This is a highly visible corner and it looks to me like we are looking to rezone for an existing land owner not the ultimate user. Therefore we lack the ability to gain meaningful controls on the site,” Gecker said. “We do have a policy and I believe it is in the best interest of the county to adhere to that policy until the board actually gets around to changing it.”
The Iron Bridge Corner case seems to have developed a life of its own. School Board member and real estate attorney Coyner has changed proffers on the property three times since the conditional use application was re-opened in November 2011.
Ms. Coyner’s argument has been that the 100 apartments proposed for the site would not generate school-age children, therefore her client, or the company Iron Bridge Corner LC will sell to, should not have to pay Chesterfield County Public School (CCPS) any money to offset the impact that the apartment complex would have on schools.
Coyner addressed the BOS on the number of complexes in the area and the number of school-aged children living there.
“After gathering that information, the applicant made the decision to eliminate all three-bedroom units.” Coyner said that her client proffered the full cash proffer minus the schools portion back in 2007
“We have said we will have only one- and two-bedroom units and historically you have supported this kind of request.”
There was only one speaker who addressed the case. Paul Grasewicz said he believes the community will produce school age children that will make an impact on schools.
“I think it is safe to say that this complex of 100 units with one or two bedrooms will have school-aged children in it,” Grasewicz said. “You can cite examples of this apartment complex or that apartment complex but in fact it will. And, I might add that I had asked for specific information on students in apartments from the schools planning section last month and I wasn’t able to receive the same information as the applicant’s representative did.”
Grasewicz added, “If the applicant believes there will not be any school-aged children in this complex, then there is no reason to remove the age restriction.”
Jaeckle motioned to accept the request for a condition use change. “We’ve really stuggled with this apartment issue since I’ve been on the board, and I’ve been more involved in the community, especially areas involved with the schools,” Jaeckle said. “Everyone seems to have this feeling that apartments have a negative impact. When my kids were going to school they would say these apartments really did have an impact. As I’ve looked into it I’ve seen that it really is three-and-four-bedroom apartments that affect schools.
“To me when you restrict an apartment [complex] to one and two bedroom apartments they will be very sustainable and especially when they’re part of a mixed-use area,” Jaeckle said.
Gecker countered that there is a policy and he believes it is in the best interest of the county, to adhere to that policy until the board actually gets around to changing it.
As the discussion continued Jaeckle cited, “Since the project was governed by two different associations we felt that we would be interfering with what their standards are. And that’s why we didn’t want to put standards in there that may not have agreed with the associations. What I’m saying is that it is not a project in isolation,” Ms. Jaeckle argued.
Board members made it clear that Jaeckle’s motion would not stand and she would not get the votes to have Coyner’s case approved.
“I think it would send a very poor message to the staff and planning commission, given their position on this case,” said Art Warren, Clover Hill District supervisor. “It seems to go against the statistics that the school staff is putting out.”
Jaeckle continued to bolster the merits of Coyner’s case saying that the negative impact of three-and-four-bedroom apartments would impact the county for many more years but one- and two-bedroom apartments with no proffers will positively impact the county.
After a pause in the debate, Coyner returned to the podium and requested a 30-day deferral, meaning the case would be heard again next month on April 25.