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Miller School expansion permit request deferred

A permit for a planned expansion of a local historic private school has been deferred.

On Wednesday, staff and representatives of The Miller School of Albemarle asked for the deferral after the school had issues with conditions the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors was leaning toward in order to approve a requested special-use permit to increase the number of students, renovate a dorm and build future buildings.

Head of School Michael Drude said the school decided to defer the vote to give the staff time to fully understand the main condition at issue, which would require the school staff to update the National Register of Historic Places nomination to address the entire subject property.

“This was not a condition recommended by the Planning Commission, so we were caught a little off guard and requested a month to review the potential costs associated,” Drude said after the meeting.

“The school has long been and will continue to be good stewards of our property and wants to protect the historical and aesthetic nature of our campus. But this condition set forth by the board needs to be fully understood before we can agree to accept it.”

In December, the Planning Commission voted 5-1 to recommend approval of the special-use permit without that condition, and without another that would require all changes to existing structures that are listed or eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Haden-Hart Dorm, to meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards as determined by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

The standards are a series of concepts about maintaining, repairing and replacing historic materials, as well as designing additions or making alterations.

The county’s Historic Preservation Committee also voted unanimously to write to the board in support of the conditions. The Miller School was not notified about the vote and did not receive information about the committee’s vote after the meeting.

Valerie Long with Williams-Mullen, who is representing the school, said it’s inappropriate to require those two conditions.

“Conditions are intended to mitigate impacts of a special-use permit, and those impacts haven’t been identified with regard to historic resources,” she said.

The school has been open in its location north of Batesville since 1878, prior to the county’s zoning ordinance. The property is currently zoned Rural Area and private schools are permitted by special-use permit in that zoning district.

If ultimately approved, the special-use permit would allow the continuation and extension of the historic private school use, which is currently a non-conforming use. The school also is proposing to renovate and expand the Haden-Hart Dorm and increase the allowed maximum student enrollment from 195 to 225 students.

In the future, the school would like to add more dorms and a new gymnasium.

A maximum of 40% of enrolled students would commute. The rest will live at the school.

About 637 acres of the approximately 1,047-acre property are under a conservation easement held by the Land Trust of Virginia.

Three buildings on the property — Old Main, the main building; the Headmaster’s House; and Caton Hall, the mechanical arts building — are specifically identified in a National Register of Historic Places nomination.

“Updating the nomination is important, so that everyone understands exactly which structures, which resources are significant and which are contributing and need to have that special attention paid to them,” said Margaret Maliszewski, the county’s chief of planning for resource management.

According to the VDHR, having a property listed on the national or state register encourages but does not require preservation of the property and does not prevent an owner from renovating or demolishing buildings or restrict an owner’s use of the property.

Albemarle adopted a Historic Preservation Plan in 2000, but a county historic preservation ordinance was never enacted.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Ned Gallaway, who did not support either condition at issue, said this was a policy question and that the board should go through a process and decide what the county’s policy is going to be.

“If we start presuming what our policies are going to be down the road, and what our interests are and start dictating decisions on landowners, before we get there, to me, that’s extremely problematic,” he said.

Supervisor Bea LaPisto Kirtley said she did not support requiring either condition.

Supervisor Ann H. Mallek supported requiring both conditions, or removing the proposed new buildings, while Supervisors Diantha McKeel, Liz Palmer and Donna Price said they supported requiring the update to the National Register of Historic Places nomination.


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