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County planning board OKs rural school ordinance

Commissioners will hear the issue on Aug. 4

A proposed land use ordinance that will make it easier for the county’s rural schools to build new facilities was referred to the Washington County Commission by the Planning Commission last week.

Ordinance 797 would solidify language in the county’s Community Development Code pertaining to schools located in rural areas, paving the way for Visitation Catholic School in Verboort to build a new school facility on its current land.

Although unanimously adopted by the planning commission, language in the ordinance was questioned by several commission members and will ultimately be clarified by county staff.

The proposed language states that rural schools “shall be small in size, rural in character and not require urban services.”

“How is small in size defined?” asked commissioner Mary Manseau.

“The standard would be determined by the staff planner writing the discretionary review,” said senior land use planner Steven Shane.

“It sounds like that would be setting things up for an appeal,” Manseau countered.

“I kind of question what rural in character means … That seems like it might need to be struck,” said commissioner Anthony Mills.

Although the ordinance passed unanimously, two residents of Gales Creek testified against the ordinance, concerned it would jeopardize the re-opening of Gales Creek School to community children sometime in the future.

“Why was this change initiated and who initiated it? It appears to be solely directed to Visitation School,” said Don Hening. Hening questioned deleting language from the code “that supports rural kids going to their rural schools.”

The current interpretation of the code defines how many student from rural areas must attend a rural school — 50 percent plus one. Ordinance 797 deletes that requirement.

Kate Grandusky, a vocal supporter of re-opening Gales Creek School to serve the students in the Gales Creek community, asked the commissioners to slow the process.

“There seems to be a real rush to get this done and not weigh the implications five, 10 years down (the road),” she said.

“A rural school has some inherent, wonderful qualities. It really needs to represent that community."

Washington County Commission Chairman Andy Duyck testified on behalf of Visitation Catholic School.

"I was asked ... to help Visitation Parish through their land use problems," Duyck said, noting that other schools in rural area have also faced roadblocks in their attempts to update their buildings.

"Find a solution and remove the impediment so that these old foundation communities in our county can continue to grow and evolve just like every other school in this county does," Duyck said.

County commissioners are set to hold a public hearing and a possible vote on the ordinance on Aug. 4.

On Twitter: @ReporterFuller


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