Planning Commission Recommends Allowing Old School to Become Apartment Building

Wayne Creed of Old School Cape Charles addresses Planning Commission at Thursday’s public hearing. (Wave photo)

Cape Charles Wave

July 27, 2012

The Cape Charles Planning Commission yesterday voted unanimously to recommend approval of the rezoning of the Old Cape Charles High School, adjoining parking lot, and basketball court from Open Space to R-1 residential.

The Planning Commission also voted 3-1 to recommend approval of a Conditional Use Permit to allow Echelon Resources, a private developer, to convert the school into a 17-unit apartment building located in an area of mostly single-family homes.

The votes were preceded by a public hearing, at which all the members of the public who spoke opposed the rezoning and conditional use.

Lenora Mitchell said the rezoning and the conditional use would “destroy the character of the neighborhood.” She noted that the basketball court next to the school is a community asset used across racial, age, ethnic and social lines. Under the terms of the contract signed by the Town, the basketball court will become a private parking lot for the apartment house.

John Peterman, an adjacent property owner and part-time resident, said, “We had no idea this would happen when we bought our property. We would not have bought it had we known.”

Wayne Creed, president of Old School Cape Charles, LLC, asked, “What happened that we are converting a public asset to a private asset? Why? Because we are in the Historic District we are eligible for government grants and loans and tax credits to improve the building, but those will be going to a private developer instead of the people of Cape Charles.”

Creed reminded the Planning Commission that the Historic District Review Board had rejected the proposal to convert the school into an apartment house as inappropriate.

Creed said the park has always been open space and the school has always been part of the park. “History shows that they were always together,” he said.

Michelle Macklin, a part-time resident and adjacent property owner, also spoke in opposition to the rezoning and conditional use permit.

Brian Harmon, a local teacher and property owner in the Historic District, said the school was an important anchor in the community. “You don’t want to destroy the school and its history in Cape Charles. The kids in Cape Charles need someplace to go. If you take away the school, there is no basketball court and all the other aspects of the park are compromised,” he said.

George Southern complained of a continuing failure by the Town to follow required procedures. Once again, no application for a conditional use permit had been made available before the meeting. And the application supplied at the meeting was made on a new form that appeared to have been designed specifically for the developer, who no longer was required to be the owner of the property.

Deborah Bender emphasized that the school had always been tied to the park. “In giving away the school we lose the parking lot for the playground, the basketball court, and the school. You are harming the residents of this town,” she said.

Bender noted that when she wanted to put in a swimming pool she had to provide drawings and plans. When she wanted to cut down a tree she had to provide pictures and state where a replacement tree would be planted. “These people have not supplied any of that,” she said.

Tim Krawczel cited the Code of Ethics for municipal employees, which requires that they serve the public interest and provide clear and accurate information to Council and commissions. He noted that Town employees and Council had met 9 or 10 times privately with the developer without public knowledge. “Are you getting clear, objective, and accurate information?” he asked the planning commissioners.

“Wouldn’t you want to know something about the company? Has a Dun and Bradstreet report  been run?”
— Planning Commissioner Mike Strub

Chad Davis emphasized that “we’re all friends here,” but pointed out that the Planning Commission is required to follow the Comprehensive Plan passed by Town Council in 2009. The school property is an asset, and giving it up will result in a loss to the neighborhood. “The building, the basketball court, and the parking lot in front of the school are all Town assets,” he said.

During Planning Commission discussion preceding the votes, Commissioner Mike Strub related his encounter with Echelon Resources representative J. David McCormack, who gave a presentation of the firm’s plans July 21 at the Palace Theater. Strub said he asked McCormack for his business card and was told that his cards “were in his other wallet.” Strub then asked if McCormack was an employee of Echelon Resources, to which McCormack replied no – he owned a different company, but was a partner with Edwin Gaskin of Echelon Resources.

Strub said that despite his researching the Internet, he could find nothing on J. David McCormack’s association with Echelon Resources. He asked Town staff if Echelon had been vetted by the Town. “Wouldn’t you want to know something about the company?” he asked. Specifically, had a Dun and Bradstreet report had been run on the company?

Assistant Town Manager Bob Panek explained that Gaskin and McCormack are partners, but they create a separate company for each of their projects.

Strub also pointed out that a conditional use permit normally seeks the approval of adjacent neighbors, which had not been done in this instance.

Strub also was concerned about the Historic District Review Board’s decision that an apartment building in the school was not an appropriate use for the property. Town Manager Heather Arcos said that the Board wanted to see the building restored but that they did not agree with the use of the building as apartments. Panek said it was his sense that the Board felt that apartments might affect the nature of the park.

Commissioner Malcolm Hayward said he thought that a conditional use permit should be conditional on the basketball court being relocated.

The Commission voted 3 to 1, with Strub dissenting, to recommend approval by Town Council of a conditional use permit with an additional recommendation that the Town relocate the basketball court.



5 Responses to “Planning Commission Recommends Allowing Old School to Become Apartment Building”

  1. Deborah Bender on July 27th, 2012 6:55 am

    After attending yet one more meeting regarding the rezoning and conditional use permit for the school property I have many remarks to make. What is the use of the public making comments when the town manager and her assistant do not even pay attention to the speakers ? Last night both Heather Arcos and Bob Paneck were nothing short of rude when the public comments were being heard. Our town officials are clearly out of control. They are working with the developer instead of with the town citizens. They are spending our town’s money any way they please. The citizens of Cape Charles have got to find a way to remove these out of control “children” before the destroy our fine little town. They have totally ignored the town’s own lawyer in this matter. Do these paid and elected officials work for the citizens or do they work for the developers?

  2. Nioaka Hamilton Marshall on July 27th, 2012 5:32 pm

    I do not live in the town of Cape Charles at the present time. I did, however attend Cape Charles High School. I think that the group, Old School Cape Charles, should have had equal opportunity to purchase the school. If no bids were solicited, and the bid was higher than Echelon, the higher bid should have been accepted or both rejected. Also, the developers bid was a measly $10. Yet the town now has entered into a contract to buy the former bank building. And the funds are not available. Seems like $10,000 is a lot closer to the goal than $10. Also, If Old school Cape Charles were to purchase the property, the town would not have to provide funds, would receive taxes, and the residents would have their history preserved, and in use for all the townspeople. i believe the process that has been followed may also be not only unethical, but also illegal.

    Also, those officials who are elected and think that they have much power until the end of their terms, need to realize that there is a process to remove them if the residents so choose.

  3. Judy McKnight on July 30th, 2012 9:11 pm

    I am saddened by all that is going on around the question of what to do about the old Cape Charles School building. I know that the Town Council and town administrators were elected and hired to make decisions about the town, but not allowing for ideas and input from the public before committing themselves to a proposal regarding the sale of this building was a grave oversight.

    It is sad that Old School Cape Charles, the community-based coalition opposing the sale of the school building to a private developer, has had to resort to a lawsuit to have a voice, even though town voters had expressed their concern about the deal at the ballot box in the spring, before the final town council vote was taken.

    And it is sad that a judge will make the final decision now, based on what is/was “legal.” There will be “winners” and “losers,” and the sense of community will certainly suffer a setback for a while, no matter which side wins.

  4. Wendel James on August 2nd, 2012 9:49 pm

    Can anyone tell me if Gaskin with Echelon is the same person who is the Economic Development Director for Hanover County, VA?

  5. Cape Charles Wave on August 2nd, 2012 10:03 pm

    RESPONSE TO WENDEL JAMES: Yes, Edwin Gaskin of Echelon Resources is the Economic Development Director for Hanover County. You can read the county’s press release on Gaskin here: