Council Gives Final OK to Turn Old School into Apartments

Developers Edwin Gaskin (left) and J. David McCormack of Echelon Resources, Inc., plan to convert the old school, basketball court, and playground parking area into 17 one-bedroom apartments. (Wave photo)

Cape Charles Wave

August 24, 2012

Cape Charles Town Council voted Thursday night to rezone the Town’s old school, basketball court, and playground parking area from Open Space to R-1 Residential, and also to allow a 17-unit apartment building to be built in a single-family residential area.

The vote in each instance was 5-1, with Councilman Frank Wendell dissenting.

Some 100 people turned out for the meeting in the Fire Hall. Mayor Dora Sullivan laid out several ground rules but was unsuccessful in enforcing them. “Be respectful and stay on topic,” she said – no personal attacks or accusations. She informed Wendell that he could speak during the public hearing or during Council discussion, but not both.  However, Wendell insisted that when he was elected a member of Council, he did not lose his rights as a public citizen. Ultimately he was allowed to speak at length.

During the Public Hearing, Town Police removed two of the speakers from the podium, and a member of the Planning Commission threatened to assault a member of the press for photographing him.

Wendell urged Council to heed the advice of former town manager Tim Krawczel to put some conditions in the conditional use permit. That should include heeding the recommendation of the town’s attorney for a buyback option and performance bond to protect the Town’s interest in the property in case the developers were unable to carry out their plans. Wendell also moved that the Town retain the basketball court and playground parking lot, suggesting that Echelon build a parking lot across the street for the apartment house. The motion did not pass.

Echelon Resources President Edwin Gaskin told the assembly that “our track record of restoring buildings is a good one.” He also apologized for e-mails he wrote to Town staff referring to those who opposed his plans as “idiots” who “should be sent to Gitmo.” (The emails became public following a Freedom of Information Act request.)

Councilman Chris Bannon said he stood behind the plan to rezone the property and allow conditional use, and lamented “newspapers and e-mails that were vicious.”

Councilman Thomas Godwin asked Gaskin, “If you see flood water up to your knees, do you expect the Town to do something about it?” Gaskin replied that Echelon would take responsibility for the property.

Councilman Larry Veber moved to limit the debate to five or ten minutes, but no one seconded the motion.

After the meeting, the Wave asked each developer separately what might happen if they did not obtain sufficient funding. Would they give the building back to the Town? Gaskin declined to answer, but McCormack said, “We don’t want the money or the school unless we can do something with it. There is no way that we will take the school if we cannot complete the project.”

Gaskin said they intend to go ahead with the project even if there is an appeal to the courts.

After the public hearing fireworks were over, a Channel 13-WVEC news crew arrived and stayed for the rest of the meeting. Afterward, a TV reporter questioned Mayor Sullivan about selling the school property for $10 without receiving any proffer from Echelon such as paying to relocate the basketball court. Sullivan replied that she had initially opposed the Echelon offer, but that she was not a voting member of Council, and ultimately decided to go along with Council’s decision.

NOTE: Due to the volatile emotions expressed during this meeting, comments to the Wave will be moderated before publication. Thank you for your comments, and please be patient if there is a delay before they appear.  – EDITOR



4 Responses to “Council Gives Final OK to Turn Old School into Apartments”

  1. Sarah Morgan on August 24th, 2012 9:57 am

    I just don’t get the benefits to the Town for agreeing to the development of the school. Presumably, the reason for all the support from the Town Council has SOME basis in reality; as an outsider (but a close one, on the other side of the peninsula in Oyster), I have failed to grasp what is so compelling about this project that the stewards of the Town (the Council) are so adamant that it proceed. I feel the public trust in this body needs to be examined and that the specific reasoning for the action needs to be restated, given the demonstrated intensity of the lack of support for it by the public.

  2. Regina Aleksiewicz on August 24th, 2012 10:39 am

    Regarding the sale of Old Cape Charles School to Echelon, I am so sorry to hear that we will give away the property for $10 without having Echelon move the playground equipment and basketball court to another location. We may have given away too much.

  3. Deborah Bender on August 24th, 2012 7:21 pm

    The worst part about all of this is that the town bargained in secret for 6 months before they ever even let the public know what was happening. Then they turned down three proposals from Old School Cape Charles LLC — two proposals to buy the school for far more money and one proposal to lease the school. The town council is wrong for what they are doing and the way they have done it. They have taken away the basketball court, the building and the parking lot, a parking lot that serves the playground and the town’s own park. All of this so that a developer can use federal and state tax credits to refurbish the building! Then in 5 years the developer is free to sell the building and laugh all the way to the bank. The developer will make loads of money on the taxpayers’ backs. It’s a sad day when the town turns its back on local citizens that have been living in this area for far more years than most of the people on the town council including the less than honorable mayor. A sad day indeed.

  4. Kathleen Mullen on August 24th, 2012 9:36 pm

    Wow! I’ve just moved here and this story is quite disturbing. There is no cohesive vision between Town Council and the people it has a responsibility to serve. This does not bode well for the Town of Cape Charles. I ask God to show all of us the truth in this matter and pray that everyone involved will have a servant’s heart toward their fellow citizens. United we stand, divided we fall.