Thursday, February 04, 2010

Augusta County shuts down Rocket Boys ... 6

Part 6: How it began

See part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

In January of 2006 the Valley Aerospace Team (VAST) rocketry club began monthly launches in several Augusta County farm fields providing a wholesome, family-oriented activity for young possible scientists following in the footsteps of Homer Hickam of West Virginia.

Homer, a coal miner's son who was intrigued by the Soviet Sputnik satellite in the 1950s that streaked across the October sky, was the inspiration of the movie, October Sky, and the book, Rocket Boys.

In rural areas there is always concern about entertainment activities for young people and Augusta County is no different. Teenagers "cruising" around local shopping centers were curtailed a few years ago by police and property owners concerned about possible illegal activity ... gangs have located in the SWAC area ... drugs have been an ongoing problem.

When the Croft Field owner provided his 500 acres for VAST, he was providing a location for adult advisers to work in an educational way with students and their parents. Isn't that a far better use of rural land than a drunken party with a stabbing like this one that was headlined in the Waynesboro News Virginian earlier this week?

In June of 2008 the club began monthly launches on the Croft property located in Swoope, Virginia, a rural 500-acre site offered for the club's use by the land owner. No complaints about the rocketry activities were ever received by any of the landowners nor VAST.

In July of 2009, the landowner received a letter from the Augusta County Zoning Administrator stating that they were in violation of the county's zoning ordinance by allowing VAST activities to take place on their agriculturally zoned property.

On July 21, the landowner and VAST met with the zoning administrator who stated that rocketry activities were considered "active recreation" which, by zoning regulations, was allowed only on the approval and issuance of a Special Use Permit (SUP). To receive a SUP, VAST needed to pay a $250 application fee and present a request to the Augusta County Board of Zoning Appeals at a public meeting.

The landowner and VAST were told that it was just a formality.

Next: Part 7: Augusta County says, "It's just a formality...."

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