Thursday, February 04, 2010

Augusta County shuts down Rocket Boys ... part 8

Part 8: VAST prepares for Augusta County Board of Zoning Appeals meeting

See part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

An anonymous complaint to the county of Augusta shut down the Valley Aerospace Team rocketry club (VAST) even though no complaint was ever filed with the landowner or the club.

Augusta County suggested the club may have to install permanent bathroom facilities and septic system, drill a well. They were also told to check with VDOT for "field entrance requirements" going through a gate to access a 500 acre farm field off a rural gravel road in western Augusta County.

All of this came about because of an anonymous complaint from someone protected by Augusta County when they refused to reveal the name to VAST or the landowner.

VAST documented the steps they took leading up to their meeting with the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). Still thinking this was "just a formality," they set to work gathering the information necessary to go before the BZA to receive a Special Use Permit (SUP).

From the VAST legal timeline:
6. August 7, 2009 - With landowners' full consent and support, VAST submits an application for the SUP, pays the required $250.00 fee, and is added to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) Meeting Agenda scheduled for September 3, 2009.
a. At this meeting, VAST will "present" its request for the SUP.

b. Supporters of the permit request will be allowed to speak.

c. Opposition of our request will then be allowed to speak.

d. VAST will be allowed rebuttal period and answer any final questions from the BZA members.

e. The five (5) BZA members will then discuss VAST's request during a closed portion of the meeting and then vote to approve or disapprove the request.
7. August 11, 2009 - VAST asks its members and friends to write letters of support to the County.
a. As a result, thirty five (35) letters of support are received by the County and added to the SUP request file.

b. It is later determined that three (3) letters of opposition were also received and added.
8. August 25, 2009 - VAST creates Informational Packets and delivers them to the County.
a. Packet contains over 40 pages of documentation on VAST, hobby rocketry, its safety record, as well as information on the Tripoli Rocketry Association (TRA) and the National Association of Rocketry (NAR), VAST's parent organizations.

b. Issues of Rockets Magazine are also included for each of the BZA members.
9. August 28, 2009 - VAST receives a copy of the Croft Staff Report.
a. Report is produced by staff from the Augusta County Community Development Department.

b. VAST learns that the staff is recommending denial of the SUP request primarily due to concerns for public safety, noise, and increased traffic in the area.
i. It's apparent that no effort was made by the staff to educate themselves about the hobby's excellent safety record.

ii. The documentation VAST provided to the County was obviously also not reviewed.c. Report mentions a complaint was made to the County that VAST had entered the farm field of an adjacent landowner to recover a rocket without their permission.
10. August 28, 2009 - VAST Board of Directors (BoD) addresses Croft Staff Report with a Response to Comments.

a. Creates a detailed response document which addresses every comment, error, and condition.

b. It also includes additional information about the hobby's excellent safety record as well as calculations on expected noise levels.
11. September 2, 2009 - VAST distributes the response document.

a. VAST attempts to contact BZA Chairman (Mr. Shreckhise) and is informed that he is out of the area and will not be attending the September 3 meeting.

b. VAST then contacts BZA Co-Chairman (Mr. Callison) and requests permission to send the response document.

c. Mr. Callison approves and suggests the document be faxed to him for distribution to the rest of the BZA members.

d. VAST faxes the response document to Mr. Callison.
A request for a Special Use Permit that the county had suggested was "just a formality" has now been recommended for denial by the staff of the Augusta County Community Development Department.

With a suggestion for denial now before them, the rocketry club prepares for their hearing before the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA).

Next -- Part 9: VAST presents their case to the Augusta County Board of Zoning Appeals.

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