County planners hear school concerns over subdivisions

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 3, 2004

While listening to developers’ plans for two Chelsea-area subdivisions, the Shelby County Planning Commission Monday night also heard from the Shelby County Board of Education about the need for restricted growth in the face of overcrowded schools and strapped capital budgets.

Board of Education member Allen Rice spoke several times during Monday’s Shelby County Planning Commission meeting, addressing the commission’s questions about the impact of two proposed subdivisions on county schools.

Both subdivisions would have added students to the Chelsea school district.

The commission continued a proposal to build 110 homes in the final phase of The Narrows development. The addition was estimated to add 66 school children to the Chelsea district.

Commissioners voted 6-1 to deny the Belvedere Cove master plan, due to the proposal’s impact on schools, roads and other services. The Belvedere Cove master plan would have added an estimated 48 children to Chelsea’s school district.

Rice said the Chelsea school district is the second fastest growing district in the county, following Calera. The opening of MT Laurel Elementary in August will temporarily alleviate the 16 portable classrooms currently at Chelsea Elementary, Rice said.

Still, Rice assured the commission that &uot;in less than five years, portables will return to Chelsea.&uot;

Once MT Laurel Elementary is finished in August, Rice said, &uot;We’re out of the construction business.&uot;

Planning Commission chairman Len Ward asked Rice directly, &uot;What does the school board need from the development community to assist you to do what we’ve hired you to do?&uot;

Rice responded by saying the school system has a $150 million capital need. He referred to plans for new subdivisions in Helena and Chelsea, saying that if they go through, schools will struggle to find room for the new students.

&uot;Very honestly, I couldn’t tell you where we’re going to put these children five to 10 years down the road,&uot; Rice said.

At least one resident during Monday’s Planning Commission meeting called for a moratorium on residential development in the county, and Rice conceded the only thing that growing municipalities in the county can do to help schools is to &uot;say no&uot; to developers of new subdivisions.

Requiring large lot sizes was the only other idea Rice had for the commission when asked about how it could help the school system.

&uot;I know your hands are tied,&uot; said Rice, who previously served on the Shelby County Planning Commission. &uot;Any consideration to limiting the impact to our schools would be greatly appreciated.&uot;

Several commissioners, including Robert Taylor, said the commission cannot legally deny development based solely on one issue, such as schools.

&uot;We can’t limit growth based on lack of facilities for education,&uot; Taylor said.

Throughout the meeting, Ward bounced questions off developers, such as, &uot;Does a good school improve the value of the lot?&uot;

Both development proposals during Monday’s meeting lie in unzoned areas of the county, near Chelsea. Shelby County resident Nancy Campbell addressed the commission, noting the trend of high-density development in such unzoned areas.

&uot;It’s very unfortunate that in unzoned areas of our county, the planning commission has very little authority,&uot; Campbell said.