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O’Gara court date set for September

The lawyers, the upset county residents and one or more O’Gara training facility principals gathered this Monday morning in Westmoreland Circuit Court to learn the fate of five pending litigations.
When the proceeding concluded, there were minor victories for all the players in the O’Gara exercise that began on January 12, 2009.
Parties wishing to challenge the local government’s O’Gara actions were still standing when substitute Judge Jay Swett concluded the business of March 29.
Two days had been set aside to settle the pre-trial business following a preliminary hearing teleconference in December 2009 between the judge and attorneys.
This week five attorneys and the substitute judge from the Charlottesville area designated September 20 and 21 as tentative trial dates. County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) Attorney Roger Wiley was absent from the proceeding and his availability had yet to be established when this edition of The Journal went to press.

Issues before the court include appeals of two O’Gara site plan approvals that the county’s BZA upheld and complaints that the local government failed to comply with state and federal regulations during the conduct of its business with the O’Gara Group.
Since January 12, 2009, O’Gara Group has obtained property which it has developed for use as a training establishment for contract employees whose services are utilized in war zones. O’Gara trainees are engaged by DynCorp, a major contractor with the U. S. De-partment of Defense.
Residents who are unhappy with the presence of an O’Gara training establishment in Westmoreland County fault members of their local government for adhering to a deceased zoning administrator’s 2008 determination that the facility could be construed as an ordinary school whose firing ranges and other offerings could be located as a matter of right on agriculturally zoned land.
It was very late at night on January 12, 2009, when the Westmoreland County Board of Supervisors and the jurisdiction’s Industrial Development Authority (IDA) returned from a closed door meeting with O’Gara principals and informed the public of the security training establishment’s intention to establish its training facility on land it would pur-chase from Bryan Chandler and the county’s IDA. A sales agreement between the IDA and O’Gara was ratified that night.
O’Gara Group became known to Westmoreland residents when it unsuccessfully at-tempted to establish its training establishment in other jurisdictions. An establishment known as Crucible had been similarly unpopular in nearby Stafford County.
In September 2008 the late Westmoreland Zoning Administrator Gary Ziegler issued an opinion document that failed to identify the O’Gara establishment by name but purported that such a training facility could be properly construed as a school that could locate as a matter of right, according to the county’s zoning rules.
The determination meant in simplest terms that no public hearings or special approvals would be needed. Residents had no knowledge of the Ziegler document on January 12, 2009.
A challenge to Ziegler’s rationale was initially contemplated but was subsequently abandoned due to a perception that too much time had passed before private citizens uncovered the document’s existence.
Governmental actions were challenged at various levels and the last in a succession of sales contracts between O’Gara and the county government expired during 2009. O’Gara Group consummated its purchase of the Chandler property, gained site plan approvals, completed construction projects and was issued occupancy permits by the county government.
When O’Gara’s additional land acquisitions were pending, the supervisors allowed their Planning Commissioners to review the zoning ordinance’s currently permitted by-right land use practices.
The commission completed an initial tasking during 2009 and delivered a set of recommended changes to the Board of Supervisors, hoping to minimize the future risk of by-right activities’ unwanted impacts on neighboring residential properties.
The supervisors declined to act on the commission’s suggested ordinance amendments until every zoning district’s by-right activities had been evaluated. The commission’s final set of suggested amendments will be the subject of a public hearing at 1:30 p.m. next Monday in A.T. Johnson auditorium.

Betsy Ficklin
Staff reporter

 

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