Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 March 2009 18:32
Published on Wednesday, 25 March 2009 18:32
The Westmoreland County Board of Zoning appeals will decide next Monday if the security training facility O’Gara Group hopes to establish on a 325-acre agriculturally zoned property fits the zoning ordinance’s definition of a school.
Schools are allowed on agriculturally zoned property. On Monday the BZA will decide if the zoning definition’s definition of a school is broad enough to embrace the shooting ranges, urban warfare simulation area and driving courses O’Gara Group hopes to develop on land it contracted to purchase.
The appeals proceeding will begin at 9:00 a.m. in the English Building’s General District Courtroom and O’Gara Group’s Jim Noe encouraged local residents to be present at the meeting.
In addition to interpreting a zoning ordinance definition, a sales contract between O’Gara Group and the county government is pending. O’Gara agreed to buy the county government’s empty industrial shell building and 25 surrounding acres of Westmoreland Industrial Park property if other considerations support O’Gara Group’s purchase of car dealer Bryan Chandler’s adjacent 325-acre tract.
On March 10 O’Gara Group’s Jim Noe told county residents that purchase of the Chandler land remained uncertain. A toxic plume from the nearby Superfund Site had invaded ground water that had encroached further into the Chandler land than had been previously known. The property may or may not be suitable for O’Gara Group’s intended use.
Private citizens have begun expressing opposition to O’Gara Group’s intentions to locate the facility in a rural area of Westmoreland. If the BZA rules next Monday that the proposed O’Gara establishment is not a school, a special use permit or a zoning change will be required.
In either instance, public hearings would have to be held before approval could be issued. Many private citizens expressed concern that O’Gara Group’s eighteen months of negotiation with one or more members of the local government demonstrated a desire to avoid transparency.
Freedom of Information Act requests have been placed with the county government requesting documentation that many residents hope will shed new light on the local government’s intentions.
Some residents assert that they have no problem with having O’Gara Group establish its facility in Westmoreland County. Instead, they fault members of the local government for keeping the matter from the public for so long.
Citizens learned of O’Gara’s plans when the local government agreed to move forward with its sale of the shell building and 25-acre tract. On March 10 residents learned from O’Gara Group spokesperson Noe that the shell building may be in too severe a state of disrepair to salvage.
When the Westmoreland County Citizens Association met this Monday evening, one resident suggested that the county government’s eagerness to sell the building and land to O’Gara Group resulted from those officials’ appreciation of the unoccupied shell building’s impaired condition.
During that March 23 Association meeting The Journal additionally learned that a family cemetery is located on the land O’Gara Group expected to obtain for use as its new establishment. The facility currently located in Alton, Virginia would be moved to the Westmoreland site.
On March 10 O’Gara Group’s Jim Noe told county residents O’Gara Group would find another location if the people in Westmoreland County make it known that they don’t want O’Gara Group to come. Noe additionally counseled that O’Gara opponents should attend next Monday’s BZA meeting in order to make their feelings known.