Compromise reached on plan to build connector road from Route 8 through development to Hazlettville Road.
The city’s Planning Commission last week approved site plans for the new Dover High School to be constructed on Route 8, west of the city.
Leading up to the Dec. 20 commission meeting, controversy stirred relating to the amount of public roadwork the city would require along with the construction of the $114 million school.
But, by the time the application came before the commission for action, the school district had reached an accord with city planners and the developer of an adjacent lot outlining a clear plan for improving traffic patterns in the area.
In previous meetings between city planning staff and officials with the Capital School District, planners said because of the new school’s location on the busy Route 8 corridor, the new construction brings with it the opportunity to make the traffic situation better.
Planning staff, as well as officials from the state Department of Transportation, said the school district should be required to make road connections from Route 8 to adjoining residential developments, creating new links between Route 8 and Hazlettville Road.
However, the Capital School District said the road construction the city supports would siphon too much money away from the school itself, which means the building might have to be smaller, or feature fewer amenities.
Director of Planning and Inspections Ann Marie Townshend said at the meeting that the city’s requests were based on a recent study of the region that calls for greater interconnectivity to reduce congestion at key chokepoints.
“What it is looking at is ways to relieve traffic on Route 8 by creating a number of connector roads,” she said.
At the new Dover High site, connections could be made with roads in two housing developments directly to the south: the Village of Westover and the Village of Cannon Mill.
Townshend told the Planning Commission the city would be satisfied if the project included only one of those connections —the Cannon Mill road— as long as it is in place before the school opens.
Capital’s lead engineer for the project, Greg Moore of Becker Morgan Group, said the district supports connecting to Tribbitt Street in Cannon Mill, so long as the cost is shared with the owners of the property to the west of the school lot, which would also access to Route 8 via the new road.
That land is controlled by the Rinnier Development Company of Salisbury, Md., which was granted permission last year to build an apartment complex called Leander Lakes on the site.
Originally, the school district thought Leander Lakes would start construction first and take care of the road building, but the slumping economy has held back that project.
However, Moore said the school district is prepared to move forward anyway and has struck a deal with Rinnier that splits responsibility for the road construction.
“We fully support joint access, we fully support a joint road and we fully support a connection to Tribbitt,” he said.
Under the agreement articulated by Moore, Capital will take care of building a portion of the new road from Route 8 south along the school’s western property line to the parking lot entrance. Rinnier will handle the rest of the road along the property line and make the actual connection to Tribbitt.
Despite the apparent compromise, concerns persisted over the district’s obligation to build a new road as part of the project.
“The school district is not into road building,” said Planning Commission member Ron Shomo. “I think every penny of that money people voted for should go to education, not to build a road.”
Moore said the district has accounted for the road in its budget for the project, but he did admit that certain parts of the school building itself had to be scaled back.
Capital Superintendent Dr. Michael Thomas told the commissioner he is satisfied with the arrangement, so long as it gets the project moving. Since the funding for the new school was approved by referendum two years ago, the clock is ticking to spend that money.
“We want to see it come in like you’d expect…on time and under budget,” he said. “The meter starts running. It could be millions of dollars in costs, in taxpayer money.”
With the plans approved, Moore said construction at the new school site should begin in the spring.
Email Doug Denison at firstname.lastname@example.org