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Crucible case will not be heard
Supreme Court panel upholds Stafford ruling on Crucible

Date published: 5/22/2007



A Virginia Supreme Court panel has upheld a Stafford Circuit Court ruling in the Crucible case.

The three-judge group agreed May 10 that residents and county officials did not meet time requirements when appealing the zoning administrator's decision on the anti-terrorist training facility.

State law requires appeals be filed within 30 days of the questionable action. According to the Circuit Court, the clock started in May 2004 with the zoning administrator's decision that the complex could be classified as a school.

Time expired well before the company filed a site plan and residents were officially notified in 2005.

Kroll Inc., the world's top risk-consulting company, has operated The Crucible in Stafford for seven years. With multimedia classrooms, outdoor small-arms ranges and defensive-tactics training areas, it caters to federal agents, the military elite and civilians who must travel to dangerous parts of the world.

Stafford County Attorney Joe Howard said the Board of Supervisors will discuss the Supreme Court ruling in closed session next week.

"The county is disappointed with the ruling, but there are a number of things that would have to be accomplished before the Crucible could ever go forward in the county," he said.

Since controversy over the project exploded in 2005, Stafford supervisors have changed related county laws. A school built on agricultural land now requires a conditional-use permit, which requires a public hearing before the Planning Commission and supervisors.

The Crucible's attorney Clark Leming has filed suit, claiming his client is exempt from laws put on the books after a site plan was submitted. He also says the county cannot create an ordinance aimed at limiting a specific project.

Stafford officials argue the company must adhere to those regulations, despite previous zoning designations and site plan filings. Sharon Pandak, the attorney who represents Stafford County, has said previously that those plans have not gone far enough in the process to be exempt from the new requirements.

Meghann Cotter: 540/374-5434
Email: mcotter@freelancestar.com

WHAT IS THE CRUCIBLE? An anti-terrorist training facility that sits on 88 acres off Jack Ellington Road in Stafford. The company plans to expand operations, given a business boom since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Its efforts to move to a larger Stafford site have drawn criticism from neighbors and county officials. TIMELINE 2004 The Crucible approached then-Zoning Administrator Dan Schardein, inquiring about government approvals needed to develop a 198-acre tract off Mount Olive Road. The project included classrooms, a sound-proof gun range, an urban-combat training center and a one-mile track for driving maneuvers.

Schardein classified the facility as a school, which was allowed on the agricultural parcel without Planning Commission or Board of Supervisors approval.

2005 The Crucible filed a site plan for the facility, after spending about $1 million on engineering and design.

Residents nearby first heard about the project and appealed the school designation to the Board of Zoning appeals.

County officials filed an appeal and amended zoning laws requiring a public hearing for schools in agricultural areas.

The Crucible also appealed, challenging the validity of the county and resident requests. They said both appeals were filed after the 30-day limit.

The BZA granted the county and resident appeals 5-1, but denied the Crucible request 3-3.

The Crucible appealed the Board of Zoning Appeals' decision on the time-limit to Circuit Court.

2006 A Circuit Court judge ruled the county and residents did not meet state time requirements when appealing the zoning administrator's decision.

The county and residents appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court.

2007 May 10: A three-judge panel of the Virginia Supreme Court refused to hear the county and resident appeal, saying they could see no reversible error in the Circuit Court decision. WHAT'S NEXT? The Crucible has asked the Circuit Court to rule whether the company must comply with a new zoning ordinance, requiring a conditional-use permit for a school on agricultural land.