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Goochland residents sue to stop Benedictine move

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A group of Goochland County residents has filed a lawsuit challenging the Board of Supervisors' approval of a conditional-use permit to allow the former Benedictine High School to relocate to the rural county.

The complaint, filed Tuesday in Goochland County Circuit Court, names as defendants the Board of Supervisors and the Benedictine Society of Virginia, which owns and operates the school. The lawsuit is asking for the permit to be invalidated.

"My clients think the board violated the law," said the residents' attorney, Patrick M. McSweeney, a graduate of Benedictine who opposes the school's move. "We'll find out if a circuit judge agrees."

McSweeney said the board didn't use proper language to approve the conditional-use permit Dec. 6. The board had a follow-up meeting Dec. 22, which he deemed "highly unusual," so they could "attempt to create a new decision," McSweeney said. "It's a tacit concession they hadn't done it right the first time," he said.

County Attorney Normal Sales did not return a call seeking comment.

The lawsuit also alleges that the county did not provide adequate public notice of the meeting by advertising it for two weeks, as required by state code. He says the Planning Commission also failed to find that the widening of River Road — a contingency of the permit — is in compliance with the county's comprehensive plan.

Now called Benedictine College Preparatory, the school has been on North Sheppard Street in Richmond for 100 years. The Goochland residents who filed the suit are worried the school's move to the banks of the James River will generate traffic and noise.

"It needs to be stopped," said David Pendergrast, a retired schoolteacher who lives on River Road. "It's bad for the county, it's bad for the neighborhood, it's bad for roads, it's bad for services out here."

Benedictine attorney Darvin E. Satterwhite said he's taking a look at the lawsuit. "We'll be filing an appropriate response," he said.

On Dec. 6, the supervisors voted 3-1 to grant the permit. Then-Supervisor James W. Eads abstained, saying he objected to the decision being made by a board where four of five members were "lame ducks."

Headmaster Jesse Grapes wants to move the school by next fall to Mary Mother of the Church Abbey, where its playing fields have been located for a decade. The school has submitted its plan of development to the county, but needs approval before it can begin road work or major infrastructure repairs, such as installing a fire suppression system.

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