Proposed charter school prepares for first year in Craven County

Proposed sites of Riverside Leadership Academy. (NBN Photo)
Photo of proposed sites of Riverside Leadership Academy taken from Old Airport Road.

Riverside Leadership Academy is working with Hubrich Construction, Inc. on developing the first publicly funded charter school in Craven County. The school plans to open to students in August 2024.

The proposed sites for the new school are located at 1955 Old Airport Road in the Creekside Community. They are identified as parcels 7-103-089 and 7-103-8005. They border City of New Bern zoned properties and unincorporated properties.

In September, the New Bern Board of Aldermen approved a water and sewer agreement with the developer for parcel 7-103-089. The agreement required the developer to “petition the board for annexation prior to land disturbing activities on the property.”

The Board of Aldermen held a public hearing and considered annexing two parcels, 7-103-8005 and 7-103-089, into the city during their Jan. 9 meeting.

During the hearing, Alderman Bobby Aster of Ward 3 asked William Akin, the project engineer, to tell the board about their conversations.

Akin said, “Originally came into project wanting to be annexed to the city. Due to time constraints and being permitted by the county, we would prefer to stay in the county.”

Akin mentioned concerns with buffers and setbacks stating there is a 25-foot setback. The building is 84-foot from the closest property line at the closest point. They are proposing a landscape buffer between the school and the residential area on the southern portion of the site.

Referring to setbacks, Aster said, “The neighbors were concerned that this building would be right on their back property line.” He continued, “Mr. Akin has assured me that the building is gonna be at least 80 feet from the property lines. There will be a driveway between it and the property line, but that would be a bus loop.”

Alderman Johnnie Ray Kinsey of Ward 4 asked if there was anything in writing.

Aster said it was in their plans and stated, “Yes, it’s in writing to an email to me.”

New Bern Now obtained a copy of an email from Akin to Aster dated Dec. 11. It reads, “They do not want to be annexed within the City and would prefer to remain in the County jurisdiction. Since they ultimately will be a tax-exempt property and would require City services I also believe it to be in the City’s best interest to deny the annexation.” The email was forwarded to the members of the Board of Aldermen, the city manager, city clerk and city attorney on Jan. 5.

It does not appear that a preliminary site plan was submitted to the city or county planning offices.

Craven County Planning and Inspections Department told NBN they have not received an application or site plan from the charter school as of Friday afternoon.

NBN asked Jessica Rhue, director of the New Bern Planning and Zoning Department for a copy of the preliminary site plan. She responded, “No plans were submitted for a DRC (Department Review Committee) review since the parcel is not in the city.”

According to Akin, the setback was reviewed and approved by NCDOT Municipal School Transportation Assistance and said, “It’s not moving. It’s 85 feet.”

The MSTA Calculator and School study presentation by Tammy A. Germiller describes the unit and its purpose. It states, “MSTA is a section in the Traffic Management Unit of the Transportation Mobility and Safety Division.” The NCSG 136-18 (29a) “requires all school planners to provide NCDOT recommendations and evaluations of their traffic operations and safety impacts to the state highway system prior to construction.”

NBN has requested a copy of the traffic study.

No one from the public spoke during the Jan. 9 public hearing.

When Bobby Aster made a motion not to approve the ordinance for annexation, Alderman Hazel Royal of Ward 2 asked why.

Aster responded, “Number one, they don’t want to be annexed.” He said there wouldn’t be taxable income, but the city would be required to provide services if the annexation was approved.

Alderman Bob Brinson of Ward 6 said, “I had kind of the same consideration, but I didn’t look at the parcel that’s to the east. I looked at it, as it is next to Creekside Park, which we will never annex because that’s a county park.”

Brinson also said, “This is not unprecedented that we have brought on other churches, nonprofits onto the city water and sewer system and then not annexed them for the same reason.”

Odham agreed and said the one he could think of was Brices Creek.

The mayor said, “It would be a little hard to make the case” not to annex the property if the parcel to the north, Creekside Park, was within city limits.

Jeffrey Odham also voiced concern that if for some reason the charter school didn’t work, and it was purchased by someone else and the use changed, it would remain outside city limits unless a new owner asked for the property to be annexed.

Illustration of parcels zoned within New Bern municipal limits and unincorporated parcels in Craven County. Craven GIS website used as to show property lines.
Illustration of parcels zoned within New Bern municipal limits and unincorporated parcels in Craven County. Craven GIS website used as to show property lines.

There was no mention of the property that lies between the two sites.

It’s unclear how two unincorporated parcels will be developed when an incorporated parcel, 7-103-804, sits in the middle. It is zoned residential R-8. According to the Craven County Tax Office, all three parcels make up “Tract 1 Erika Sellhorn Estate” and are owned by Co-Executors of the Elisabeth S. Rabeler Estate.

Upon roll call, Alderman Rick Prill, Kinsey, Aster, Brinson, Royal and Mayor Odham voted not to approve the annexation request. Alderman Barbara Best was absent.

Riverside Leadership Academy recently held three town hall meetings in Craven County. Executive Director Damien Perez led the presentation and discussed their mission, enrollment, staffing, board of directors, curriculum, facilities and other topics. He answered questions from the public.

People asked questions about traffic, transportation, security, construction, and others. He deferred questions related to the site to the developer, but Hubert Contracting was not present.

According to Perez, the developer plans on clearing land in February and they will be using modular units as temporary classrooms.

Perez said instead of having a cafeteria, students could bring their own lunches or parents could order lunches to be delivered to classrooms using local vendors thru My Hot Lunchbox.

NBN contacted RLA and Hubrich Contracting, Inc. with questions. The developer did not respond. The executive director said they were planning and having a meeting with the developer this week and he would respond in a timely manner.

New Bern Now has reached out to members of the New Bern Board of Aldermen, City Manager Foster Hughes and City Attorney M. Scott Davis. Alderman Rick Prill was the only respondent at press time.

Learn more by watching Riverside Leadership Academy’s video of the town hall presentation below.

By Wendy Card and Todd Wetherington, co-editors. Send an email with questions or comments.

New Bern Now was created in 2009 and is the only locally owned newsroom that produces investigative journalism. This article took over 50 hours to create and publish. We watched and transcribed two meetings, researched and read countless documents, requested public records, compiled information, and wrote and edited the story. Journalism takes time and money to produce. Thank you to everyone who has financially contributed to our work. Please consider subscribing here.

Related articles: Board of Aldermen request expansion of Old Airport Road ahead of planned charter school; City of New Bern water, sewer approved for planned charter school on Old Airport Road