Zoning denial throws Fruitland charter school’s expansion into question

Treasure Valley Classical Academy plans to use this site for its Upper Campus.

The denial of a zoning permit in Fruitland has stopped Treasure Valley Classical Academy’s expansion plans and created uncertainty for the popular four-year-old charter school.

That decision was unexpected because the charter academy’s engineers and technical experts worked closely with city officials throughout the planning process, according to the school’s project documents.

A planning commission spokesperson said the charter academy can appeal with the city council or come back to them in August with a detailed plan that outlines how deficiencies will be fixed. However, waiting is not in the school’s best interest because their funding commitments also have an August deadline.

The Fruitland Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously on June 13 to deny a conditional use permit that would have paved the way for a new middle and high school, called the TVCA Upper Campus. Without the approval for expansion, they may not fulfill their charter performance certificate or commitment to parents who expect them to offer a full high school.

“It is vitally important that this succeeds,” said Stephen Lambert, executive director of American Classical Schools of Idaho and founding principal of TVCA.

Nichole Hall, the new Idaho Public Charter School Commission director, said her office will work to help TVCA and consider adjustments to the performance certificate, because “this situation is beyond their control.”

The Boise nonprofit Bluum, which helps develop charter school growth in Idaho, characterized this decision as a vote to limit school choice. 

“This action fundamentally takes away school choice for Fruitland and surrounding area families. The requested school use is conditionally allowed in the zone, but the commission denied the application without considering conditions that support the use in this location, or without suggesting steps that could be taken to permit the school,” Bluum said in a statement.

In its denial, the planning commission cited traffic issues, written and public testimony received, project costs and impact to the area, according to minutes from the meeting. One nearby business worried about losing its liquor license because of its 300-foot proximity to a school. Another business owner pointed out ongoing traffic problems on Northwest 16th Street that would only be exacerbated by more vehicles.

Increased traffic and inadequate traffic infrastructure are cited as reasons for denying the charter school’s new campus.

The school is planning to appeal to the city council, hoping to reverse the decision. A Fruitland spokesperson said Tuesday that an agenda for next month’s meetings — held on the second and fourth Monday — isn’t complete. So TVCA’s appeal will either be July 10 or July 24.

“If this does not work, then it will be a major disruption to about 300 students starting in August of 2024, because this school has been authorized to operate as a K-12 school and its success was predicated on that growth,” said Lambert.

In 2019, the school opened with grades K-6 and a PCSC-approved plan to add an additional grade each year, serving 702 students by 2025 as a full K-12 school. Next school year, they will add 10th grade. To learn more about the classical academy, use this link.

Their parents have made the decision to send them to TVCA because they believe in American classical education, and they want the full K-12 experience,” the school said in a statement.

The estimated $7.5 million campus is planned for 8.62 acres under contract to purchase at the corner of North Arizona Avenue and Northwest 13th Street, southeast of St. Luke’s Clinic. The undeveloped land is zoned commercial and requires the permit for a school campus. 

The Upper Campus would include three new academic buildings, a gym and cafeteria, a bus parking cul-de-sac, a 150-vehicle parking lot and a soccer field. The new campus would serve grades 7-12.

All members of the planning commission voted to reject the permit request. The nine commissioners are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the city council and serve four-year terms.

“I met with parent leaders this morning in fact, and the message to them is that we are taking the feedback seriously and that we’re going to come to the table with the city council with a plan that addresses the concerns,” Lambert said.

According to the minutes, the planning commission cited these issues as their reason for denial. 

  • Northwest 11th Street needs to extend to Allen Avenue.
  • More safe pedestrian and bicycle routes for kids.
  • The lack of meeting the standards for a conditional use permit.
  • The lack of funding for costs of road improvements.
  • The burden on the city to fund improvements.
  • Negative impact on commercial businesses in the commercial zone.
  • An incomplete review from the Idaho Transportation Department.

The permit denial caught TVCA by surprise. In a TVCA statement, the charter academy said it worked closely with the city to identify the right property, develop a plan to build the campus, prepare an application in consultation with the city and address concerns about traffic.

The city had already agreed that a fair contribution for five intersection improvements “that are not the sole responsibility of the project” is about $150,000 of the $2.1 million cost for upgrades, according to project documents. But this issue is listed as a reason for denial by the planning commission.

“We are serious about addressing the concerns raised and we are continuing to follow the direction of the staff that we have coordinated with throughout the project,” Lambert added.

Editor’s note: Bluum and Idaho Education News are funded on grants from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation. 

Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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