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To comply, or not to comply: The question one Blackfoot charter school is faced with

A dispute between the City of Blackfoot and a local charter school has raised a lot of eyebrows recently. And while the issue may be quite complex, there seems to be a simple solution.

To comply or not to comply, that is the question Bingham Academy is faced with. The school was recently informed that under city ordinance their occupation of space at the Riverside Plaza is nonconforming since they never applied for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP).

But the school has been there for several years, so why is this coming up now? Well, it’s because the city thought that Bingham Academy and the Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center, both located in the Riverside Plaza, were one and the same.

“I think that’s only recently been well understood by everyone,” Blackfoot Planning Administrator Kurt Hibbert said. “They have pretty much the same boards, they’ve had the same administrators, and for a long time the city treated them as if they were just a single school district, and it wasn’t until last year that we really became aware that they legally were two different entities.”

On July 17, the city issued a notice to the school letting them know that they were out of compliance and that the use of the facility as a school “must cease immediately,” something the school was not too happy about.

They’ve since appealed, saying they were never asked to apply for a CUP and now legally don’t need to.

“We never received any formal notice, we’ve never been on the agenda for planning and zoning as far as we know,” board member Dan Cravens said. “And once we had been here, once we established our operations, there was no legal requirement to do so there would be no reason for us to go through the hassle.”

The school’s lawyer seems to agree, saying it doesn’t matter what the city knew since they were protected under permitted use.

“It doesn’t matter. What matters is who’s been here, and what have they used this for and what has the city allowed there,” Nathan Olsen said.

The city says all schools operating in commercial districts must have CUPs, and the issue, complex as it sounds, has a simple solution: fill out the application.

“We want to see them conform with the code. That’s all,” Hibbert said.

The second part of the problem is the Transition Plan which the city wants. Something Olsen said the school has no obligation to fulfill.

“That’s a problem for us, I think that that’s one hump that we’ve got to get over, is this suggestion that the school has to tell the planning and zoning commission how long they’re going to be here,” he said. “That’s not the role of government to play.”

With the start of the academic year less than a month away, Bingham Academy has every intention of starting on schedule.

“When you get a letter like that, that’s a real ominous thing and we want to assure people we will be open, it’ll be business as usual and we anticipate and also thanks to our counsel that this will be resolved quickly,” Cravens said.

The city says this whole dispute could really be resolved with a couple of forms and used BCCLC as an example of how quickly it can be done.

“They had a lot of issues and a lot of things they had to address, and they did it. Just like that, they did it and it was done quickly and their permit’s good and valid for another five years, so we’re excited about that,” Hibbert said.

“The reality is, no one is saying that the premises cant be used or that we’re trying to kick them out of it. What we’re trying to say is that you’re not supposed to be operating a school there without a CUP, according to the code.”

Olsen said they’d prefer not to go to court and to reach a resolution through the City Council, but they’d like to be contacted directly instead of through public statements and press releases.

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