In a 6-1 vote, with Thomas Crowder dissenting, Raleigh City Council approved a variance request on Tuesday allowing Quest Academy, a public charter school, to build a new facility within a 100-foot natural resource buffer zone surrounding in the Falls Lake watershed. Philip Isley was absent for the vote.

The variance approval was the first such buffer zone exemption ever granted in the past six years , according to an e-mail sent from an interview with Ben Brown, the city’s stormwater development supervisor. Quest Academy, and the developer of the site, Ocean Development Group, had argued that conforming to the environmental regulations would be costly to the school, endanger children (who ostensibly might fall into stormwater retention ponds) and pose a greater environmental risk than the approved plan. That plan includes the buffer exemption and several additional caveats–among them, constructing a 25-year storm stormwater pond that will absorb runoff from adjacent properties.

Wake County zoning bylaws permit zoning variances only if “unnecessary hardship would result from carrying out the strict letter of the regulation.” Crowder argued that Quest Academy had not proven such hardship for the property, since it could have been used to build something other than a school, or the school plan could have been drawn differently.

“We had a policy in place for sound reasons. This property is not rendered useless (by the buffer requirement),” he told council members.

“I think we’re setting a precedent with our policies that I won’t support.”

Look for a followup story in the Indy’s Jan. 14 issue.