Public Statement Regarding Zoning Issues Reported

 

First off, I want to say “thank you” to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for allowing us to come this far with USA Academy and we are excited about the future to be carried out by His will. It has been and forever will be in His hands.

I also want to publicly welcome Coach Rush Propst as the Founding Head Football Coach at USA Academy.

I want to say thank you to the Mayor, Clerk, and Town Council of Coosada. They have been very helpful and receptive throughout this entire process. Council members have reached out these last 48 hours expressing their excitement from the publicity of the project and the potential for us to help the town’s desperate financial needs.

I also want to thank all of the incredible people locally and from across the country for the thousands of messages, emails, phone calls, and more in support of USA Academy and our mission ahead. In turn, I want to express my disappointment in the very few people that have been attempting to impede the positive impact that we are working toward for tomorrow’s younger generation of student athletes, as well as the positive economic development that our area desperately needs. I understand that we live in a perfectly imperfect world and people make mistakes (trust me I have made plenty of them), but we hope to see the very few that are critical make a turn to understand the positive that we are bringing to the student athletes that are ready to perform on a national stage. We plan to work diligently with all involved to come up with a solution that best fits everyone in the most positive way possible.

Now, we all know the media loves good drama, so this story should help them sell papers or put out more “click bait” content in an attempt to gain readership, and I am sure they will skew the story and/or use partial pieces to meet their narratives, or to fit whatever agenda they see would be best for readership rather than layout the entire story.

Lastly, I want to address the misleading, half written, and controversial story reported by our local media.

On December 11, 2019, I presented USA Academy to the Town Council of Coosada. The meeting was incredible and the Town Council was excited about the opportunity to have such a large economic project brought to the community. Each council member was given the opportunity to ask any questions regarding the project and I gladly answered. I think the number one question was, “How will this project financially benefit the Town of Coosada?” To which my answer was based around the economic impact of IMG Academy, a similar based school located in Bradenton, FL. IMG yielded a $517,000,000 economic impact in a study done in 2013, based on 2012 statistics alone. Source: https://www.bradenton.com/opinion/editorials/article34578234.html

During this meeting, the council members were given a packet that clearly displayed the identifying property and no issues were brought to my attention with zoning between that time and December 30. On December 29, 2019 the news story broke about the hiring of Coach Rush Propst, which led to a media frenzy during this past week.

On December 30, 2019, I was contacted by a property owner that is located near, but not touching our desired location, requesting some information. This particular property owner said they were very concerned about traffic coming in on the easement to our property and its effects on their property. This particular citizen did, however, offer herself a board position with USA Academy and asked for me to build a “New York Central Park” style facility for her to run in and for the Coosada community to utilize. If I did this she would not become an issue for our project. This property owner also boasted their previous positions within the State’s Economic Development system and explained they would voice their objections to the traffic issue to slow down or stop the project unless the demands were met. I politely advised this citizen that I would take the demands under advisement and I would get back to them. Heck, I even thought the Central Park idea wasn’t too bad…

On December 31, 2019, I was notified of an issue via email by the Town of Coosada. Within an hour or so of this email, I was at the Town with the clerk seeking answers and solutions. I worked with her (in person) and the Mayor (via phone) to find out what steps needed to be taken to allow the school to continue with our scheduled dates. The solution seemed resolved once I left the Town Admin building and the town had sent some information over to the regional planning commission. I was notified that we should have a resolution once Catherine (I am not sure of the spelling) returned to the office on Monday from the holidays. At this point, this still was not an alarming issue. I did request for the mayor to call a town hall and allow citizens to come and ask questions and display their concerns of the project. (He seemed open to the idea but it has yet to be granted)

On January 2, 2020, we held a press conference to announce the Head Football Coach for our varsity program that would allow our coaches to begin the recruiting process and working with our players that are already committed to the football program. We also announced that we would start taking students for football and cheer for an academic start date of January 20 and also planned to have temporary buildings brought in next week (January 6-10). We also went on the discuss our digital education platform and getting these student athletes acclimated to the digital learning environment.

Once the press conference, parent/student athlete meetings, and individual press interviews concluded, I was contacted by the town again; I went back to visit with them. This was the first time that I knew there was an issue with rezoning for the school building BUT that NO REZONING would be needed for any of the sports projects because AFR zoning allows for outdoor recreational because this need is not in the category of “not permitted.” However, it is conditional. The mayor was contacted via phone by me and the town clerk, but he did not answer and did not return the call. Once again, I was told that we were awaiting the return of Catherine on Monday before any other steps could be taken. Also once again, I asked for an emergency town hall to be called to address the concerns of the citizens of Coosada and the town clerk agreed that it would be a good idea.

This is when I activated the back up plan of relocating on other land up the road that we already have access to-if needed-that is not located within the town limits. This plan is still in place if the need arises.

On January 3, Coach Propst and I were in meetings preparing for our recruiting launch most of the day and the last meetings we planned was with Coosada’s Police Chief and dedicated police staff. During this meeting, we spoke about the need of this project to help with resources for the town’s police and fire departments. These men that put their lives on the line to protect this small community expressed their support and offered their help to ensure the project was not taken away from the town and moved to a property located outside of the town’s jurisdiction. We spoke with the Mayor via phone regarding these issues and-once again-I was told that we were awaiting Catherine on Monday but to prepare some paperwork the clerk had given me to turn in the planning commission.

After that last meeting, I was made aware of an article put out by local news and I noticed a text from the writer from earlier in the day buried within the 70+ text messages that I had received during these meetings. I also had a text message from a great friend of mine from another media outlet about the article. I reached out to the writer from Elmore/Autuaga news, but she was driving and did not have her notepad handy and told me she would call me back in 15 minutes. So, I returned a request from another media outlet and we discussed the issue and I told him that I was going to create an official response not based on an angered emotion of a half written story that did not take the time to get both sides. Once I got off the call, I called the  Elmore/Autuaga news writer again and made her aware of the above issues that were unreported. Things got heated as we left that call with disagreed terms based on her version of partial facts, which did not and could not include all the facts because they had not spoken to me.

What this story has done is open the possibility of us moving the school from the Town of Coosada and costing the town tens of thousands of dollars in permit fees and administrative fees, plus could cost them millions of dollars in economic development impact if we decided to move the project. Moving down the road does nothing but benefit us to save us money with all of these fees and future tax revenue but at the least would still bring the benefits of Coosada enjoying good high school athletics.

So, here we are, finally at the conclusion of this botched media story that was released to the public with half the story and half the information. It seems we live in a society that is more important to break a story first than it is to get all the facts together from all sides involved. I stand FIRM in my statement that USA Academy will not be delayed from playing football in fall 2020, and we will always follow proper procedural steps to follow local, state, and federal code. Yes, we are enrolling students online and will be able to service these students with the best education available as we prepare for our Spring sports programs and fall preparation.

Dustin DeVaughn
USA Academy Founder