The Pasco County Planning Commission has approved by a 7-0 vote an exception that will allow an expansion of the private school at the Hope Youth Ranch on Beagle Road, near East Road.

There were no objections or public comments at the Jan. 7 meeting, and the measure was approved on the consent agenda.

Hope Youth Ranch had filed for a special exception for a private school for autistic children in an agricultural residential district. Single-family dwellings are to the north, south and west of the property.

The 4.79-acre site is in the 12000 block of Beagle Road in Hudson, and currently there are a single-family detached home, horse stables and a detached carport on the site.

“We have 200 kids on a wait list,” said Jose Suarez, executive director of the school, who added that it was exciting news. “We definitely won’t be able to get them all in.”

“We are requesting to develop the property as a private school specifically tailored to accommodate 84 children with any form of learning disability, along with 14 staff,” the organization said in its request. “We are proposing to add seven modular buildings, 36 feet by 26.5 feet, with each pod containing two bathrooms each. The integrity of the outside of the house will remain the same to keep the feeling like a home. Hope Youth Ranch, Inc. originally opened in 2004 to serve teens in the foster care system as a group home and is currently located at the property directly east of the Beagle Road property and we do not intend to combine or unify the properties as one property.”

The facility is located directly east of the Beagle Road property.

Access to the school would be from Beagle Road, and the school would use a horse ranch and horsemanship classes “as an incentive to learning.”

“The school buildings will be placed towards the middle to rear of the property with a buffer of over 100 feet to the rear of the property and over 50 feet to the west side of the property,” the organization said. “The students would be dropped off by their parents through a proposed entrance and driveway loop used for exit and entrance purposes.”

The seven modular buildings for the school are visible from East Road, and will be moved for the opening.

At present, Suarez said, the site to the west is being used for an elementary school, and the middle and high school are in rental properties. This will allow Hope Youth Ranch to bring the older students closer, but the main plan is to keep things small.

“We don’t want to develop this mega-complex,” he said, as autistic children have a hard time in large public schools. “We want to keep it rural, we want to keep it light, (so it) kind of feels like a ranch. We use horses as part of the education and therapy. It works out well.”

Suarez said they are hoping to have the school ready for students in August of this year.

For more information on Hope Youth Ranch and the school, go to http://www.hoperanchlearningacademy.org/.