ENCINITAS — After nearly a decade since closing the doors of Pacific View Elementary School, the site’s future remains uncertain. The Planning Commission voted 3-0 on Aug. 5, with two members recusing themselves from the discussion citing conflicts of interest, to continue the Encinitas Union School District’s request for a change in zoning.
The proposal was a land use change that normally goes to the public for a vote. However, because the 2.8-acre rezoning site met certain criteria, the staff had the option to put it before the Planning Commission for a recommendation according to Associate Planner J. Dichoso.
The commission declined to vote on the zoning change from public/semi-public to residential, allowing up to 15 dwellings per acre-known as DR-15. Instead, the commissioners directed staff to include language in the proposal that would ensure future developments adhere to the character of the surrounding neighborhood. The next hearing on the issue is Sept. 2.
Located on Third Street between E and F streets, the modest school is surrounded by commercial buildings and smaller homes, with a few exceptions. The property was gifted to the city in 1883 for a school site. The original schoolhouse is located to the west of the property and houses the Encinitas Historical Society.
Several residents spoke against the rezoning, including one commissioner. Mark Steyaert, who owns property close to the former school site, said that any future housing development would be maximized given the prime location and would not maintain the unique character of the community. “It’s just not going to fit in,” he said.
No development is proposed at this time according to staff. District officials also said that there was currently no contract with a developer.
District Superintendent Tim Baird said the debate should not be centered on the future use of the property, but rather on the greatest potential use of the site. “We want to maximize the property for our students and our district,” he told the commission. Baird said the district was interested in selling or leasing on a long-term basis the school that closed in 2003. “We, like all school districts in this state, are in dire straits and need to maximize the income from this property,” he said.
Yet, a dozen residents questioned potential outcomes from a rezoning change. Mark Klammer, whose son attended Pacific View, called into question the sincerity of the district in its desire to maintain the original schoolhouse, find a developer that would be sensitive to the surrounding neighborhood and not overdevelop the site. “Our experience has been arrogance from them (the district),” Klammer said. “They want to maximize their payday at the expense of the residents.”
Other speakers said that the district mismanaged the property by renting it to the city to use as a public works facility for only $1 per year. “It doesn’t seem like they’re managing their assets very well,” said Encinitas resident Karen Watson-Strauer.
While several proposals have been tossed around regarding the future of the site, none have been met with success. In 2005, an advisory committee was created consisting of various stakeholders. An initial proposal to build a medical complex with office space and condos was met with disapproval by the downtown community.
Sarah Garfield, an Encinitas resident who sat on the initial advisory as well as a subsequent group, told the commission that a change in zoning would cause an irreversible negative effect on the community as a whole. She reminded the commission of the historic value of the location. “How can such a historic site’s future bypass the voters?” she asked. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” she said referring to the possibility of retaining the property for use by the entire community.
While the commissioners did not oppose the zoning change, they did raise questions about future development. Because the downtown specific plan does not address the site, the commissioners were unanimous in wanting language included that gives guidance for future use. “I think what we’ve heard from the public and ourselves is we need a little more work on this,” Commissioner JoAnn Shannon.
Shannon, along with commissioners Virginia Felker and Michael O’Grady, agreed on the criteria for the property. The character should be compatible with the surrounding neighborhood’s eclectic, beach-cottage feel, the schoolhouse is preserved and access to the
alley behind the school stays open.
Baird told the commission that with either the current zoning or DR-15, something was going to happen with the property. “Doing nothing is not an option,” he said.