ENCINITAS — A group of residents converged to brainstorm ways to retain the former Pacific View Elementary school site as a public asset on Nov. 20. While the gathering was a nontraditional meeting that included a live band and dancing, the speakers and participants were serious about their intentions to save the site from becoming another cluster of buildings that have no relationship to the community.
The Downtown Encinitas Mainstreet Association, or DEMA, in conjunction with the 101 Artists Colony is spearheading the effort to preserve the site for public use. “The land was given to the people of Encinitas,” said DEMA Executive Director Dody Crawford. “Its historical value needs to be preserved.”
One of the most popular ideas is to use the site for a gathering place for artists and children.
The possibility of developing a community cultural arts center was given new life after City Council voted to deny the Encinitas Union School District’s application to rezone the site Nov. 10.
The unanimous decision came as a surprise to many in the packed City Council chambers, as some expected the council to agree with the Planning Commission’s recommendation to change the 2.8-acre parcel of land from public/semi-public use to residential. Mayor Dan Dalager recused himself because he owns property close to the site.
The change in zoning would have allowed at least 30 homes to be built on the site.
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. An amended proposal passed unanimously 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.
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.
“Whatever we decide to do we need to treat this like a marriage proposal, because we will be married to the school board,” Danny Salzhandler of the 101 Artists Colony told the crowd. “We need to woo them.”
Salzhandler also stressed that any future project or use of the site should be guided by four basic principles: education, including art and nutrition, and our children’s access to the site; historic preservation and adaptive reuse of the existing buildings, that the site remain available for public use; and that it provide revenue to the district for the benefit of the city’s nine elementary schools.
Margaret Nee, an artist who facilitates Grrrl Zines A-Go-Go in Leucadia, said she came to show her support and find out how to get involved. “Encinitas desperately needs a community arts space,” she said. “The real estate prices in this area make it difficult to sustain a space for the arts,” Nee said. “It seems like something that the city should support.”
Crawford urged the community to attend the school board’s monthly public meeting on Dec. 7 at 6:30 p.m. “Let’s let them know we are serious about using the site,” she said. The school board meets at 101 S. Rancho Santa Fe Rd.