ENCINITAS — The Encinitas Union School District has created a new advisory committee to revive plans for selling or leasing the old Pacific View Elementary School site, but the issue is generating opposition from neighbors and community members.
The school was officially closed in 2003 due to lack of student enrollment and the age and poor condition of the school facilities according to district officials. They maintained that the property should be redeveloped to produce a revenue stream to support the other nine elementary school sites that make up the district in Encinitas and south Carlsbad. For three years the site served as the city’s temporary public works yard, storage facility and meeting rooms with a $1 per year lease agreement.
The Pacific View School site is more than 125 years old. The land was donated to the community in 1883 by town founder John Pitcher specifically to be used as a school site.
The district went back to the drawing board in 2005, after its initial plans to redevelop the site into a medical and dental office building were soundly rejected by the downtown community. Residents and business owners, joined by the Downtown Encinitas MainStreet Association, objected to the density and aesthetics of the planned building, which would have generated too much traffic and not been a good fit with the existing character of the eclectic neighborhood they said.
Shortly after his arrival at the district, former Superintendent Lean King helped form the Pacific View Citizens’ Advisory Group in an effort to develop plans for the 2.82-acre site with the input of neighbors and the business community.
The Planning Commission sent the district back to the drawing board July 24, 2008, when it declined to approve a request to rezone the site of the former Pacific View Elementary School from a “public-facilities” use designation to so called mixed-use that would allow a combination of businesses and residential to occupy the land.
Among the top concerns were traffic, parking and building heights. Commissioners and neighbors questioned the 33-foot height proposal in an area zoned for 30-foot height limits.
The district is currently working with the city on a renewed application to rezone the site for residential use according to current Superintendent Timothy Baird. The new zoning would allow up to 42 homes if approved.
A new advisory group, the so-called “7-11 committee”, has met twice in the past month to discuss whether the site should be declared “surplus” so that it can be sold or leased. It is scheduled to present the school board with its findings in January.
Encinitas resident Sarah Garfield served on that committee from February 2006 until her resignation in August 2008. She opposes plans to designate the site as “surplus.” Instead, Garfield and Bill Sparks make the case to preserve the school house based on several factors, including the possibility that it will be needed as use for a school.
Garfield maintains that the use of San Diego Association of Government’s 2030 Regional Growth Forecast numbers does not look far enough into the future. “But is 2030, only 20 years away, really enough of a demographic projection to sell off a 125-year-old school site property? What about the year 2050? 2075? 2100?” she asked in a letter to the district’s newest advisory committee.
Tom Deak, who lives two blocks away from the school site, said that whatever decision is made should include the value of the site to the entire community.
“I’d love to see it remain a school. I don’t know if that’s a practical expectation at this point,” he said. “I’d also like to see it as a park.” Deak said he would like some acknowledgement from the school district that the property is a community asset.
Although the district has denied that the Naylor Act applied to the property, the district valued the property using the state law formula that allows for the property to be sold below market value when it presented an offer for sale to the city in June of this year. City Council passed on the purchase price of $10 million.
“I don’t agree with their position as to why the Naylor Act doesn’t apply,” Deak said. “I find it troubling that they are going to these lengths to avoid a law that I think is for the betterment of the entire community.” Baird disagreed saying that the law is a nonissue.
“I think planned properly this could be a nice addition to the downtown area rather than just more housing,” Deak said.