ENCINITAS — The Planning Commission voted 3-0 on Sept. 2, with two members recusing themselves from the discussion citing conflicts of interest, to approve the Encinitas Union School District’s request for a change in zoning of the former Pacific View Elementary school site.
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, specifically that the change in zoning would result in a decrease in density, the staff had the option to put it before the Planning Commission for a recommendation according to Associate Planner J. Dichoso.
A vote of at least four City Council members is required for approval.
The commission declined to vote on the zoning change from public/semi-public to residential on Aug. 5. The change would allow 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 issue will go to the council for a vote within the next month.
Located on Third Street between E and F streets, the aging 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 requested caution against any future development on the site. Joyce Ross, who lives across the street from the school, expressed her concern that a large-scale development would be devastating to the community. “The developer will adhere to all these guidelines and with density bonus law another monstrous development of multiple units will be built,” she said. “Pacific View could sadly be the tipping point for destroying the unique charm of downtown Encinitas.”
She asked for the commission to consider more public uses of the property. No development is proposed at this time according to staff. District officials also said that there was currently no contract with a developer.
John Giotta, a resident and father of a student in the district, called the effort to rezone the property as “shortsighted.” He said the land was a gift to the city for the purpose of using it to benefit the public. “I ask that you maintain the zoning it as it is and ask the district to figure out another way to figure out their financial difficulties,” he said.
District Superintendent Dr. 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 during the Aug. 5 meeting. Baird was brief in his comments at the current meeting asking the commission to move forward with the rezoning.
The district has attempted to develop the property since the school closed in 2003. It was interested in selling or leasing the site and participated in a community-based committee process that did not produce a viable plan. 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.
The district rented the site to the city to use as a public works facility for only $1 per year.
The commission was satisfied with staff’s inclusion of language that characterized any future development as compatible with the surrounding neighborhood’s eclectic, beach-cottage feel; requiring that the historic schoolhouse is preserved and access to the alley behind the school stays open.
The rezoning also requires specific grading provisions to be adhered to in order to maintain a minimum height of any future development. “If they tried to replicate parcels along that street, I want to make sure they try to blend in with those grades as much as possible,” Commissioner Glen O’Grady said. “I want it to blend into the natural topography,” he said.