Community Council’s Land Use Committee Hears Calvary School Proposal for Two New Buildings

Members of the LUC include (left to right) Joanna Spak, Chris Spitz, Chair Howard Robinson, Patti Post and Steve Cron.

An expansion proposal by Calvary Christian School was heard by the Community Council’s Land Use Committee on October 16, setting up a vote by the PPCC board.

The LUC voted to recommend that the Community Council not oppose the application, contingent upon Calvary adding language to regulate concurrent use of the facilities at the site on Palisades Drive in the lower Highlands.

The PPCC appoints members of the Land Use Committee, which hears proposals that involve commercial/school buildings and then reports to the PPCC board on its findings. The PPCC does not give approval for projects, but it can send a letter to the L.A. Planning Commission opposing a project if it feels it does not meet guidelines.

Chair Howard Robinson, who is appointed by the PPCC, reminded audience members at the Council’s October 16 meeting that it is only an advisory committee. “We try to find the balance between the public good and private property,” he said. “We will scrutinize closely anyone asking for a variance.”

In this case, Calvary Christian School is asking to remove a parking lot that is used only on Sunday and turn it into a playground for its students and add trees and landscaping.

Currently, the school is serving hot lunch under tents at the edge of the playground, and they would like to construct a one-story, 822-sq.ft. lunch-serving building there.

School administrators also want to increase enrollment to 490 students, up from its original approval for 432 students.

Additionally, they seek to add a building, next to current buildings, that would include a theater space holding 200 people. Currently, when kids in different grades perform plays, the productions take place in the church (672 seats).

“We’d like to be able to have a smaller space for the kids,” said Head of School Vince Downey.

This bare space, across from the church, would be the site of the theater building.

This theater building, which would not be constructed until eight to 10 years from now, would be dependent on a capital campaign by the school. Projected at 10,219 sq. ft., the building would be the same height as adjacent buildings and built on the last available piece of ground within the school boundaries. It would not be visible from the road.

Downey explained that adding students, it would bring average classroom sizes up to 20. “It would allow us to fill our classrooms,” he said, noting that the school charges a $20,000 tuition and routinely makes about $934,000 available for scholarships, so the extra students would be beneficial.

The school, which started on Via de la Paz, moved to its current site in 1989 and contains preschool through eighth grade. In 1997, the City approved a new conditional use permit (CUP).

In 2001-2002, the school received approval for the construction of a turf field, with about a quarter of that field going past the urban limit line (a mark at which development must stop). In this latest proposal, the urban limit line backs into a hill.

“We have not asked for a change in the permit in more than 20 years,” Downey said.

Currently there are 241 parking spaces at Calvary, which was the CUP requirement in 1989. Zoning now requires only 148 spaces for the church and the school.

Taking out the parking spaces for a playground would leave 188 spaces. Currently the school uses 108 spaces, and parents are expected to carpool. There’s valet parking for large events such as the holiday boutique. Additionally, the school does not allow pickup or drop-off of students on Palisades Drive.

Calvary officials were asked by a LUC member that if the church needed additional parking on Sunday, what would happen if a playground were on that space.

A Calvary pastor said, “We’d add a second or even a third service.”

Adam Goldsmith, president of the homeowner’s association across from the school, said “I live in Sea Ridge and I consider Calvary a good neighbor. They’re solicitous of their neighbor.”

LUC member Patti Post worried about removing parking spaces. Her husband Richard Cohen, the PPCC treasurer who sat in the audience, “I share Patti Post’s concern about removing parking and then adding a building.” He explained that he lived near St. Matthew’s and that neighbors had trouble with unwanted parking.

Robinson said, “I’m comfortable with this project, but I view the site as very different than St. Matthew’s. There are no single-family residences along Palisades Drive. This site has a natural limit and its hard to foresee how this [project] would put a negative impact on neighbors

“Alan Goldsmith is telling us the neighbors who would be most impacted have no problem,” Robinson said.

A motion was made that the LUC (and the PPCC) not oppose the project and that a contingent would be placed in documents regulating the concurrent use of facilities, such as if the church and the school both wanted to hold a big event the same day.

Other LUC members at the meeting included Joanna Spak, Chris Spitz and Steve Cron. The committee voted 5-0 in favor of the motion. Absent members were Rick Mills, Richard Blumenberg and George Wolfberg (non-voting).

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