The future of the Pacific View Elementary school site is back at square one. Following the failed attempt to close escrow on one of the district’s most valuable assets, the trustees decided to start over.
During the November 13 Encinitas Union School Board meeting, the trustees voted unanimously to reapply for a zoning change for the former Pacific View site. Maureen Muir recused herself, citing a conflict of interest since her husband, Mark is currently an appointed City Council member and was elected in November.
The recent history of the 2.8-acre bluff top site is tumultuous, as the city, community members and school district have tried and failed to reach consensus on the future of the site.
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 school closed in 2003 due to declining enrollment in the area. The district operates nine elementary schools throughout Encinitas and southern Carlsbad.
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.
“Three superintendents and nine years later, with three separate plans and numerous City Council members we are still sitting here, in the same place we started,” said Superintendent Tim Baird. “Pacific View is of no direct use to the school district now or in the future except as an asset that can be leveraged for the benefit of our students,” he said.
“It’s a little frustrating,” Baird said, “especially when they (the Planning Commission) asked us to make so many special allowances.”
“This time we won’t make any concessions,” Baird said. In fact, the district had previously agreed to a host of compromises. It agreed to relocate the historic schoolhouse to Third St. on a 50 by 100-foot lot, with a total of 15 to 17 residential lots of the same size on the remainder of the site. It agreed to identify exactly what “beach cottage” design is and require the potential buyer to adhere to those specifications during development.
The district also agreed that grading would remain compatible with the surrounding vicinity and that it would expand Fourth St. for public use. The real sticking point came when staff announced that the district would require a covenant prohibiting the state’s density bonus law, thus not allowing additional homes to be built on the site according to law.
Even that was not enough to satisfy the council according to Baird. Indeed, the council rejected the Planning Commission’s recommendation in late 2010, despite the district’s threats to sue.
The district filed suit against the city in January 2011, when it declined to rezone the land from public/ semi-public use to residential. The change in zoning would allow at least 30 homes to be built on the site.
However, when the district entered into escrow with a San Diego-based arts organization a few months ago the district agreed to withdraw the lawsuit in hopes the council would allow the non-profit’s request to create an arts center zoning for the area. The council declined to do so and the deal between the district and the non-profit organization fell through.
“It almost feels like we were led down this path where the city refused to cooperate,” Baird said, “even though we dropped the (law) suit.”
“It’s such a waste of district and city money to go back to square one,” he said. Yet, Baird is preparing to do just that. The district will start the process all over again with the Planning Commission at the first available date on the agenda.
Baird is cautiously optimistic that the new council, which will be sworn in on December 11, will “follow the law that requires a zoning change request that conforms to the surrounding area to be granted.”
“I hope the whole council looks at this as a problem that needs to be fixed,” he said.
“If it gets to the City Council and gets rejected, then the board will have to make a decision on the next course of action,” Baird said. “I hope it doesn’t come to that again.”