Old Mission School's plan for Palm Street Annex moves forward

Despite neighbor’s protest, the school gets the OK on project to build two structures for new classrooms

acornejo@thetribunenews.comFebruary 27, 2014 

Old Mission School is moving forward with plans to build additional classrooms for its middle school students on Palm Street to make up for a shortage of space at its Broad Street home.

The City Council narrowly upheld the project Tuesday with a 3-2 vote denying an appeal that had been filed by a neighbor concerned about potential traffic impacts in the surrounding area.

Two buildings, called the Palm Street Annex, are slated for a vacant lot at 772 Palm St. The largest building will accommodate three classrooms for seventh- and eighth-graders, restrooms and a small meeting room. A smaller building will include a staff office and a lounge for teachers.

The property, across the street from Mission San Luis Obispo itself, is a block away from the private elementary school. Two single-family homes on the property were demolished to make room for the project.

Old Mission Principal Tina Ballantyne said the additional classrooms have long been needed for the 300 students enrolled in the first- through eighth-grade school.

For the past 10 years, the school used classrooms next door at Mission Prep, but the high school needs those rooms back, Ballantyne said.

“So here we are, on a little postage stamp in downtown San Luis Obispo, with nowhere to go,” Ballantyne said, adding that the school does not plan to increase enrollment but wants to meet the needs of the students it now serves.

Michele Gordon, who lives on Broad Street across from the elementary school, filed the appeal after the city’s Architectural Review Commission approved the project’s design.

But it’s not the project itself that Gordon and other nearby residents are concerned about — it is the process the city used to approve it.

“We are not taking a stand against Old Mission School or the annex,” Gordon said. “It is about the lack of due process and inability over a period of time to be heard as a neighborhood.”

Gordon and other residents are concerned about mitigating traffic during school drop-off and pickup times and about parking in the surrounding area, issues that are not under the jurisdiction of the Architectural Review Commission.

Those decisions were made during a prior administrative use hearing — a meeting that Gordon and others living near the elementary school say they did not receive notice of.

Only residents living near the new building site on Palm Street were notified of the meeting. Yet students attending classes in the new building will still be dropped off and picked up at the main campus on Broad Street.

“All of this could have been resolved at the first level of hearings, but we didn’t have the opportunity to talk about the impact of the school potentially increasing enrollment,” Gordon said.

Councilman John Ashbaugh and Councilwoman Kathy Smith voted in support of the appeal — backing the residents who said they felt they had been left out of the process.

Ashbaugh will ask his fellow council members Tuesday to direct staff to bring back discussion of the zoning regulations for the project, which would define off-site parking and loading facilities.

Impacts to traffic or noise at the Broad Street school were not considered when the project was given an administrative use permit to move forward in October 2013, and residents living near the main campus were not notified, Ashbaugh said.

“They did not have a chance to participate in that key part of the project, and they were unable to appeal the administrative use permit to the Planning Commission because they’d not received notice of it — and nobody disputes that salient fact,” Ashbaugh said.

Meanwhile, Gordon is working with the city’s planning department to possibly create a residential parking program in the area that would require a permit for street parking.

The parking districts are used in other city neighborhoods, particularly around Cal Poly, to prevent students from parking in residential neighborhoods.

Ballantyne said she understands the frustrations of the residents living across the street from the school in an already busy downtown.

“We want to be as cooperative as we can,” Ballantyne said.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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