Flintridge Prep Campus Projects Get Green Light

Flintridge Prep got the go-ahead this week to build a new 17,205-square foot Collaborative Leadership Building and to install 60-foot lights on its athletic field as part of a multi-phase campus improvement project.
Despite continued objections from some of its adjacent neighbors, the private school received unanimous approval from the three members of the La Cañada Flintridge Planning Commission who were present at the special meeting Monday, where Prep presented its revised plans. (Commissioners Arun Jain and Jeffrey McConnell recused themselves.)
“Education is one of the foundations of who our city is,” Chairman Rick Gunter said. “But that doesn’t mean you let school institutions get a pass on rules everyone else lives by. In this case, when Prep first came to us [in June] with an application for a [Conditional Use Permit], there were a number of items that this commission felt were in excess of what was acceptable, and the community gave Prep a lot of feedback. I’m pleased Prep listened.”
Prep — which invited neighbors to discuss concerns at three meetings on its campus in August — eliminated three proposed structures from its proposal, including a set of solar panels, one of its proposed shade structures and, most significantly, the controversial parking structure on the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Crown Avenue.
It also modified its plans for the three-story Collaborative Leadership Building, a modern learning space that will allow Prep to better offer its students “21st-century” learning experience, headmaster Peter Bachmann said.
Originally, the building was to stand 49 feet, 4 inches high. After listening to neighbors’ privacy concerns, Prep revised those plans, and now will construct a structure that stands 42 feet, 6 inches at its highest point, which will face into the campus. Prep also increased the setback space separating the building from the property line to 23 feet from 15 feet.
The building also will have smaller windows, and will not feature any rooftop classroom space, architect John Dale said.
“We think it’s nestled into the site as much as we can get it,” he said. “We’ve really been thinking about the privacy of the neighbors, we’ve been taking that to heart.”
Michelle Ametrano said the modifications won’t make a difference to her mother, Sally Ametrano, who has lived in a home abutting the campus for 55 years.
“The privacy issue has not improved,” she said. “A few adjustments do not reduce the overall impact of the building on my mom’s backyard.”
Furthermore, Michelle Ametrano said, her 84-year-old mother is in poor health, and will have a difficult time with the construction.
“[Prep has] been generous about making offers to relocate my mom during construction … but this is not really an option,” Michelle Ametrano said. “This building would be taking away her quality of life, her privacy, her yard, her view would be gone and she would lose everything she moved here for. The only option would be to move, and I know a move for my mother would be difficult and overwhelming. Hopefully we can work out some solution with the school.”
Gunter and his colleagues determined, however, that the building facing the residents is within the height limits and reasonable.
A few neighbors — and Commissioners Mike Hazen and Henry Oh — balked at Prep’s plans to plant eight 70-foot tall LED lights around their athletic field, replacing the school’s current practice of renting 12 portable solar-powered, 25-foot tall lights.
Prep said those do not provide sufficient on-field lighting, which decreases athlete safety, and that they also allow for a lot of light to bleed into the surrounding neighborhood. The taller light poles would create safer, more focused, brighter conditions and eliminate much of the light “trespass” beyond the school.
“Prep’s going to need these lights somewhere in the neighborhood of maybe 300 hours a year,” said Bob Easter, who lives on Nancy Way, behind the school. “Unfortunately, the neighbors are stuck with them 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I think we deserve a little more of a shot at doing something about aesthetics.”
With that in mind, Hazen and Oh suggested the school instead introduce 60-foot lights (which will slightly increase the amount of light that escapes the campus), and Prep officials agreed. Commissioners also ruled that the lights will be allowed to be used only on weekdays.
Easter suggested Prep investigate using telescoping poles, a concept that lighting expert Francis Krahe said isn’t feasible.
“When they’re retracted, they have to go somewhere, and this field is used all day long for activities,” explained Krahe, adding that the other type of retractable lighting involves permanent poles and removable lighting, which wouldn’t address neighbors’ concerns.
The Planning Commission requested that the city’s traffic engineer take a close look at whether the proposed crosswalk on Crown is necessary, suggesting that it might exacerbate traffic problems rather than calm them.
Otherwise, Prep will be permitted to move forward with plans that include an increase in enrollment by 30 students (to 530), an expansion of 2,150 square feet for back-of-the-house uses at Norris Auditorium and shade structures near an existing classroom building.
“We feel that the interests of our students, hundreds and maybe thousands of students, are going to benefit from this opportunity,” Bachmann said.

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