FSHA Expansion Plans Closer to City Approval

Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy is a few dotted i’s and crossed t’s from finally seeing its master plan receive the blessing of the La Cañada Flintridge Planning Commission.
Commissioners indicated Tuesday they’re ready to support the project when they revisit it at their Oct. 24 meeting, so long as there are a few minor adjustments to the proposal, which calls for an increase of building square footage by some 116,000 square feet to 333,502 square feet.
With a recommendation from the Planning Commission, the project would move to the City Council, where it can be approved.
“Flintridge Sacred Heart has been a good neighbor, not just recently, but for decades,” Commissioner Jeffrey McConnell said of the 86-year-old school. “They should be afforded an opportunity to continue their mission, allowing for modernization, and small expansion is well within their rights as a property owner and a part of our community.”
The multi-phase campus renovation project, which would take 15-20 years to complete, starting potentially with a fire safety system upgrade next summer, was presented to the commission Tuesday as one multi-pronged agenda item:
• Commissioners were asked to recommend a general plan amendment that would change the land use from “institutional” to “FSHA-Specific Plan.” That legislative act would, if approved by the City Council, essentially serve as the zoning document for all future approvals included within the plan, short of its outright repeal.
• They also considered whether to approve annexation of the portion of Pasadena on which FSHA’s 42-acre campus is partially situated.
• And they considered a zone change from the current “public/semi-public” to “FSHA-Specific Plan,” which would allow the go-ahead of the modernization project.
That work is anticipated to include an expansion of the arts center and the high school building, development of a campus plaza and enhanced internal open space areas through the Dominican Garden.
Also, it includes new tennis courts (not to be used for interscholastic competition), the demolition of two cottages, and a new partially subterranean multi-level parking structure providing 239 spaces. (The school’s current transportation management program, which reduced the number of cars driven to the school by 40%, FSHA officials say, is to remain in place as part of the Specific Plan.)
About 27.2 acres of the hillside project site is to remain undeveloped and the student enrollment cap of 425 will not change.
“This plan does not aggressively build out the property, which they own,” McConnell said. “It is very thoughtful of how modernization and expansion happens. They have respect for the environment they are in and it’s clear through the design and layout of the plan.”
Commissioners also are tasked with deciding whether to recommend that the City Council certify the Environmental Impact Review that was completed, with help from an outside consultant, this summer.
The EIR determined that there would be significant but unavoidable impact to historical resources (the cottages), but less than significant impact to archaeological and tribal resources — before grading permits are completed, the Specific Plan will require that FSHA retain a qualified archaeologist and a certified monitor from the Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians to monitor all ground-disturbing activities.
That includes work on the utility pole and line replacement portion of the project. As construction on the additional square footage moves forward, FSHA must schedule a SCE transmission line upgrade, from 4 to 16 kilovolts.
That electrical work — which also is expected to benefit FSHA’s neighbors — will require the replacement of four poles, and that will involve helicopters, warned Susan Koleda, the city’s deputy director of community development.
“So that is significant noise,” she said, adding that residents within 300 feet also will have to evacuate temporarily while the poles are replaced. “On the plus side, that [evacuation] will limit the number of people who are exposed to the noise.”
Commissioners asked that the proposal’s various actions be separated when they review — and possibly recommend — it next month. They also asked that updated information regarding lights and parking stall sizes be included, and that the term “temporary” be eliminated in favor of more concrete end dates.
In the Specific Plan, FSHA will be permitted to host only six non-school events per year, a result of an agreement with some residents who protested the expansion amid traffic fears.
On Tuesday, some FSHA supporters failed to persuade the Planning Commission to remove the limit on non-school functions: “The school used to host Christmas parties for the community,” Charlie Kenny said. “It’s unfair that one individual … has the ability to impose these kinds of unneighborly restrictions on the school.”
For her part, McCormack expressed appreciation for the community’s support.
“Over the last six years, we have shared our vision with you and you have shared your excitement and support with us,” she said.
“You also shared questions and concerns and we committed to engaging and listening and ensuring that our plans to upgrade our campus were sensitive to our surrounding community. Being good neighbors is very, very important to us.”

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