District Fields Complaints About Palm Crest Project

Illustration courtesy LPA
A rendering of modernization plans for Palm Crest Elementary School shows the proposed two-story building that some neighbors have criticized.

The governing board of the La Cañada Unified School District has directed the designers of a Palm Crest Elementary modernization project to investigate making changes to the plan after its proposed two-story building attracted criticism from nearby residents.
The $31.7 million project is aimed at remodeling Palm Crest by building a new parking lot, increasing playground areas, modernizing classrooms and replacing some of the school’s portable buildings with the new two-story structure.
However, many residents on nearby Solliden Lane expressed concern that the building would intrude on their privacy and stick out over fences and trees. Some also believed that the design’s color palette clashed with the look of the neighborhood.
Mark Evans, the district’s associate superintendent of business and administrative services, explained during the board’s May 19 meeting that the project design had been tweaked in response to these criticisms. Many of the changes included adjustments to the building to better obscure it from nearby residences.
The building’s color palette was changed and the glazing of windows facing Solliden was updated to prevent people from being able to look out from the classroom to the neighborhood.
Several Solliden residents, in statements read at the meeting, voiced support of the changes. Erin Olmsted, who said she was writing on behalf of the nearby homeowners, stated that many were concerned that the new building would impact their property values and encouraged the board to move forward with the adjustments.
“We understand that you are not legally obligated to implement these mitigation measures,” she wrote in her comments, which were read aloud during the meeting. “However, it is the right path to take under these circumstances. Remember what you ask the faculty to teach the children every day. Children are asked to be considerate, be inclusive, to compromise. And, above all, they are taught to be kind — without qualifications or exceptions.”
Other supporters included Laura Olhasso, a former La Cañada Flintridge mayor, who wrote that though she herself was not a resident of Solliden Lane, she believed the school and its design had an impact on the local neighborhood.
Some residents pushed for further changes, asking that trees be planted to screen the building from the neighboring houses. Designers for the Irvine-based LPA firm, which is overseeing the project, explained during the meeting that some trees and hedges were planned to be placed for that purpose.
Other community members were more critical, with David Haxton calling the project a “fiasco.”
“Recently, neighbors near PCR caught wind of your plans and this evening you are being forced to make changes,” the resident wrote. “How much money was wasted on the architects’ previous work that is now trashed? If a two-story building with an access road separating the building is such a privacy problem, how are you going to be able to build two-story buildings at [Paradise Canyon and La Cañada elementary schools], right on the property lines?”
Board President Joe Radabaugh directed Evans to work with the designers to incorporate some of the community’s suggestions, such as additional screening and better colors for the new building. He also expressed a desire to see the landscaping of the project determined more concretely, which would give both the board and community members a better idea of the project’s impact.
Vice President Ellen Multari, who said she has lived across the street from Palm Crest for 12 years, also voiced her support for the project, speaking directly to some of the criticism from community members.
“I think the plan we came up with is really ingenious,” Multari said during the meeting. “Solliden, I appreciate what they’re experiencing, and I think the landscaping is really critical to what we do there, but I think we’ve come up with a very measured approach.
“And despite what the opposition [says], we are neither ignorant nor incompetent nor malevolent nor negligent. We have been very measured in our approach to initiating this project, and I think that [we’ve] come up with a very solid plan to mitigate all the circumstances that we’re dealing with.”

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