After absorbing about three hours of resident testimony about Flintridge Prep’s proposed campus improvement plans at its meeting Tuesday night, La Cañada Flintridge’s Planning Commission opted early Wednesday to continue discussion of the 10-year, multi-phase project at a later date.
That will allow time for the private school’s personnel to revise its proposal in accordance with feedback from commissioners, city planning staff and the public, including perhaps eliminating a controversial request to build a two-story parking garage.
“The applicants can come in as soon as they want,” Planning Commission Chair Rick Gunter said. “And if the applicant chooses to omit portions, that’s their prerogative, or they can amend it to reflect what it is they’d like to do.”
Flintridge Prep was seeking approval for an ambitious plan aimed at modernizing its campus to better align with educational programs for its 7th- through 12th-grade students.
The project, as presented Tuesday, is to feature three phases and include the demolition of about 3,235 square feet of existing school facilities as well as the construction of 62,790 square feet of new floor area (40,000 of which was to be included in the new parking structure that would replace the current 20,000-square foot lot).
The project was to include the addition of classroom, athletic and educational support facilities, as well as improvements to existing facilities — much of which would require variances related to height and setbacks, which, Gunter noted, are not unusual requests for such institutional zoning projects.
The school also asked to increase its student enrollment for the first time since 1989 to 530 — an increase of 30 students. Commissioners did not oppose that request.
But they did take issue with the proposed parking garage at the northeast corner of Crown Avenue and Foothill Boulevard. That piece of the plan was discussed most Tuesday, as residents expressed concern about its potential effects on already congested local traffic, neighborhood aesthetics and safety.
“It’s probably one of the worst intersections in all of La Cañada,” said David Trocker, who lives just north of the school on Daleridge Road. “Putting the structure there only worsens the traffic on Foothill [in addition to Crown].”
Commissioners Gunter, Mike Hazen and Henry Oh — both Commissioners Arun Jain and Jeffrey McConnell recused themselves from the discussion — said they weren’t prepared to approve the parking structure, which Flintridge Prep said would accommodate 50 more cars.
Despite pushback from Flintridge Prep’s traffic engineer, LCF resident Sarah Drobis, Oh maintained that it would make more sense for all of the school’s students to be dropped off in the parking lot on Hampton Road.
Hazen shared concerns of some that the reduced 15-foot setback separating the structure from the street would present a safety hazard.
And Gunter wondered whether it would be worth exploring a traffic management plan similar to what Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy enacted in the past few years before agreeing to the garage.
“I don’t know that it’s within our purview to say, ‘You can’t have one,’ in that zoning allows it,” Gunter said. “However, I’m not convinced that the parking or the crossing arrangement is satisfactory.”
Flintridge Prep Headmaster Peter Bachmann said he wasn’t ready to drop the request for the parking structure, but he suggested that his priorities were the other phases of the project.
“Our analysis is that it looks like [the parking structure] would be the best solution in an awkward, busy place,” Bachmann said. “I’m seeking approval for everything, but rather than have a continuation on anything, we’re open to all kinds of conversations, as we’ve been all along.”
However, since the proposal was submitted to the commission for approval in its entirety, the commission’s reservations on just one aspect set up a continuation on all of the plan. That includes the $20-million first-phase expansion of Norris Auditorium that would enclose an atrium space and create additional back-of-the-house space but no additional seating. The commissioners were supportive of that part of the plan.
The school’s other preferences include the construction of a new 17,205-square foot, three-story, versatile classroom space that Flintridge Prep is calling the Collaborative Leadership Building. That structure would replace the current 3,235-square foot Alumni House.
Hazen suggested that the height of the building could be problematic because it infringes on the privacy of nearby residents, and Oh said he won’t approve the proposed roof terrace.
Another important item on the school’s wish list, Bachmann said, is athletic field improvements. Those plans include the addition of permanent 70-foot light structures — which Flintridge Prep said would prove safer for student-athletes and could be better focused to shed less unwanted light on neighbors. Commissioners aren’t sure, however. Gunter said he “needs to see more about the photometrics and how it works out,” before giving it his OK.
Gunter also suggested that Flintridge Prep continue its outreach to its neighbors: “Maybe you can have them over to your place a little more often,” he said, noting that he’s witnessed such dialogue having helped smooth complicated discussions in the past.
The commission also continued its discussion about a request of a tentative parcel map to subdivide into four lots property at the end of Sunnybank Drive, east of Castle Road. The applicant requested approval to remove a 36-inch protected Oak tree to make way for a private roadway — a notion that drew complaints from neighbors, who also shared concerns about trees previously removed at the development site.
When it revisits the topic on Sept. 26, the commission has asked to see an arborists report that includes options for saving the tree as well as a clearer definition of the easements involved in the project, which Gunter said could alter access to other residents’ homes without their direct involvement.