Monday, August 25, 2008

Carp. school conversion to get revisit


A proposal to convert a former elementary school in downtown Carpinteria into an early childhood resource center will get a second look from city leaders today in response to concerns about parking impacts.
Planning commissioners approved the project earlier this month, but the City Council appealed the decision in order to examine the proposal anew.

Several community members have voiced their apprehension about further exacerbating a parking supply problem in the surrounding neighborhood, according to meeting minutes.
Known as the Main School campus, the project site is located near the city’s middle school and community pool, a popular beach, a church and many downtown businesses.
Faced with budgetary issues and declining enrollment, Carpinteria school district officials decided to close the elementary school for the 2007-08 school year.
Following a series of public meetings, leaders selected a proposal from the Hutton Foundation to use the campus as an early childhood and education resource center.
“With the pending proposal to backfill the elementary school with a preschool and several local nonprofit social service providers, the parking issue has risen to the forefront of the discussion,” city officials said in a staff report.
Since no parking has been provided on the campus for many years, the site is considered legally non-conforming and would not have to comply with current city zoning requirements.
That policy applies only if the property is used for school-related purposes that are not more intense than its previous use as an elementary school.
As proposed, the project would include a Head Start preschool as the primary tenant, along with a group of community-based agencies such as the Carpinteria Education Foundation and the Santa Barbara County Women, Infants and Children Program.
While evaluating potential environmental impacts, city staff determined the proposed 66-student preschool and nonprofit resource center would not exceed the historic use of the site, which averaged 318 students per year.
However, the nonprofit resource center is not considered a school-related use and would not enjoy the legal non-conforming status granted to the preschool.
As a result, the Planning Commission required the project applicant to provide 26 parking spaces — either onsite, by creating angled parking along Walnut Avenue or by entering into an agreement with a nearby property owner.
In response, the Hutton Foundation agreed to place the required parking spaces on the existing basketball court on campus.
Foundation officials also assured neighbors that no other uses, such as adult education night school classes, would continue should the project be approved. The hours of operation would be from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; evening events would be allowed until 9 p.m. for a maximum of five nights a month.
Even as city officials discussed the project and its potential impacts, they acknowledged the existence of the larger issue of inadequate parking in the downtown area.
Due to multi-family housing complexes and other institutional uses, demand often leads to extreme shortages in convenient street parking, particularly during peak hours, according to a staff report.
Several churches create a demand for street parking on Sundays, while the Veterans Hall building that includes a library and health clinic also strains the parking supply.
“The community pool and middle school complex similarly create unique on-street parking demand during the school year and when special events, such as swim meets, occur,” according to the report.
City officials said parking improvements for the downtown area are being studied as part of the Downtown and Beach Neighborhood Specific Plan, currently in draft form and expected to reach city leaders later this fall.
Establishing more timed parking spaces for commercial areas and permit parking in residential neighborhoods are possible solutions.
“The potential for increasing the supply of street parking in most neighborhoods is very limited; however establishing angled parking, eliminating restricted parking such as loading zones, and minimizing no parking areas/red zones are all options to be considered when supply is a problem,” according to the staff report.
City officials made it clear that addressing the larger issue of parking in the downtown core should be separated from the current proposal before the council involving the Main School campus.

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