Tuesday, August 26, 2008

City votes to convert school


A proposal to convert Carpinteria’s former elementary school into an early childhood resource center earned a unanimous nod of approval from city leaders despite concerns expressed by some residents about parking impacts on the surrounding neighborhood.
After several hours of public testimony, the City Council determined the project had met its parking obligation by providing 26 spaces onsite and praised its merits.

“This is the kind of program that would have been very helpful to me in my childhood,” Mayor Michael Ledbetter said. “…By providing these services, we’ll improve the quality of life for everyone in Carpinteria for years to come.”
The proposal involves converting the Main School campus into a Head Start preschool and office space for a variety of community-based nonprofit agencies involved with early childhood education and care.
The site is located in downtown Carpinteria near the city’s middle school, community pool and popular beach, not to mention downtown businesses and a well-attended church — factors that had some neighbors of the project concerned about losing street parking.
Lynda Callos, a neighbor of the campus, said the area is already saturated with cars and the proposed resource center would have a greater impact than the elementary school had.
“Our neighborhood and city deserve more respect,” she said. “…Please do not ask us to approve a project that could change our neighborhood and city forever.”
Other neighbors agreed, saying the project would create a permanent, negative impact on the neighborhood.
However, city officials said studies show the proposed project actually represents a less intensive use of the site. The project received an exemption from environmental review after potential visual, noise, recreational, traffic, parking and air quality impacts were considered.
“All of those impact areas would be less significant, less intense than the previous use,” said Jackie Campbell, the city’s director of community development.
The proposal is also partially exempt from providing parking for users of the childhood resource center.
Since no parking had been provided for the elementary school, the site is considered legally non-conforming as long as it is used for school-related purposes.
While the 66-student preschool met that requirement, city officials deemed the nonprofit office space did not fit the description and mandated that the project applicant, the Hutton Foundation, provide at least 26 parking spaces — the estimated need for those offices.
“We’re very considerate of the concerns of the neighbors and I think we’ve responded,” said Pam Hamlin, executive director of the Hutton Foundation.
Foundation officials agreed to use a blacktop basketball court onsite as a parking area, despite concerns about having cars parking close to the proposed preschool classrooms.
“We don’t think it’s the most optimum because of safety issues … but we’re willing to do that,” Hamlin said. “We want to move forward on the project.”
In addition to the parking requirements, the resource center would only be allowed to operate from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. during the weekdays. No weekend activity would be permitted.
Use of the facility during the evening would be limited to 40 nights per year; activity would have to end by 9 p.m. and no amplified sound would be permitted.
“We promise to be a good neighbor,” said Fran Forman, executive director of the Community Action Commission, which would manage the preschool.
Superintendent Paul Cordeiro of the Carpinteria Unified School District said parking problems in the area would not be exacerbated by the early childhood resource center because many families that need those resources don’t have vehicles.
“They’re too busy trying to pay rent and feed themselves,” he said.
While city leaders agreed that the project had fulfilled its parking requirements, they admitted that parking has become a serious issue in the neighborhood.
As a result, the council directed city staff to return with a report on the parking problem and potential solutions, such as permits or angled spaces.

No comments: