ENCINITAS — The City Council voted 4-0, with Deputy Mayor Kristin Gaspar recusing herself, not to accept the request for a general plan amendment to rezone property and create a new arts center at the former Pacific View Elementary site.
The council agreed that the request could return after a pending lawsuit with the owner of the property, the Encinitas Union School District, is resolved.
Gaspar removed herself from the proceedings because she felt she could not participate “unless and until the lawsuit with the district is resolved.”
A letter of intent was filed by John DeWald, a local developer, for a formal general plan amendment, according to senior planner Diane Langager. The request sought to change the current public/ semi-public zoning to a new, undefined category called arts center mixed use. Formal action on the request would require a public meeting with the applicant and the neighbors and would only come to the council for a vote after a recommendation from the Planning Commission, according to Langager.
Located on Third Street between E Street and F Street, the modest school is surrounded by commercial buildings and smaller homes, with a few exceptions. It closed due to declining enrollment in the area in 2003.
The property was gifted to the city in 1883 for a school site. The original schoolhouse is located to the west of the property and houses the Encinitas Historical Society.
While several proposals have been tossed around regarding the future of the site, none have been met with success. In 2005, an advisory committee was created consisting of various stakeholders. An initial proposal to build a medical complex with office space and condos was met with disapproval by the downtown community.
The school board sued the city after the City Council refused to rezone the property from semi-public to residential last year. Encinitas Unified School District Superintendent Timothy Baird said in a previous interview that the board would drop the suit if negotiations with Art Pulse were successful. However, he has since added a caveat to the promise.
He said he is neither a supporter nor a detractor of the proposed project. “I think I’m the third side of the coin here,” Baird said. “If this zoning moves forward, the school district would drop its lawsuit against the city.”
San Diego-based nonprofit Art Pulse was chosen out of three proposals submitted to the EUSD in part because the group plans to purchase the site for $7.5 million and has some funds on hand. The group partnered with DeWald who agreed to pay the $300,000 escrow deposit and an additional $3 million of the total purchase price. In return, DeWald would own part of the land in order to develop up to seven single-family homes.
Art Pulse had numerous supporters at the meeting, including William Simonson, co-founder of the Positive Action Community Theater, Diane Welch, a local writer and Paul Ecke III.
“I know its complicated but I think its worth the time and effort to move forward,” Ecke told the council.
However, just as many detractors of the project were in attendance. Many of the speakers made a point that while they did not support a zoning change, they did support an arts center.
“Every coin has two sides,” Stocks said.
Tom McPherson, owner of nearby property said that by applying the mixed-use arts center to the entire parcel, the city would be violating the EUSD purchasing agreement that requires subdivision of the residential portion of the plan.
He said the parcel would have to be divided into two distinct portions, one with mixed-use and one zoned single-family residential for the seven planned homes.
“This site is absolutely a jewel,” said Bill Sparks, who owns property on Third Street. He said it was land that belonged in the public domain and was “deeply troubled” that it might fall into the hands of a private real estate developer.
“I support an arts center, let’s not sell out the PV site just yet,” Sparks told the council. “Please do not be rushed into making a decision.”
Annie Lief, who taught at Pacific View in the 1990s, said she supports the concept of an arts center but wants one that is “community based.”
“Many of the uses under the letter are allowable under the current zoning,” she said.
Danny Salzhandler from the 101 Artists’ Colony was apprehensive about the rezoning.
“The thing that’s in the back of our minds is that it gets rezoned and the money isn’t there and then we don’t know what we get.”
City Attorney Glenn Sabine said the lawsuit with the school board must be dismissed before the rezoning can be approved.
“I just can’t support a zone change while we have an active lawsuit,” Stocks said. “I’m not going to go through a process with a gun at our heads,” he said.
“We can’t run off in two directions at once without failing,” Councilman Jim Bond said regarding the lawsuit.