EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated since it’s original post.
ENCINITAS — Plans to transform the shuttered Pacific View Elementary School site into an arts, culture and ecology center are headed to the Encinitas Planning Commission for approval this week, more than four years after the city purchased the old Pacific View Elementary School site and selected a group to steward its restoration.
The Planning Commission will consider the Encinitas Arts, Culture and Ecology Alliance’s proposal Thursday night.
The plans call for the conversion of the former classroom buildings into multi-faceted venue that would include a museum, educational institution, library, theater, multi-purpose auditorium, administrative offices, storage, a gift shop, outdoor snack bar and café, community/demonstration gardens, minor agricultural/horticulturalproduction and the retail sales of various ecology and sustainability-related items.
Plans also call for the project to be completed in two phases: Phase 1 would include basic facility improvements, disabled access and restrooms that would allow the group behind the project to slowly begin programming.
Phase 2 would include the full implementation of programming, improvements to the parking lot area, new fencing and interior site landscaping.
The parking plan would require an on-site valet service in addition to self-service parking to reach the required number of spaces to meet the programming demands.
At least one neighbor has expressed concern that the city is advancing the project without a proper review of the impacts to the neighborhood, specifically dealing with noise, traffic and parking.
The proposal calls for one large event a month with up to 300 people attending, four “small” events per month with up to 100 people, and up to two farmer’s markets per week. The proposal doesn’t provide details about the events, but city’s staff would have to approve the events.
Felix Tinkov is an attorney who represents Don McPherson, who owns a multi-family complex adjacent to the property. He said the city is approving the project in a piecemeal fashion in order to avoid environmental review.
According to the staff report, the city claims the project is exempt from environmental review based on several grounds: the project is using existing facilities and converts them from one use to another and that the project is an in-fill development.
Tinkov said the totality of the changes on the project grounds are not minor, and should be subject to some review.
“The way the city is attempting to avoid determining the impacts is by not saying anything now, but when (the Alliance) wants to have events, they will go to the city for a permit that’s granted over the counter, not at a planning commission meeting like this.
“Overall, the project might be a great one for the city, but they have to follow the right process,” Tinkov said. “They are trying to get ever use under the sun permitted but they don’t want the environmental review that would come with it.”
EACEA, a conglomerate of local entrepreneurs and luminaries, calls the venue the Pacific View Academy of the Arts, and has been working on it since 2015, when the city chose them over another bidder for the rights to spearhead the restoration efforts.
The city purchased the defunct campus from the Encinitas Union School for $10 million amid criticism that the city overpaid for the property. The criticisms lingered into the 2016 election, when then mayoral candidate Paul Gaspar criticized the council for the purchase.
The controversy surrounding Pacific View has waned in the years following the 2016 election, as EACEA engaged in various fundraising efforts to get their plans off the ground, and site cleanups to beautify the beleaguered campus in the interim.
EACEA received $150,000 from the county toward maintenance efforts at the school site and another $71,825.25 in 2017 from the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project.
The Planning Commission meets at 6 p.m. Jan. 21 at City Council chambers, 505 S. Vulcan Avenue.