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Planning Commission approves Waldorf school

ENCINITAS — Hundreds of supporters and families of the Sanderling Waldorf school attended the nearly four-hour public hearing, after which the commission voted 4-0 to approve the eight-building, 31,150-square-foot school on four lots east of Quail Gardens Drive along Mays Hollow Lane.

The project is proposed to be built in two phases: the first with eight modular buildings and the second phase, which is subject to the school’s fundraising efforts, the replacement of the modular buildings with permanent structures. 

A group of neighbors and a nearby congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses opposed the project based on concerns about traffic and pedestrian safety, but the commissioners said that the staff report and traffic study addressed their concerns.

The commission added several conditions, including one that would require the school district to return for approval if it takes longer than 10 years to commence the second phase, and for the city to study creating a 25 miles per hour speed zone along Quail Gardens to stretch from Encinitas Boulevard to the Encinitas Union School District farm lab property to the north.

“I have no further issues, and I think it’s a wonderful project, it’s going to be a good synergy, and my concerns about traffic are answered,” said Commissioner Brett Farrow, who made the motion to approve the project.

Sanderling Waldorf is a private school that was founded in Encinitas 20 years ago but currently operates in two locations in Vista and Carlsbad in spaces that have expiring leases next summer.

School board chair Kimberly Prentiss told the commission that the school wanted to return to Encinitas, where most of the families reside.

“The plan for this campus is just what our families have hoped for, a coastal location in a city with shared values with our program,” Prentiss said. “Those are including respect and care for the environment and for each other.”

The majority of the 40 speakers who spoke during the hearing were parents and supporters of the school, many who waved signs and wore sky-blue shirts in a show of solidarity with the school.

Most of them spoke about the quality of education and how the Quail Gardens site would be a perfect permanent home. 

But several of the speakers, including neighbors and a representative of the English congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, said the school would exacerbate an already congested street.

“We learned a lot tonight about the school, however this hearing is not about how this particular private school education can be different from other schools,” said Glen Johnson, a longtime resident. “What we are looking at is some facts … that Quail Gardens Drive is used as a shortcut for nearby public schools and the freeway, and the level of service is degraded during peak hours.”

But the school officials responded that their traffic study, which did not take into account the traffic mitigating measures the school had pledged to take, showed they would not create the concerns the neighbors feared would take place. 

“We totally understand that our neighbors are going to have concerns about any change to the status quo,” said Bill Hofman, the project planner. “They’ve basically lived next to a park for all these years and with any change, there’s going to be a lot of fear. But all of the statements were not based on any factual-based information, they were all very speculative.”

Hoffman said the school’s enrollment cap at 270 students, as well as staggered drop-off and pick-up times and carpooling in addition to a queuing capacity for 53 vehicles rendered many of the concerns moot. 

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