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Evans School makes plea to expand playing fields on house lot

A plan to remove an unoccupied home and replace it with a school playing field will be heard tonight by the entire La Jolla Community Planning Association after a sub-committee vote on the project drew a split vote.

The La Jolla Coastal Development Permit Committee voted 4-4 at its Aug. 9 meeting after hearing the proposal from the Evans School, a kindergarten through sixth grade school on La Jolla Scenic Drive.

The school argued the project would replace a dilapidated home at the end of a cul-de-sac with a landscaped playing field that would draw no additional traffic beyond students and faculty. Some nearby residents worried about allowing school facilities to be built in a lot designated by land-use law as single-family housing.

The even vote at the subcommittee level and any action the planning association takes will serve as advisory votes for planners when the Evans School applies for a conditional-use permit at the city level.

Committee member Phil Merten said he voted against the proposal because he felt it could not be argued that the playing field would be consistent with the plan for the neighborhood.

“My sense is that when residents bought property there, they rightly assumed it would remain as a single-family housing area,” Merten said.

Committee member Dave Little said he took a rare course in disagreeing with the area residents who came to oppose the plan.

“I like to vote with the people,”

Little said. “In this case, I thought I would have preferred a school playground as opposed to a 30-foot, big bulk and scale house.”

Chris Neils, an attorney representing the Evans School, agreed with Little’s sentiment.

“It’s going to be a green piece of land with trees and shrubs and flowers. It will look nice,” he said. “Frankly, it’s hard for us to imagine how it would disturb the neighborhood.”

Neils said construction of the field would be a quick job, with no heavy grading required after the initial hurdle of removing the house. He estimated the work would take less than 90 days.

Some neighbors questioned how the change might affect traffic on Campina Place, which runs along what would be the back edge of the field. They worried about students coming through the field to be dropped off and picked up, little leagues using the field after school hours and about how brightly the field might be lit.

Others worried how the school might use a conditional-use permit if one was granted.

“The prime reason I would be concerned is if they are approved - and I fully believe they intend to put a playground there - is if the administration changes,” Little said, “and they have the ability to put a school building there. The residents need something saying they can’t have a three-story school building looking into their yards.”

Those concerns have led school representatives, neighbors and the committee into discussions about attaching several conditions to any advisory votes sent along to the city. The conditions include guarantees that no permanent structures will be built on the lot, Merten said, and that there will be no pedestrian access from the field to Campina Place, except in emergencies.

The school has also agreed to limit the field to use only by students and faculty and that the field will not be lighted.

“These are not concessions, because those things were never planned,” Neils said. “It’s literally just a play field.”

Neils said fears about the school encroaching on the neighborhood are unfounded, as it has been a good neighbor to Campina Place since it was placed there by the city in 1977.

“The school is in the neighborhood already,” he said. “And this lot is at the end of the street, as far from the houses as you can get.”

Little worried that any conditions attached to the local committees’ recommendations would be lost when the permit application came before the city.

“I’m told that if you keep sending conditions along with your recommendations, the city ignores the conditions,” Little said. “And the presenters (from Evans School) seemed willing to put something in writing and not just have them be something the committee attaches when it sends the recommendations to the city.”

Most neighbors, Neils said, were convinced that the school’s intentions were benign and that the field would not infringe on the neighborhood.

“There is no secret plan,” he said. “There are still some people who are not convinced.”

Tonight’s meeting of the La Jolla Community Planning Association is open to the public and will be held at 6 p.m. at the La Jolla Recreation Center, 615 Prospect St. Call (858) 456-7900 for more information.