Encinitas council upholds Sanderling Waldorf project approval

(Charlie Neuman)

Vote unanimous to reject four appeals filed by people who live in the region


The Encinitas City Council rejected four appeals Monday, June 29, filed by opponents of a private school project and gave the long-sought Sanderling Waldorf School permission to proceed toward construction.

The decision means that Sanderling Waldorf, which was formed in Encinitas some two decades ago but now operates out of rented spaces in Carlsbad and Vista, will be able to create a permanent home in Encinitas after years of moving in and out of temporary locations.

Plans call for the 31,105-square-foot school complex to accommodate up to 270 kindergarten through eighth-grade students and be built in two phases, with three of eight permanent structures constructed in the first phase. The proposed school site --- 3.3 acres on Mays Hollow Lane near Quail Gardens Drive --- has been a source of conflict in the Encinitas community for several years.

Supporters say the property, which is on a quiet private roadway, will give their beloved school the special home they’ve long dreamed of after years of moving about. They describe their delight in finding and purchasing the property, and vow to be dedicated stewards of the site, improving a degraded wetlands area and planting dozens of native trees.

Their proposed school will be one of the most environmentally-friendly projects in the city and actually enhance neighboring property values, project consultant Bill Hoffman said Monday night. Noting that the majority of the school’s students live in Encinitas, Hoffman said the project is a “good fit for the school and the city.”

Opponents argue that the site, which is near many residential homes and a Jehovah’s Witness church, is a completely inappropriate place for a large school and will vastly increase the traffic troubles on busy Quail Gardens Drive. Four people appealed last year’s city Planning Commission decision approving a host of permits for the project, including a major use permit and a coastal development permit.

Two of the four appellants, Manolo Turner and Carmen Nespor, live on Mays Hollow Lane, while the other two, Steve Gerken and Glen Johnson live on nearby streets.

Nespor, who noted that her children attended a Waldorf school in The Netherlands when they were young, said she’s definitely not opposed to the idea of having a Waldorf school in Encinitas, but said the proposed site is a very poor location for a school.

“With a big line of cars, I think it’s a set-up for disaster,” she said as she showed a video of cars backed up on Quail Gardens Drive at its intersection with Mays Hollow Lane during the peak morning commute period.

Turner said there were “many, deeply troubling aspects of this project,” particularly its impact on the environment. All but one of the mature Torrey pine trees will be removed and there are rare birds in the area, including Least Bell’s Vireos and California Gnatcatchers, he said. He had previously submitted video footage of a rare vireo on the school property and said Monday night that more environmental research needs to be done before the city permits the project to proceed.

Council members said they agreed with the supporters that the project ought to be allowed to move forward and the city’s Planning Commission was right to approve its permits.

The school is “an ideal candidate for this parcel,” Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze said as she described why she was supporting the permit approvals.

However, Councilman Joe Mosca said he wanted the city to monitor traffic conditions at the intersection of Quail Gardens Drive and Mays Hollow Lane after the school opened, while Councilman Tony Kranz said Turner’s information on rare birds on the property did raise a few questions.

“I’m a little bit uncomfortable; it seems like we have a loose end hanging out here,” he said, later adding that he hoped state and federal wildlife agencies would add extra conditions on construction activity, if needed.

School consultants said the construction work will not occur during the breeding bird season.

Sanderling Waldorf School was founded in 1996 as a home-based, parent-toddler group and later moved into a Masonic Lodge building on Cardiff’s Windsor Road. In recent years, school operations have been split between two campuses, with children ages 3 to 6 attending the school’s nursery/kindergarten program on Valley Street in Carlsbad, while first- through eighth-graders attend a campus on Business Park Drive in Vista.

--- Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune