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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of June 26 - July 2, 2002


Sun Valley P&Z tables Sagewillow school plans

Refined plans may be submitted within a month

Express Staff Writer

That overworked refrain—"Back to the drawing board!"—took on a grimly realistic meaning Tuesday for The Community School and the designers planning the proposed new Sagewillow elementary school campus in Elkhorn.

Mahlum architect Mark Cork explains the layout of renderings for the proposed Sagewillow campus during a site inspection Tuesday. Express photo by Willy Cook

The five-member Sun Valley Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously tabled the school’s application for a conditional permit to construct the $12 million school on a five-acre portion of 30 acres donated to the school by the Dumke family.

Tabling the application means the school and its architects and various consulting firms must resolve issues raised by the P&Z and return with the fixes. However, the school will not be required to go through the public hearing process again that has made the proposed project one of the most controversial in Sun Valley history.

Indications are that the refined plans could be submitted within a month for another hearing.

The Community School now operates the so-called Trail Creek campus, just a stroll from the Sun Valley Lodge. If built, the new Sagewillow complex would allow pre-school and K-5 classes at the Trail Creek campus to relocate.

P&Z Commissioner Blair Boand said he thinks the proposed school’s "design, need and location" are appropriate, but stressed the need to refine the plans to address neighborhood and traffic issues. Express photo by Willy Cook

Before voting on Tuesday, the commission as well as school design teams and Sun Valley city staffers drove to the site in the area of Arrowleaf and Morning Star roads for a walk-around inspection.

Unfortunately for the school design teams, the simmering issue of playground and associated noise became real when a resident of the Highlands townhouses, perhaps 100 yards from the school site, walked out on the deck of his home and began speaking on his cell phone.

The conversation was audible to the P&Z commissioners and others in the group. The incident would later be cited when the commission resumed its deliberations an hour later.

Most of the questions during the site inspection, as well as later during the formal meeting at the Limelight Room of the Sun Valley Lodge, focused on traffic and noise issues.

A series of public hearings have drawn large numbers of supporters and opponents. Those favoring the private school say it will be an asset to the community. Those opposed generally believe that increased traffic and noise associated with children at play will diminish the quality of life in adjacent residential areas.

Sun Valley city attorney Rand Peebles states that The Community School’s Sagewillow campus application fulfills requirements for a conditional-use permit request. Express photo by Willy Cook

It was obvious from the tone of commissioner questions early in the meeting that they were not satisfied with the array of elements presented in the project application involving traffic and noise suppression.

Commissioner Blair Boand: "I have a stewardship to the community. People have a right to quiet enjoyment of their property. Completely rebuilding Arrowleaf Road (is the only way) to make this happen."

Lori Labrum, project manager for The Community School: "Yes, we’ve looked at other (road) alternatives, but (each) affected somebody, somewhere."

When transportation consultant Mike Riggs was asked about a transit plan to move children by bus from the Trail Creek campus to Sagewillow, and he explained the school’s two buses would be used on an optional basis, Commissioner Nils Ribi rose literally almost out of his chair and snapped:

"This is a meaningful bus plan?"

Commission chairman Mark Pynn then joined in and said that "this (mass transportation) is the key issue in my mind, but I don’t see any encouragement (by school officials) for mass transit."

Ribi then likened the school's optional bus use idea as "similar to car pooling (and) we all know that doesn’t work."

The issue of how many and what type of extracurricular events would be held on the campus was part of the commission’s focus, especially because events would create after-school or weekend traffic and noise.

Labrum said they would be minimal, perhaps as few as 10, and all of them associated with the school rather than simply unrelated community groups.

Finally, when Pynn looked to his colleagues for indications of whether they wanted to vote the project up or down, or simply table it until fixes to the plans were provided, the sentiment favored the tabling.

Commissioner Phil Usher led off by saying he’d gone "back and forth" in his feelings about the project, and now had decided that the "livability issue" involving traffic had to be resolved first.

Boand: "There’s a solution (to noise and traffic), but I haven’t seen it (in the plans)."

Pynn: "Traffic issues are paramount."

Ribi: "Mandatory busing of every student, and teachers, too," from the Trail Creek campus must be part of the improved planning.

Commissioner Ken Herich: "I like the sound of children at play," but traffic impacts unreasonably on the "surrounding" community."

One by one, the commissioners praised the concept of the school, the design of the campus and buildings and the work of the architects.

They hinted broadly that if the design team returns with solutions to school traffic and noise, the plan is likely to be approved.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.