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For the week of May 14 - 20, 2003


Sagewillow school design close to approval

P&Z stops just short of
endorsing Phase 1 plan

Express Staff Writer

The Community School took several more "baby steps" this week in its slow march to build a new elementary school on its 30-acre Sagewillow campus in Elkhorn.

Following a three-hour discussion and hearing Tuesday, Sun Valley Planning and Zoning commissioners stopped just short of approving the design and layout of the first phase of the project.

Mark Cork, architect for Seattle-based Mahlum Architects, standing, presents plans Tuesday for The Community School’s proposed new elementary school in Elkhorn. Looking on are Sun Valley Planning and Zoning Commission members Jim McLaughlin, center-left, Mark Pynn, center, and Nils Ribi. Express photo by Willy Cook

The panel tentatively agreed on essentially all of the design-review elements of the plan, but in the end opted to review the application one more time before a motion to approve the design is considered.

Commissioners ultimately voted unanimously to continue their design review of the proposed project on Tuesday, June 10.

At issue is a proposal by The Community School to develop three buildings on the Sagewillow site that would total approximately 21,000 square feet.

As the first phase of plans to develop the new campus, the school has proposed to construct a new "Community Room" building and a separate classroom building. In addition, the school has sought permission to convert the existing stables on the property into an administrative building and "Early Childhood Center," or preschool.

An approximately 170-square-foot observatory that was originally planned to be included in the first phase of construction has been put on hold indefinitely.

The Community School submitted its design-review application for the project after an approximately nine-month battle to gain approval of a conditional-use permit for the plan. The P&Z in January unanimously approved the CUP with a long, six-page set of conditions primarily aimed at keeping to a minimum the impacts of the project on neighboring residents.

The CUP approval was appealed by three groups to the Sun Valley City Council, which ultimately upheld the P&Z decision. However, a contingent of residents who live along Arrowleaf Road—the only access point to and from the proposed school—last month filed a lawsuit against the city claiming that it acted unlawfully in issuing the permit.

Like previous meetings held to consider the CUP, the discussion Tuesday focused on how the project would impact residents of neighboring properties.

Commissioner Nils Ribi, who has attentively looked after the neighbors’ interests in the ongoing review process, said he wanted to ensure that the new school did not emit excessive levels of noise and light onto adjacent properties.

He told P&Z Chairman Jim McLaughlin that he did not want to approve the design of the project until the issues are better resolved.

Arrowleaf resident Doug Carnahan—one of the plaintiffs in the unresolved suit against the city of Sun Valley—repeatedly voiced concerns about the project design. He said the school’s projection that noise impacts of the school would not exceed 40 decibels were incongruous with the findings of his own noise consultant. "As far I’m concerned, there is a noise impact, based on environmental standards," he said.

Commissioner Mark Pynn indicated that he was concerned that the city might be attempting to over-regulate the proposed elementary school. "It’s all part of the idea of whether or not we’re going to allow a school to operate in this community," he said.

Ribi noted that by questioning elements of the project he was simply "trying to make this thing work."

Commissioners ultimately indicated they will discuss a motion to approve the proposed design. The panel went as far as developing a set of conditions of approval for the plan—including one that the school install a bike path on the campus—but delayed a vote to reconsider if the design should be changed to mitigate the impacts of the development.

If the design is approved, the approval will pertain only to the first phase of the project.

Additional phases would likely include a library, additional classrooms and a multi-purpose structure.

The project—including improvements to the school’s existing Trail Creek campus—has been estimated to cost $10 million.



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