Sagewillow school design close to
P&Z stops just short of
endorsing Phase 1 plan
By GREGORY FOLEY
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
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
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
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.