Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Waldorf School seeks county permit

Express Staff Writer

"The benefits of a Waldorf School to the planet far outweigh the traffic problems."

—Mary Ellen O'Leary, Hailey resident

A Waldorf School kindergarten and after-school program has been proposed for a site near Bellevue, but may get squelched due to traffic concerns.

Valley resident Katharine Woods has applied for a conditional-use permit from Blaine County to develop the school on a 1.47-acre property adjacent to the Chantrelle subdivision, just north of the Bellevue city limits on the west side of Highway 75.

If permitted, the Wood River Valley's Waldorf School would join a network of about 1,500 Waldorf kindergartens in 51 countries. According to the Waldorf School's Web site, the goal of a Waldorf kindergarten is "to develop a sense of wonder in the young child and reverence for all living things. This creates an eagerness for the academics that follow..." The Waldorf kindergartens' emphasis is on creative play and stimulation of the imagination.

Woods said she spent five years teaching at Waldorf schools in San Francisco and Santa Cruz, Calif.

As proposed, the Wood River Valley school would have a maximum of 20 students at a time in a kindergarten from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., an after-school program for 4- to 12-year-old children and a summer program for 4- to 12-year-olds. Tuition would be on an income-based scale from $3,200 to $4,800 per year.

The new school's proposed location is within the county's R-5 zone, which allows public facilities, including schools, as conditional uses. The property contains a house, garage and workshop. The workshop would be converted into the school and Woods would live in the house.

About 45 people, many of them residents of the 85-lot Chantrelle subdivision, attended a public hearing on Woods' application before the county Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday. The P&Z took no action and continued the matter to its Dec. 9 meeting, at which time further public comment will be accepted.

At Thursday's meting, a show of hands indicated an approximately 20-to-10 majority in favor of Woods' application. However, most of the 15 people who spoke expressed concerns about the increased traffic the school would bring to the area.

The proposed location at 100 Mustang Lane connects directly to Highway 75 via Kirtley Street. However, it is also accessible to Bellevue via the Chantrelle subdivision—perhaps a more appealing route to the highway during busy traffic times. Woods said the school's tuition agreement would forbid parents from driving through the subdivision. She also said parents would be asked to abide by staggered pick-up times.

However, several speakers questioned whether those restrictions would be enforceable.

"I think the school's going to be a wonderful project," said subdivision resident Elizabeth Campbell. "(But) I don't think this is the right area."

Realtor Marc Reinemann, representing the Eccles family, whose ranch is just to the north of the proposed site, contended that a school would be incompatible with ranching operations. He said those include a nearby feedlot and the use of agricultural machinery on Mustang Lane.

A few speakers challenged those concerns, however.

"The benefits of a Waldorf School to the planet far outweigh the traffic problems," said Hailey resident Mary Ellen O'Leary.

Hailey resident Bob Copeland pointed out that trees surrounding the school would shield it from nearby residents.

"It appears to me to be just a perfect location for a school," he said.

Woods said the school will contain no bright, plastic play areas. She said that because Waldorf education has a strong environmental aspect to it, the school needs to be located in a fairly rural area.

"Part of the reason we love this property so much is that it's accessible to so many families in the South Valley, and yet it's quite far from any neighbors," Woods said.

High Altitude Gardens owner Bill McDorman, who is helping plan the school, said that when completed, the grounds will be "a big, beautiful garden that children can grow up in and learn in."

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