Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Mountain School to expand enrollment

Permit approved for 8 additional students

Express Staff Writer

Over the objections of neighbors, the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission approved on July 22 modifications to the permit of The Mountain School near Bellevue.

The Waldorf school has been allowed to enroll 27 students, but the permit modifications allow them to take on eight new students, for a total of 35. The school will also be allowed to have 130 people on the property for events such as school plays and graduations.

Neighbors from the adjacent Chantrelle subdivision voiced their objections at the hearing, saying the school has grown too large for its space.

"We love the school," Chantrelle homeowner Darsi Cordingley said. "It's the numbers."

Cordingley said the number of children the school already has is too much for the area, and children congest the river and use the neighborhood as their playground.

"This is our neighborhood," Cordingley said. "This isn't the place for that many kids."

The school was originally approved with a maximum of 20 students, a number later raised to the 27. The Mountain School's permit also called for a maximum of 100 people attending large-scale events.

Though the most recent application for a permit amendment asked for an expansion to 44 students and 160 event attendees, Mountain School Administrator Patti Lousen stated those numbers were higher than needed.

"That's the absolute maximum," Lousen said.

The numbers were set high at the suggestion of planning staff, she said, to prevent another permit amendment application in a few years.

The commissioners expressed concern at the high numbers, agreeing with neighbor statements that at some point expansion on the site needs to be capped.

Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Chip Bailey said he wanted to encourage the school administrators to plan ahead for the time when the site cannot meet the school's needs.

"There is a number [of students] that will maximize the use of this location," Bailey said.

To that end, the commissioners approved a smaller expansion, including language in their decision to discourage future increases.

The commissioners also included conditions that require an annual review of the school's permit. The Mountain School will be required to distribute an annual notice of all events to neighbors, including the entire Chantrelle subdivision.

A proposed condition of the permit was that the school build a crosswalk across state Highway 75 at Kirtley Road, near the school, to deal with foot traffic from the increased enrollment.

This request was denied by commissioners on the basis that such a crosswalk would be dangerous for both pedestrians and traffic.

"It seemed to me a dangerous idea, but I'm not an expert," said Commissioner Jo Lowe.

Other commissioners mentioned that the crosswalk appears to connect Kirtley Road with nothing as it crosses Highway 75, and that a new crosswalk could pose problems for drivers not used to stopping at that intersection.

Katherine Wutz:

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