23 Aug 2014
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Capo School Board Urges Denial of Apartments Next to High School

Trustees fear a "perverse" situation that could lock San Juan Capistrano students out of their own high school, sending them elsewhere.

Capo School Board Urges Denial of Apartments Next to High School

Fearing a “perverse” situation when San Juan Capistrano students could be denied access to San Juan Hills High, sending them instead to Capistrano Valley, San Clemente or Dana Hills high schools, the Capistrano Unified school board unanimously voted Wednesday to oppose a proposed apartment complex next to San Juan Hills.

The San Juan Capistrano City Council is expected to consider changing the zoning on the 4-acre lot from accommodating a few homes to allowing 100 apartment units at its Jan. 21 meeting. In August, the city’s Planning Commission voted to deny the project, but the council has the last say.

The lot is the last piece of undeveloped, buildable land adjacent to the school, according to the resolution trustees passed.

If the council gives the green light, the property suddenly becomes much more valuable, possibly pricing it out of the district’s reach, said Trustee Jim Reardon.

“If that vote goes through, it’s going to be a very difficult to even have that conversation,” he said.

President John Alpay is the one who used the word “perverse,” referring to the possibility that San Juan Capistrano residents not being able to send their children to the school within their city limits. That’s because the school was built in part with Mello-Roos taxes paid by Ladera Ranch and Talega residents who would get priority enrollment.

“Talega, they have a right over other students,” Alpay said. “The same can be said with Ladera. … What we’re going to have is a perverse situation. … If you don’t live in a CFD [community facilities district, another name for Mello-Roos districts] in San Juan Capistrano, you’re going to be pushed out.”

Earlier in the meeting, a Talega resident, Debbie Flowers, warned the board it would be illegal to redraw the boundaries to deny Talega residents access to San Juan Hills High.

The meeting attracted a who’s-who of San Juan Capistrano city officials and citizens, including a current City Councilman, Roy Byrnes, who didn’t speak, and a former mayor, Mark Nielsen, who did. The latter suggested the district negotiate a land swap on some property in which it has an option off of Camino Las Ramblas, something that may not be possible if the San Juan Hills-adjacent land is rezoned.

“Don’t tie your hands unnecessarily,” Nielsen said.

Both San Juan Capistrano Director of Community Development Nelson Miller and the developer’s representative, Phillip Schwartze, spoke, saying the apartment complex would not create much additional traffic that’s not already experienced next to the school.

But the issue isn’t about traffic, Reardon said. It’s about capacity, and San Juan Hills High is nearly at it.

“I’m going to say this from the dais: We have a serious capacity problem with San Juan Hills High School,” he said. “The site was not big enough when built.”

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