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Updated: County Commission Denies Palm Street School Permit

The County's Regional Planning Commission voted 3-2 against the proposed expansion of the Arroyo Pacific Academy to a lot on Palm Street.

The County's Regional Planning Commission voted in a hearing Wednesday afternoon to deny issuing a permit to operate a proposed private high school on Palm Street.

The vote went 3-2 in favor of denial, which had been advised by the commission's staff.  The decision can be appealed to the County Board of Supervisors, which would have the final say in the matter.

The planned private high school at 183 E. Palm Street was proposed by the founder of , and there was extensive opposition from neighbors in the area.  There were also many supporters of the project, many of them parents with students in the Arcadia school.

The hearing took nearly four hours to complete and more than 40 people signed up to give public comment on the issue.

The commissioners who voted to deny the appeal primarily did so on land use concerns, citing traffic, noise, and quality of life for neighbors as a big part of the issue.  Traffic in particular, was an issue for the commissioners commissioners commissioners who suggested that a plan designed to restrict where cars would go and minimize the time they would be on the narrow street might not work in reality.

"Traffic studies lay out perfect intention but the reality is people behave how they want to behave and the quickest way between two points is a straight line," said Pat Modugno, the commissioner who represents the county district that includes Altadena.

Modugno, one of the three to vote against the project, did say he felt conflicted with the vote and praised Arroyo Pacific's school plan.

"I too have sort of vacillated back and forth and have come to the conclusion that it is a wonderful use, wonderful school, but the wrong location," Modugno said.

Commission members who supported the plan suggested granting Arroyo Pacific a 3-5 year conditional use permit and giving them a chance to prove to the neighborhood that the school is compatible with the area.

However, even one commission members who voted to support the school's permit said he would not want to live near the project.

"In the area of inconvenience, I hear you loud and clear... if I had a choice of a school in my backyard or two blocks away, I’d say put it two blocks away," said commission member David Louie.

The  in a vote to recommend against the project to the county. 

The department's staff report for that hearing suggests the commission vote against it, calling the project "incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood pattern" and said it would affect the "health, peace, comfort, or welfare"of people living near the project.

The property has long had a public facility use, and has been used as a day care center, and later and more controversially, by a private school operator which did not have the proper permits to house the facility there.

Harold Helsley, one of the two commission members who voted against denying the permit, pointed out that if a school does not get a permit to operate there, there is not much that can be done with the property, with its current zoning.  He suggested that other uses that could be permitted, such as a hospice or drug rehabilitation facility, could be even more disruptive to the neighborhood.

Commission members described the audience at Wednesday's meeting as having a significant turners from both opponents and proponents of the plan.  The issue has generated significant amounts of interest both in Altadena and from people outside the community affiliated with the school.

Planners at Wednesday's meeting said they had received nearly 900 letters expressing either support or opposition to the school with about 500 in opposition, and 389 in favor.

A map of where those letters comes from, which can be viewed at right, shows opposition is tightly concentrated in the neighborhood where the school would be built, while supporters come from outside of Palm Street.

Editor's note: The original version of this story incorrectly listed 500 letters of support for the project and 389 against.  The correct numbers are now listed in the story.

Stephanie April 05, 2012 at 02:48 PM
I hope the site is oneday used for something that benefits the entire community. Education in general is not where it should be. It amazes me that we have so many educated adults in this area and so few with any real sincere unselfish wisdom to create a better system for all children.
SteveB April 05, 2012 at 03:47 PM
Revealing map. 100% against on the two streets flanking the property, Highview and N. Raymond, as well as the spur of Raymond and E. Pentagon just south of Palm, and Emerson Way. What is surprising to me is the nearly unanimous support on surrounding, nearby streets - Las Flores, Marathon, Marengo, E. Pine, Altadena Dr., the spur of Palm east of Marengo. Presumably the are far enough away to not feel unduly inconvenienced by the school's presence, but perceive the use by Arroyo Pacific as beneficial.
Steve Lamb April 05, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Altadena has far more than its fair share of Schools, group homes, and institutions in residential neighborhoods. We have 18% of PUSD students and 33% of school sites, We have four large private schools, two county financed home/school combinations for troubled youth, and about a ten small schools in addition to literally hundreds of group homes. Too much is too much, no matter if its next to me, eight blocks away or far away at the most eastern tip of Altadena, No more period.

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