End may be in sight for FSHA expansion project after 6 years of civic scrutiny, debate

A Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy expansion plan, the subject of nearly six years of civic scrutiny, could soon get the green light after planning commissioners agreed Tuesday they’d likely recommend certification of the project’s environmental impact report to the La Cañada Flintridge City Council.

After an hours-long discussion on the plan — which includes a recommendation for changing the zoning for the St. Katherine Drive property from “institutional” to “FSHA-Specific Plan” and amending the city’s general plan to reflect the designation on its land use map — the Planning Commission voted to continue the matter to its Oct. 24 meeting, to allow for further refinement.

If approved by the council, the specific plan would provide a framework for all future development and construction on the 42-acre campus, which straddles La Cañada’s border with Pasadena. Under the proposal, 24.66 acres on the southern end of the campus that lie within Pasadena’s city limits would potentially be annexed to the city of La Cañada Flintridge.

“It basically locks in what they want to do,” Community Development Director Robert Stanley said of the specific plan option. “That’s why they’re going for this more in-depth EIR process.”

Deputy Director of Community Development Susan Koleda described the project, which includes construction of a 99,000-square-foot multilevel parking structure with an elevator tower and pedestrian bridge and the addition of nearly 13,500 square feet of instruction space to its high school building.

It also calls for the removal of two cottages, creation of recreational space on the northwest corner of the property, water and electricity service upgrades and the addition of three classrooms in the new performing arts center.

FSHA President Sister Carolyn McCormack said the upgrades were needed to modernize the campus and prepare students for college and careers in today’s marketplace.

“This specific plan, which grew out of a thoughtful strategic planning process, will allow us to modernize our campus to accommodate the demands of a 21st-century curriculum, all while being sensitive to our surrounding community and land,” she told commissioners.

Because the specific plan has no expiration date and would remain in place until it was repealed, Commission Chair Rick Gunter said he wanted to be careful and deliberate about making sure it was consistent with the general plan.

“This specific plan would supersede any and all previous actions on the property, [conditional use permits], everything. It’s a clean slate,” Gunter said, clarifying any future review by the city would be administrative. “This is a document that’s going to last always, so I think it would be beneficial for us to clearly define what we mean here.”

FSHA officials floated the school’s master plan before the public in a February 2012 city meeting. The project drew criticism from some of the school’s neighbors, who voiced concerns about the traffic, safety and noise impacts of an expansion and later organized as “Protect LCF” with legal representation.

In December 2012, school leaders said they would pursue a specific plan to set broad ground rules for building standards and guide future land use. In July 2014, the city released a draft environmental impact report for the project and sought input from the public.

By 2016, school officials had reached a settlement agreement with neighbors addressing traffic and the number of events on campus at which alcohol would be served, among other issues. That February, Protect LCF publicly stated their conditional support for the project.

At Tuesday’s meeting McCormack thanked neighbors and city staff for their hard work and patience throughout what’s been a “long process.”

“Being a good neighbor is very, very important to us,” she added, explaining officials voluntarily downsized the project and created a traffic management plan to ease resident concerns. “I assure you our conversations with our neighbors and the community will continue.”

sara.cardine@latimes.com

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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