Rancho residents say 'oui' to French prep school

After several failed attempts by developers to build on the former GM training site in the Rancho neighborhood, it appears a private preparatory school has won over local residents.

At community outreach meeting this week, roughly 100 Rancho residents quizzed representatives from Lycée International de Los Angeles, or LILA, about school hours, possible traffic impacts and changes to the building. Absent were the terse exchanges and unyielding scepticism that residents brought in response to a proposed residential development from New Urban West — a project that the firm eventually gave up on.

Now, the dual English-French language school with a European approach to education is in escrow to buy the parcel on Riverside Drive from New Urban West.

Iain Whyte, a board member and finance director for the school, said the purpose of the meeting Thursday night was to share with residents who they are, and to understand the community’s concerns and desires regarding the land.

The project has not gone before the City Council, which would make a decision to accept or deny the developer’s application for the project.

“Surprisingly, the community’s been very supportive,” Whyte said before the meeting started. “They understand we’re a really small school; our graduating class had only 19 students.”

Some members of the community have visited and toured the school’s Los Feliz campus, Whyte added.

LILA would use about 120 of the 330 parking spots on the GM site, and add athletic fields and courts, although the school does not have a football team or organized after-school sports, Whyte said at the meeting.

Students at a school make noise, Whyte told the crowd, but said LILA is less noisy than other schools.

In addition to being smaller, the school does not have a marching band, and there isn’t a traditional bell to signal a change in class periods.

LILA School Board Chairman Adam Weisman said the school uses a silent-bell system with colored lights to indicate a class period change.

After-school activities are usually for Advanced Placement classes, indoor volleyball or basketball, or teacher retreats, he said.

In the wake of the strong push-back against New Urban West’s proposal to build 50 single-family homes on the site, neighbor concensus appeared to be firmly behind the school.

Jean Schanberger, a 15-year resident who stables a horse at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, compared the new approach to “apples and oranges.”

“It’s really nice to see how hard the school has worked to understand the neighborhood,” Schanberger said in a phone interview Friday.

Others agreed.

“It seems like everybody is in favor. I didn’t see anybody that didn’t put a hand up when they were asked who was in favor [of the school],” said Roy Simison, whose property abuts the GM site.

He called LILA officials “very accommodating” and willing to work with the neighborhood if any problem arises.

Tom Zanic, senior vice president of New Urban West, said Friday that the property is in escrow and due to close the first week of June.

The school plans to apply for their administrative use permit to operate as a school on the site, Zanic said.

“If they do so, we will take our application off the table to allow them to do that,” he said. If for some reason the escrow doesn’t go through, “we will proceed with our revised application for 50 homes.”

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