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Huntington Beach Planning Commission approves 85-unit Gisler residential project

An AYSO Region 56 U14 girls' extra team practices on the soccer fields at the site of the former Gisler Middle School.
An AYSO Region 56 U14 girls’ extra team practices on the soccer fields at the site of the former Gisler Middle School on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The Huntington Beach Planning Commission voted Tuesday night to green light the building of an 85-unit residential project on a site where schools previously operated.

Huntington Beach City School District is in the process of selling the 13.9-acre property at 21141 Strathmoor Lane to developer Brookfield Homes for $42 million. The deal is in escrow.

The school site was home to Gisler Middle School until 1986. Then it was vacant until it housed Brethren Christian School from 2001-2019, when that school moved to Edinger Avenue and eventually closed. The property is currently home to the only lighted fields for AYSO Region 56, which serves south Huntington Beach.

The Planning Commission voted 5-1 to approve the project, with Vice Chair Brendon Perkins and Commissioners Connie Mandic, John Scandura, Kayla Acosta-Galvan and Oscar Rodriguez voting yes. Chairperson Alan Ray was the dissenter, saying he wanted to delay the vote until a study could be completed on where an alternative lighted field could be built.

The project will next go to the Huntington Beach City Council for its consideration.

AYSO Region 56 commissioner Ann McCarthy, who spoke at both Tuesday night’s meeting and a study session on Sept. 14, said she is not trying to fight the project. But she is concerned that the city is losing valuable open space. The region currently uses six district schools — Eader, Hawes, Peterson and Moffett elementary schools, Sowers Middle School and the closed Gisler site — for its up to 1,600 players and 160 teams per season.

Gisler, which has two full-sized fields and 275,500 total square feet, is heavily impacted later in the season as players move to District 56’s only site with lights. But that site is now on the verge of disappearing.

Remy Kluwe warms up for practice on the soccer fields at the site of the former Gisler Middle School on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“There are not alternative spaces,” McCarthy said in an interview following Tuesday night’s meeting. “I would like the city to work harder to save their open space and youth fields. We’re trying to put lights at another field, it just will take time.”

McCarthy said the addition of lights to another school site would have to go through the state Department of Architecture, a process which would take 12 to 18 months.

Brookfield Residential, the developer, has pledged $250,000 in funding to aid that process. The commissioners debated on a deadline to find a use for the funding, before settling on two years.

“The school district, with the assistance of the developer, has to move that forward,” McCarthy said. “AYSO is not at the table, at least not yet. I think they’re acting in good faith, I just think the end result of losing open space and fields in the city is unfortunate.”

Brookfield plans to build 85 single-family detached homes in the project. The floor plans range between approximately 2,800 and 3,300 square feet in size, with up to five bedrooms and four bathrooms per unit. The project also includes improvements to Gisler Park, located immediately south of the property.

Huntington Beach City School District Supt. Leisa Winston said in an email to the Planning Commission that the district would use the $42 million to modernize Sowers Middle School, as well as pay off some long-term debt. She said that while the district plans to work diligently with Brookfield toward a lighted soccer field alternative, the HBCSD Board of Trustees has not committed any additional funds toward such a venture.

“It is important to recognize that the district’s core mission is to provide an educational program that supports the academic and personal development of every student, and the funds from this sale would be fully expended to improve the Sowers Middle School learning environment in support of this goal,” Winston wrote in the email.

Many of the commissioners expressed regret that the fields would have to go, but said the need for new housing in the city was too great.

“I truly feel for the kids,” Mandic said. “I have a daughter who went through the system. But I kind of look at this as a property rights issue. We have a seller that put the property up for sale, and it’s not an outside seller, it’s our very own school district ... and the project meets all our criteria. We’re basically here for zoning and General Plan conformance. We’re not here to talk about soccer fields.”

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