School board increases Banning Ranch consultant contract

As the proposed Banning Ranch project winds through Newport Beach's approval process, the school board on Tuesday night increased the contract for a consultant hired to monitor the development on the district's behalf.

The approved amendment raised TRG Land Inc.'s 2011-12 contract by up to $5,000, bringing the total for the Newport Beach-based firm to a maximum of $15,000.

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District owns an 11.36-acre parcel at 16th Street and Whittier Avenue, which Banning Ranch borders on three sides.

If Banning Ranch comes to fruition, the development is also expected to bring 268 new students to the district, according to preliminary numbers from the project's draft environmental impact report.

"The land entitlement process is very complex, and it's not something school districts deal with on their own," said district Deputy Supt. and Chief Business Official Paul Reed.

Banning Ranch, a proposed master-planned community that would contain 1,375 homes, 75,000 square feet of commercial space and a 75-room hotel, still has to gain a number of approvals. It is expected to begin the vetting process this month with the Newport Beach Planning Commission.

The consultant's main job was to steer a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the district and the Newport Banning Ranch LCC that protects the school district's interests, Reed said.

The agreement, approved in November, gives the district about 1.3 acres of land from Newport Banning Ranch LLC in exchange for an equal amount of property that the development needs for roads. The exchange makes the district's parcel more of a square shape.

The agreement also calls for Newport Banning Ranch LLC to make an estimated $1 million in improvements for the district's property, including access lanes and utility connections.

The agreement hinges on the development gaining all the necessary approvals.

With the board approving the agreement, the consultant's main duty will be to monitor the development process to protect the district's property rights for eventual development, Reed said.

Currently, there are no plans to build a new school, and the property has historically been used as storage or rented out for parking, Reed said.

"There is a general intention that at some point it may be needed to build a school," he said.

Should the Banning Ranch development receive approval, the increase of students — an estimated 161 elementary, 42 middle and 65 high school students — wouldn't be a problem at the middle and high school level because there are more than enough open positions at Ensign Intermediate School and Newport Harbor High School, according to the report.

At the elementary level, additional classrooms or portables would have to be constructed, except at Newport Elementary School, which couldn't accommodate growth on its beachfront campus.

Although the district has 584 open positions, only three of the closest schools do. Newport and Whittier elementary schools have 10 each, while Rea Elementary School has 85.

Under state law, the developer is also required to pay the district school facility fees when building permits are pulled to offset the costs. Newport Banning Ranch LLC would be required to pay the district $1.84 per square foot of new residential development.

Adding new classrooms and making room for new students, though, is still a long way off.

"They have to get a whole lot closer to building homes before I'm going to worry about it," Reed said.

britney.barnes@latimes.com

Twitter: @britneyjbarnes

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