After a long hearing, Santa Monica’s Planning Commission voted 5 to 1 to approve necessary documents for a phased expansion at the Herb Albert (a.k.a. New Roads) Educational Village at 3131 Olympic Boulevard.
The City originally approved plans for the expansion of the campus in July of 2003, but they planned for the renovation to be much larger. Financial and other considerations have caused campus officials to reduce the scope of their project, so it no longer includes a pre-school or an elementary school. The new plan includes permanent campuses for the New Roads Middle and High School, and other ancillary facilities.
Specifically, school officials want to expand the high school to include 26 classrooms, relocate their middle school on site within 10 classrooms, construct a library and leadership center/faculty room, create offices for their non-profit partners, build a 139 space parking structure, build a performing arts center with a 350 seat theater, establish a 250-seat gymnasium, and add other ancillary facilities.
Phase I is slated to begin this month and is projected to end in May of 2017. The Commission agreed with the school staff that a seven-year term for the project entitlements was appropriate given the uncertainty of fund-raising for construction purposes and the planned phases for the construction.
All the community members who spoke at the hearing were in favor of the project except for Catherine Eldridge, who told the Commission the project’s Environmental Impact Report was not satisfactory because it doesn’t take the project’s surrounding neighborhood’s characteristics into account. She also noted, “This appears to be a three or four business design under the umbrella of an educational institution.”
Commissioner Gwynne Pugh also voted against approving the project because he was “concerned about the project’s interface with public space.”
He was especially uneasy about what will happen if Berkeley Street is extended by the campus through the City’s update of its Land Use and Circulation Elements of its General Plan. He wanted to add the condition that if Berkeley were extended, the school would redesign the part of their campus that fronts the eastern side of Berkeley. The Village’s attorney objected to such a condition by explaining that it would delay the project and possibly cause the school to lose some of its construction funding commitments.
In the end, the rest of the Commission approved the project, but asked the City’s Architectural Review Board (ARB) to encourage the Village to make their frontage along Olympic Boulevard more pedestrian friendly. They also asked that the City work on improving their Traffic Demand Management program. Some possible solutions include only allowing students to park on campus if three or more students carpool, encouraging students to ride bikes to campus, and addressing the egress and ingress from the campus parking structure on Nebraska Avenue.