Bernardo Heights school site eyed for park
By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
Rancho Bernardo Planning Board and Recreation Council are asking the city’s Park and Recreation Department to explore the possibility of buying a 10.9-acre Bernardo Heights site from Poway Unified School District.
Rancho Bernardo Community Council will discuss sending a similar request letter when it meets at 7 p.m Thursday, June 28 at Oaks North Community Center, 12578 Oaks North Drive in Rancho Bernardo.
The planning board’s decision during its June 21 meeting followed Rancho Bernardan George Leitner requesting the board consider sending a letter to the city indicating community interest in the city purchasing the land for park space if PUSD places the parcel on the market.
Per the Rancho Bernardo Community Plan, if the school site is not used by the district it is first to be designated for park space, something several board members said is badly needed in Rancho Bernardo.
To do anything else with the site on Avenida Venusto, just south of the Bernardo Heights Community Center, would require a community plan amendment for rezoning that after undergoing an extensive process would ultimately be decided by the City Council.
This issue is far from new. In 2006, the district unsuccessfully tried to use the parcel as part of a land swap in which the RB site was to be developed for 171 upscale condominiums and in exchange the district was to receive from the developer another parcel for a new PUSD administration building. Another plan had it becoming the site for a new continuation high school to replace Abraxas High, which could be remodeled into the administration facility.
All was going forward in mid-2006 until the three community government groups not only objected to the swap plan, but announced they wanted the land to become park space and got the Park and Recreation Department involved. This came as a surprise to district officials, who briefly considered a possible sale to the city — the land’s estimated value then was $15 to $20 million — but soon after rejected it since they were intent on pursuing the swap. It was never determined if the cash-strapped city would have found the funding needed to make a market value offer.
Within months, the swap deal fell through and the district retained ownership of the land it has owned for more than two decades. Per the community plan, there were to be three elementary schools in Rancho Bernardo. Though Westwood and Turtleback were built, PUSD never went forward with the third school for various reasons, including a nearby water tower making the site incompatible for a school due to state earthquake standards. Over the years, it was occasionally used for temporary storage, which led to nearby residents complaining about visual aesthetics.
On May 21, the PUSD board voted to classify the Bernardo Heights site (dubbed “the water tower site”) along with three other parcels as surplus. After making the parcels available to public entities for 60 days, the law reportedly permits the district to seek private buyers.
While some RB Planning Board members expressed reservations on June 21 over voting to send a yet-to-be-written letter to the city without additional information and seeing a draft letter first, due to the short time frame the board eventually voted 12-3 to send a letter requesting the city explore potentially purchasing the land for a park, a designation consistent with the community plan.
Whether the entire 10.9-acre parcel is developed into park space or has a mix of residential and recreational use can be worked out later, members said — emphasizing the need to just act quickly due to a likely slow city process and the 60-day time frame.
The RB Recreation Council sent a similar letter to the city on June 8, citing the community’s park deficiency and interest in the city pursuing the purchase.
When discussed in 2006, Rancho Bernardo had a 34-acre park space deficiency per the city standard being 2.8 acres per 1,000 residents. With the development of 4S Ranch since then, some board members said an even greater request for play time on Rancho Bernardo fields has developed. With RB being built out, this is likely the last opportunity the community will have to gain additional park space.
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