Rancho Bernardo park might still be in PUSD site’s future
By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
There is the possibility that part of a Poway Unified property in Rancho Bernardo could become a park, while the rest is developed for homes, said Superintendent John Collins.
In an attempt to make the sale more appealing to Rancho Bernardans and developers, the Poway Unified School District has again extended the bid deadline for its 10.88-acre site along Avenida Venusto.
Bids were to be opened at PUSD’s Sept. 16 board meeting, but earlier this month Collins requested the board extend the submission deadline to Nov. 8, with the goal of opening bids on Nov. 12.
Collins said he asked for the bid opening delay “so that we may continue to build on the community support in order to maximize the potential value of the site while meeting the interests of the local community. To date we have had a number of good meetings with some of the leaders from the Bernardo Heights Association and the Rancho Bernardo Planning Committee.”
He said the goal is to see if part of the land can be set aside for a park while the rest is developed for residential use.
The district set the minimum acceptable bid at $6.6 million for its vacant Rancho Bernardo property dubbed “the water tower site.” After giving the City of San Diego multiple opportunities last year to make a purchase offer, in January it opened the sale to others, with an initial deadline of March 11.
That deadline was extended to May 17 and later to Sept. 13. The November deadline is the fourth extension to potential developers.
The district obtained the land more than two decades ago with the intention of building a school. That never happened. Years later a nearby water tower made the site incompatible for a school due to state earthquake standards, but it was occasionally used for temporary storage. In 2006 PUSD tried to include it as part of a land swap when looking for a new district office, but Rancho Bernardans objected to the plan that would have led to construction of 171 condominiums. The idea was later abandoned.
Per city guidelines, a parcel designated for a school that is not built is to be first considered for park space or other recreational facility before it can be sold for other purposes. According to city standards outlined in the Rancho Bernardo Community Plan, Rancho Bernardo has a 34-acre park space deficiency since the standard is 2.8 acres per 1,000 residents. With RB being built out, many have said this is likely the last opportunity to gain additional park space.
When the district announced last year it wanted to make another attempt at selling the land, residents again objected, saying if it is not to be used for a school they want it as a park. However, the city was unable to offer the $6.6 million that the district says the land is worth.
To date no bids have been submitted by the 10 to 14 parties who have expressed an interest, Collins said, explaining that is because the parties were notified of the extensions.
“We believe that by working with the community we can reach agreements that will increase the final sale price,” Collins said.
Getting community support is key since the site is only zoned for school or park use. The city needs to approve a zoning change to allow residential use and will seek Rancho Bernardo Planning Board’s opinion. The board is likely to take in consideration Bernardo Heights residents’ feelings along with other groups, such as the Rancho Bernardo Recreation Council, which oversees the community’s park space.
Last summer, the Rancho Bernardo Community Council, Planning Board and Recreation Council, along with the Community Association of Bernardo Heights wrote letters to the city requesting it purchase the land so it can become a park.
The district wanted to sell the land by last December to have flexibility in spending the proceeds because the state was going to place restrictions on how the money could be spent, requiring it to go toward another building’s construction or renovations with a lifespan of at least five years, Collins said.
However, the district has obtained an extension from the state so the proceeds can go into PUSD’s general fund and be spent as the board deems fit, Collins said. That extension is for another two years, but he wants the sale completed by the end of this fiscal year (June 2014) so the money can be factored into next year’s budget.
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