ENCINITAS — The Encinitas Union School District has settled its lawsuit over a county zoning change that permitted vastly increased building densities on 93 acres in the northeast corner of this community, officials announced Thursday.
The unusual settlement calls for development of the so-called Quail Gardens area to be phased in over the next two years to protect the already-overcrowded district from a sudden influx of students.
In addition, the agreement requires developer James Bashor, who is building a 262-unit apartment project on the property, to pay the district $1,211 for every elementary school-age pupil who lives in his complex during the next seven years, plus $15,000 to cover the district's expenses in implementing the settlement.
The payments are in addition to $185,000 in fees already paid by the developer.
In exchange for those concessions, the district's Board of Trustees has agreed to drop the lawsuit, which had been scheduled for a hearing in Vista Superior Court on Sept. 19. The district's attorney, Dwight Worden, said withdrawal of the litigation means a court order barring Bashor from proceeding with construction will be lifted immediately.
"This is a good settlement, one that meets our needs and guarantees that we'll be able to handle the additional students," school board President Tony Brandenburg said at an afternoon press conference. "It is not the board's mission to get involved with land-use matters, so I'm glad we were able to avert a protracted court battle and come to agreement."
Neither Bashor nor his attorney, Donald Worley, could be reached for comment.
The district's lawsuit named Bashor, the county and the state Coastal Commission. It was filed after the commission in May approved a county zoning change that increased residential building densities on what was once farmland from a maximum of three housing units per acre to as high as 29 dwellings per acre.
That action infuriated residents of the San Dieguito area and was credited with spurring passage of Proposition K, the incorporation measure that merged Encinitas, Leucadia, Cardiff and Olivenhain into a single city of 44,000.
District officials said the zoning change threatened to add an estimated 700 students to the six-school system, which already operates on a year-round schedule and houses students in temporary classrooms to alleviate overcrowding. Bashor's project, the first development to commence on the land, will add about 350 students, Brandenburg said.
Administrators charged that the zone change--which required a controversial amendment to the county's general plan for the Encinitas area--upset their school construction schedule and would critically overburden facilities.
"When the county and Coastal Commission approved that change, it threw us way off kilter," Brandenburg said. "The Bashor project alone will add 350 kids--that's half a school. That would be putting too many kids into the system too fast, making a bad situation worse."
After the district filed suit and won a stay order against the Bashor project, the developer filed a cross-complaint asking the court to rule that he had vested his rights to proceed with construction. That issue is now moot.
Under terms of the settlement, hammered out over the past several weeks with the help of Vista Superior Court Judge F.V. Lopardo, Bashor has agreed to delay occupancy of his apartment units until June or until the district opens a school under construction in the La Costa area--whichever comes first.
"That gives us time to get the facilities in place so we don't have an overloaded situation on our hands," Brandenburg said.
In addition, a proposed ordinance requiring that development in the 93-acre Quail Gardens area be phased in gradually will be presented to the county Board of Supervisors within the coming weeks.
The ordinance, designed to give the school district a time cushion, would limit occupancy of units in the controversial area to no more than 200 per year for the next two years. District officials estimate the phasing plan will limit additions to the school system to 40 pupils per year.
Brandenburg said that while there is no guarantee that supervisors will agree to the plan, he is "hopeful they will see it our way."
Given the two-year leeway, district officials said, they can revise their school construction plans to accommodate new students living in the Quail Gardens area.