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Foes Block School's Parking Structure Plan

Construction: Newport Beach neighbors also don't like expansion effort by church, which would share in the use.

April 15, 2002|DAVID HALDANE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A proposal to build a parking structure at a Newport Beach high school is on hold after a series of public meetings dominated by angry residents opposed to it and a related church expansion plan.

"Parking structures are security risks," fumed Kathy Stuart, who lives near Newport Harbor High School, where the structure is proposed. "They attract the partyers and the perverts, they are not appropriate for residential areas and they're just plain ugly."

Neighbor Michael O'Donnell is equally opposed: "This is not an alternative and I don't think it should happen."

At first blush, school officials say, the project seemed like the perfect solution to a daunting problem. Like many California schools, Newport Harbor High has endured a parking crunch as more students drive to school.

Recently, administrators received a compelling offer from St. Andrews Presbyterian Church directly across the street: Build the two- or three-level parking structure on campus, church officials said, and the congregation will help cover the cost if it can also use the space.

It's actually the church's plan to expand on its own grounds, which helped prompt its offer to the school, that appears to be the major irritant to neighbors opposed to the parking structure. They see problems with crowding and a burdensome church-school connection.

"The issue for us is that it's a big campus with inadequate parking," said Michael Fine, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District's assistant superintendent for business services. "The church said it was willing to write a big check."

Because of budget constraints, said Duwayne Brooks, director of school facilities for the California Department of Education, more schools rely on construction and operating agreements with outside parties to defray costs. And a shortage of big parcels, along with more student drivers have prompted many districts building schools to include parking structures in their designs.

"It just gets worse every year," Brooks said. "Thirty years ago, most families had just one car. Now how many do they have?"

Brooks said he doesn't know of any schools in California with parking structures that were not included in their original designs.

St. Andrews made its overture to the school in November.

"We think it would help some of the parking and traffic problems that exist in the neighborhood," said Herb Smith, the church's business administrator. "It's been an issue for years and, for some reason, the parties haven't gotten together to talk about solving it."

What put the proposed parking structure on the church's immediate agenda, Smith said, was its own expansion plan, which calls for adding about 30,000 square feet to its family center over the next four years. And that could require more parking. The school's parking structure--which would cost the church and the school a total of about $8 million for three levels--would add 570 spaces to the school's existing 397.

"We are purely in the conceptual stages," Smith said, adding that the city had given preliminary approval to the church's expansion.

In three public meetings at the high school last week, neighbors decried the church's plans.

"The school should be separated from the church," said resident Monica Mazur. "Perhaps the church has outgrown the neighborhood. If it needs a bigger area, perhaps it should move."

Said Terry Butros: "What we have in front of us is a project brought by a private enterprise as part of its plan to expand. It steps all over the school district and the citizenry."

Fine, the assistant school superintendent, said the neighborhood opposition prompted him to cancel two more public meetings.

"We're going to stop here," he said, "and ask the church to work with its community some more. Clearly, people are upset with them, and I think the church has to do some community engagement before things go any further."

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