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School Fields May Boot Hotel Complex

Land use: Junipero Serra High may move into offices; commercial acres may be sports site.


Growing increasingly desperate to find a home for a religious high school, Junipero Serra boosters are trying to persuade San Juan Capistrano officials to dump plans for an office and hotel complex in favor of school athletic fields.

Organizers had hoped to open the school this fall on nearby land owned by a Christian ministry. But that deal fell through nine months ago when the Rev. Robert Schuller's Rancho Capistrano ministry backed out of allowing Junipero Serra to build on the ministry's land, saying it was uncomfortable that religious instruction would be given by Roman Catholics.

Schuller's ministry plans to build a sprawling Christian center, senior housing and a crematory on its land.

Junipero Serra High School officials now are hoping their school will open in fall 2003 in a Spanish-style office park across the street from 29 acres of undeveloped land near Junipero Serra Road and the San Diego Freeway. The 29 acres would be used for athletic fields. The land had been considered for a hotel/office complex.

School booster Roberto Brutocao said if the city is unwilling to rezone the land to accommodate the school's athletic fields, school officials will consider pushing for a citywide vote on the issue.

City and school officials have had informal talks, but a request to rezone the land for ball fields, a swimming pool and tennis courts has not been filed.

In a 1999 general plan update, a traffic analysis concluded that adding schools in the city would worsen morning rush-hour traffic.

There is a private high school--Saddleback Valley Christian--across the railroad tracks from the planned Junipero Serra office-complex site, and a public high school is planned a few miles away.

There is also a financial consequence. A hotel and office park would generate about $1 million a year in tax revenue.

The need to raise revenue versus the desire to preserve San Juan's small-town character is an issue in the financially pressed town. Voters will be asked this fall whether the historic city should keep or sell a piece of land to Home Depot.

Junipero Serra officials said they are willing to pay a "head tax" on each student to help defray revenue forgone from the hotel and office complex.

Junipero Serra's plans call for baseball, football and soccer fields, tennis courts, a basketball gym, an aquatic complex and a performing arts center.

About five years ago, an entertainment complex with a mega-theater and restaurants was proposed for the area, but the developer backed out. Brutocao said his group expects to close escrow within a week on the 150,000-square-foot Sycamore Commons, where the classrooms would be.

He said the group is in the process of purchasing the lease for the 29 acres of undeveloped land. The next step would be rezoning both properties. But Junipero Serra backers could face another fight.

The Capistrano Unified School District has expressed interest in building a middle school on the 29 undeveloped acres.

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