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Private School's Expansion Bid Is Too Ambitious for City Panel

Planners turn down a proposal to more than double size of Granada Hills campus. Foes focused on traffic woes.

June 27, 2003|Michael Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

Finding the project too big, the Los Angeles City Planning Commission rejected a proposal Thursday by Hillcrest Christian School in Granada Hills for a major expansion.

The commission voted 6 to 1 against the project that would have more than doubled the size of the campus at Rinaldi Street and Shoshone Avenue.

"The community came together and we had our facts in order," said Joy Ming, one of the leaders of a loosely formed community group that opposed the expansion. "The project basically killed itself because it was too massive and the school was unwilling to make any concessions about the size."

School officials, who could not be reached for comment after the decision, could appeal the ruling to the City Council.

More than 300 people gathered at the Airtel Plaza Hotel in Van Nuys for the city Planning Commission's final hearing and decision on the proposed Hillcrest expansion.

The issue at stake was a request by the school for a conditional-use permit that would have allowed it to increase enrollment from about 800 to 1,200.

For many, the argument boiled down to more education versus more traffic.

Neighbors of the school said the area already has traffic congestion and the expansion would make it worse.

"I want to come in and out of my house, but I can't because of all the traffic from the school," said Etti Feldman, who lives on Shoshone Avenue. "Imagine how it would have been with 400 extra high school students? And with a lot of them with their own cars going, 'Zoom!'?"

Feldman's 9-year-old daughter, Melissa, was one of more than a dozen speakers who addressed the commission and the crowd.

"It takes us 20 minutes to drive what should only take five minutes," said Melissa, who does not attend the school.

One supporter of the expansion said she was not concerned about the extra traffic.

"It's only for a while in the morning and afternoon and I don't see it as a big deal," said Shannon Showalter. "I think it's a great school and it is a safe environment for the kids."

In addition to the traffic issue, Ming, who lives near the school, said she felt the expansion would have been too big for the property.

"Now they have 800 students in 55,000 square feet and they want to add 400 more students and another 75,000 square feet," she said.

A mother who plans to send her two young boys to Hillcrest said she was disappointed.

"This school is a very positive influence on young people," said Risa Benning. "It's too bad about the decision, but it's still a great school."

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