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Serra High Building Plans Are Rejected

August 14, 2004|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

The San Juan Capistrano Planning Commission has rejected plans by the private Junipero Serra High School to build athletic fields and a performing arts center on the north end of town.

Officials with the year-old Catholic school immediately appealed the ruling to the City Council, which has agreed to hold a special meeting on the matter Aug. 31.

The Planning Commission's 3-2 rejection this week came after all five members said that the performing arts center would make the 29-acre site too congested, and that they would have backed the athletic fields alone.

"If the developer had agreed to not have [the arts center], that would have made a big difference," said Bob Cardoza, vice chairman of the planning commission. "The developer's insistence that it be maintained was the last straw."

Cardoza said the commission was concerned that the arts building was too massive and that it would cause parking and traffic problems.

The school's plans call for an Olympic-size pool, gymnasium, tennis courts and fields for baseball, softball, soccer and football across from the main campus.

"There's already just too many structures in one place," Cardoza said. "Something has to give, maybe the gymnasium, maybe one of the athletic fields."

Tim Busch, chairman and CEO of Junipero Serra, said the vote took him somewhat by surprise but he remains confident that the council will approve the proposal.

"The physical buildings, the gym and performing arts center, are only about 6% of the entire site," Busch said.

"The city's staff and consultants advised it's a good project and so did four other commissions -- parks and recreation, traffic, cultural resources and historical."

Damien Shilo, a Juaneno Indian leader who says the development will disturb his ancestors' grave sites, said the Planning Commission's ruling is a small victory.

"We have our personal view on our cultural end of this project," said Shilo, whose attorneys have filed two lawsuits attempting to block development on the site. "But as a citizen, we've always felt it will bring a tremendous amount of traffic that we don't need. I hope the council listens to the Planning Commission."

David Belardes, leader of another Juaneno faction, agreed to support the school after campus officials promised not to destroy any burial sites and to erect monuments recognizing tribal leaders.

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