Community pushes back against retail for Poway Unified property

PUSD staff Christine Paik, Rheia Alschbach and Ron Little presented options at the community meeting.
(Emily Sorensen)

With negotiations between the Poway Unified School District and Costco ended for a 27-acre PUSD property in Black Mountain Ranch, the search for what will replace it is on.

PUSD staff held a community meeting Thursday, March 18, to share gathered feedback on what the community wants PUSD to do with the property, known by the district as the Black Mountain Ranch Southern Site. Originally intended for a middle school, it is at the northeast corner of Camino del Sur and Carmel Valley Road. The property was declared surplus by PUSD in 2012.

PUSD announced on March 10 that it and Costco mutually ended negotiations for leasing the property. This followed months of outcry from the community, including a lawsuit filed by the organization Protect Our Community Now. Community members said PUSD excluded the community from providing meaningful input on the proposals.

The ideas for what the property can be used for were gathered at a March 1 community meeting, said Christine Paik, PUSD’s chief communications officer. The input was then voted on by those attending the first meeting. During the March 18 meeting, staff shared the results of those votes. Each suggestion was accompanied by pros and cons, with attendees able to comment on each suggestion.

Paik said the information from the meeting, plus audience feedback, will be presented to the school board at its May 13 meeting.

The top choice by vote is using the property for a school or education facility, either by PUSD or a private school. While the property is zoned for a middle school, it is not needed in PUSD and there is no funding to build a school, said Rheia Alschbach, PUSD’s assistant planning director.

A PUSD school or educational facility on the site could address needs in the district’s Long-Range Facilities Master Plan and meet additional needs of students, like a Career Technical Education center. However, a lack of funding means a PUSD project would require taking out a General Obligation Bond or Parcel Tax, said Ron Little, associate superintendent of business support services. It would also not generate any revenue for the district, which is the point of trying to sell or lease the property.

Selling or leasing to a private school is within the site’s planned use and would generate revenue, Little said. It also might provide sports fields for surrounding areas. However, cons to this proposition are it would be a one-time revenue, unless structured as an exchange or lease. It would also provide less revenue than options like single-family detached homes or mixed-use development. Finally, it would compete with the district for students and might be a potential funding loss for PUSD, he added.

The second most voted suggestion was “No Costco, no Big Box,” and the third-most request was for PUSD to reopen the request for proposals to see what other options are available.

Other options included:

  • An outdoor facility, like a park or for youth sports;
  • a community and recreation center;
  • single-family residential homes;
  • leasing the property for seasonal use, such as fairs, pumpkin patches and Christmas tree farms;
  • a museum or cultural center; and
  • a mixed-use retail village, with housing and commercial businesses.

Outside of the top 10 ideas, four ideas were voted by the community as “worth considering.” These are:

  • agriculture, such as a farm or community garden;
  • a place of worship;
  • an assisting living facility or retirement community; and
  • housing for PUSD teachers and employees.

In many cases, PUSD listed less revenue or minimal financial return as a con. Many of the suggested projects would also require changing the property’s zoning, Little said.

Community members attending the meeting said they were not interested in any “big box” retail store going into the property. Several said they want no retail in the space at all, citing traffic, crime and other retail nearby.

Other attendees asked PUSD to continue negotiations with the other two proposals from the original request for proposals. These are The Cambridge School and Brookfield Residential. Cambridge proposes to build a private school, while Brookfield would build a single-family residential neighborhood. The proposals, as well as information on the property, are at