San Diego Planning Committee OKs Cal Coast Academy near Clews Ranch in Carmel Valley

Cal Coast Academy, a new specialized school in Carmel Valley, was approved 4-2 by the San Diego Planning Commission on Aug. 27. The 5,340-square-foot classroom building will be built next to the 140-year-old white farmhouse on Clews Ranch Road, close to the popular CVREP trail.

Neighboring Clews Horse Ranch had fought against the development so close to its ranch and riding arena, citing concerns about the danger the adjacent school use poses for riders, fire safety issues on the narrow access road and the possibility that the school could effectively put their ranch out of business.

In April, the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board made no recommendation to be forwarded to the city, failing to reach majority in a 5-4 vote with two abstentions in support of the school. The city’s Development Services Department’s Hearing Officer approved the project in May, and the Clewses filed an appeal to the planning commission.

The planning commission’s deliberations played out over three separate hearings. A July 23 hearing included two hours and 40 minutes of testimony, and a July 30 hearing was continued to Aug. 27, as the commission could not act because it didn’t have the required votes.

“This decision is not one I take lightly; there was compelling testimony on both sides of this,” said Commissioner Douglas Austin.

Commissioners Anthony Wagner and James Whalen voted in opposition.

Over the course of the hearings, commissioners struggled with the compatibility of the two uses, the testimony of threats to rider safety and to the ranch’s business, and the appropriateness of a school at that location.

But when it came down to it, as Commissioner Theresa Quiroz stated, the school use is allowed by right under the property’s multifamily zoning.

Ted Shaw of Latitude 33, representing Cal Coast, said that they appreciate and respect that the Clewses have a business there and believe that the uses can be compatible.

“We’ve attempted in every way possible, except leaving, to address the issues that they’ve raised,” Shaw said. “We’ve worked for two years now to come up with appropriate solutions that allow both uses to exist.”

Cal Coast’s “voluntary neighborly measures” include capping the school at 75 students and addressing the sensitivity of the horses next door with no outside alarms, bells or public address system, no recess and no PE. Cal Coast will also limit school traffic on the small Clews Ranch Road by shuttling students to and from campus from the CVREP parking lot on Carmel Country Road and maintaining the 10 miles per hour speed limit.

The school has even proposed building a 300-foot-long, 12-foot-high wall and planting an extra-large hedge to provide a buffer between the two sites.

Chairman Tim Golba said he was encouraged that the dialogue between the ranch and the school has been civil.

“Work together, because I do believe there is a chance that a lot of this can be mitigated in the spirit of cooperation,” Golba said. “You’re neighbors. You’re going to share a driveway. Let’s hope that there can continue to be an open dialogue and it moves forward in the best possible manner.”