Planning board continues to voice concern over placing a proposed new childcare development center at Torrey Hills School in Carmel Valley

By Karen Billing

The Torrey Hills Community Planning Board reiterated its opposition to a proposed new childcare development center at Torrey Hills School at its March 11 meeting. Del Mar Union School District (DMUSD) Superintendent Holly McClurg and other district staff members — as well as DMUSD President Doug Rafner — attended the meeting to hear the board’s concerns, the major one being the potential traffic impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

As part of the school district’s facilities master plan process, a proposal is being discussed to find a permanent home for its childcare development center (CDC), which is currently housed at Sycamore Ridge School. As Sycamore Ridge is facing an overcrowded campus, a new 13,000-square-foot CDC at Torrey Hills is one of the options.

According to McClurg, various funding sources for such a facility are being explored and the board will make a decision on the CDC in six months.

“The issue of course is the siting, it has nothing to do with the value of the program,” said board chair Kathryn Burton. “The school isn’t just the site by itself and in the small community of Torrey Hills it’s a really integral part of the community. I hope the district will look at what’s coming down the pike in the neighborhood as far as traffic.”

Burton was referring to the already congested intersection of Calle Mar de Mariposa and Ocean Air Drive and the 484 townhouse/apartment units that are planned adjacent to that busy intersection. The 384-unit Garden Communities project is currently under construction on the corner and is expected to be first occupied in June this year, and a 100-unit MBK Homes development next door is expected to be done in October.

A few years ago, Burton commissioned a traffic study for Via Mar de Delfinas, a street that leads to the school and park from Ocean Air Drive. Traffic often gets diverted to Via Mar de Delfinas to avoid the busy Calle Mar de Mariposa intersection and the study showed the number of car trips on the street was approximately four times the number in the community plan.

“That neighborhood area is quite impacted and shouldn’t be regarded as an alternative route,” Burton said.

Any additional trips generated by the CDC would be “devastating” to the neighborhood, Burton said.

“Children should be able to walk to school without encountering a dangerous traffic condition. My driving force is making our neighborhood a safe place for pedestrians, particularly children pedestrians,” Burton said.

McClurg agreed that safety is always a priority for the district.

“We want all of the children to be safe coming to school,” McClurg said. “(The issue) will be thoroughly looked at.”

McClurg reported that Torrey Hills has the capacity to increase with a CDC at the location as enrollment has been dropping since a peak in 2006-07 when there were 784 students in the school. Currently they have 615 students with capacity for 898.

According to projections prepared by the district’s consultant The Dolinka Group, Torrey Hills’ enrollment is expected to continue to decline, dropping off every year to a low of 580 in 2022.

Torrey Hills parents have frequently questioned how that is possible with all the new construction, but the Dolinka Group has maintained that typically apartment units generate fewer children than single-family detached homes. Per statewide averages, for every 10 homes, roughly four children are produced for the district; for apartment complexes it takes 10 units to produce one child.

McClurg said another way the district could look to mitigate traffic concerns is staggering start and end times for the CDC and school.

Per the funding issue, board member Suzanne Hall pointed out that neighborhood residents have been paying Mello-Roos fees into the Community Funded District (CFD) for their community school and she wondered whether those funds could legally be used to build something that will serve children from outside the community.

“As a taxpayer, that’s money intended for the school in my community,” Hall said. “It’s objectionable to me to serve students from another part of the district that don’t pay into CFDs.”

Cathy Birks, assistant superintendent of business services, said that’s one of the things they are looking into, if those CFD funds can be used in this case. She said the district continues to “think outside the box” on other funding sources that can be used.

Burton also voiced concerns about the potential build site on campus. A 16-year resident in the community, Burton said she remembers when the school site was a huge canyon and the spot where DMUSD is proposing to build is where there was the most amount of fill.

Burton wondered if the fill would even be able to hold the building.

Dee Snow, project manager of Garden Communities, noted that the district is not required to do an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) or traffic studies, and she advocated that the district keep everyone informed on what it is doing throughout the process.

Rafner said that while an EIR may not be required, plans must go through the Division of State Architects and it is still a “rigorous” review process. McClurg said it is very important to the district to keep an open dialogue with the community and hear community members’ concerns.