With donors practically with checks in hand for St. Margaret’s Episcopal School to build a new athletic complex across and down the street from the main campus, school officials visited the San Juan Capistrano Planning Commission Tuesday night to see what members think.
Turns out, not so much.
The plans for a competition baseball field and six tennis courts, with two ancillary buildings and related – but not sufficient – parking seemed like it was cramming too much on too little of a space, several commissioners said.
“I think this is pretty aggressive, and it’s pretty intense use of the site,” said Commissioner Jeff Parkhurst. He and all the others said they couldn’t go along with lighting of the baseball field, especially with it so close to San Juan Creek.
Previously, the Planning Commission voted against lighting at a driving range across the creek, but the City Council overturned the decision, and Planning Commission Chair Robert Williams said he still thinks the commission got it right.
Williams said when the city approved in 2010 a master plan for the build out of St. Margaret’s , the property in question was supposed to be an intramural sports practice field, not a competition baseball diamond and tennis courts complex.
“When I saw this in my packet, I was just floored,” Williams said.
David Bush, chief financial officer for the school, said he understood. If not for the keen interest of some potential benefactors, the school wouldn’t likely be pursuing such a plan, especially when there are other pressing projects.
Bush said the school would share the facilities with the city, and the lighting would primarily be for city use, although he could imagine some baseball games getting dark toward the final innings.
Currently, the school's tennis team travels to San Clemente, and the baseball team uses the city's over-taxed Sports Park.
While some commissioners were OK with the baseball field – as long as it was not lit – Williams said he couldn’t support that either, Bush said.
“I know at the end of the day this would be top-notch too, but this is too much programming for this property,” Williams said.
The plan, as proposed right now, would require the sports complex to spill over onto city land, now leased by the Ortega Equestrian Center.
Kathy Holman, who operates the equestrian center, said she had every intention of fulfilling her lease agreement with the city.
“I’m kind of sucker-punched by this,” she said.
But Williams said given the nature of the meeting – the item was merely a study session, not a public hearing – and that the City Council is the body to determine the disposition of city-owned property, the Planning Commission meeting wasn’t the place to discuss displacing the horses.
Bush said he would try to work with the commissioners’ concerns.