County Counsel Jim Curtis gave the structure of the public hearings on consideration of a zone amendment from General Forest to Public Service filed by Firm Foundation on recommendation of the Planning Commission and on an appeal filed by Michael M. Miller on the Planning Commission’s approval. On Curtis’ recommendation, the two hearings were consolidated. He called it a “disservice” to fragment.
The project site is the former Pliocene Ridge School at 1999 Ridge Road in Pike.
Curtis gave the history of the County’s general plan, adopted in 1996.
County Deputy Planning Director Brandon Pangman gave the project description and background with the 557-page administrative record. He told of Phase 1 up to five classrooms with a change of occupancy to a dormitory with a maximum of 48 people, a modular for two caretakers and 12 staff faculty not on site.
Brandon explained the former zoning of General Forest with the school district which was subject to State but not subject to the County general plan. When the school property sold as private property in 2013, the zoning mattered and changed to Public Service.
Brandon told of background studies, traffic engineering, park analysis and 18 areas which dealt with a “very detailed checklist.” A 30-day circulation period received a lot of comments to which, he said, all were responded. The Planning Commission 4-1 approved the special use and adopted the negative declaration. He stated he believed the County followed all laws and procedures.
Planning Director Tim Beals addressed negative comments, stating any idea of conspiracy or prejudgment were not accurate. He stated it’s not the role of staff to determine if a project enhances the community. He called the quality of the staff report “quite high,” and it went to “extreme lengths to be open.”
Appellant Mike Miller agreed with Tim on staff but not on final analysis. Mike served on the Planning Commission 12 years. He told how when Firm Foundation first came, it fit the community but then homeowners had concerns; the project is too big. He told of misconceptions and how the project doesn’t fit Pike. He told when the school was built, State laws governed it and wildlife and deer migration were not considered. Key, he said, is the Public Service and stated General Forest would limit the type of growth. He felt his community was “under attack” by someone here under a year. He stated the General Plan can be changed with care and the gentleman came to the wrong place, a rural area to make profit in cultural heritage and history which doesn’t meet the quality of life and has no track record of running schools. He called it a “County issue,” and told the Board, “Your job is to work for your constituents. Something else will come to this site,” he stated.
Andy Cassano, Land Surveyor and Land Use Planner with Nevada City Engineering, Inc. out of Nevada City represented Firm Foundation Academy and showed photos of repair work and the investment his client has made on an abandoned and vacant building to a serviceable mode, creating an “important public center for Pike.” He was happy to be working with its staff. He told of water conservation “a must” and cutting 60-70% with $20,000 worth of turf when occupied. He told of proven technology with the sewer system. He stated foreign students “are not the case” but are marketed through California and State colleges. Conspiracy theories or hidden agenda “is just not it.” He called California planning laws “on the mark,” and of the public benefit and the school providing property taxes. He called the general plan its “Bible” and said this case “clearly shows land
as public service” and provides for the school.
The public hearing dealt with residents questioning if it were a software developing agency and Firm Foundation’s real function; groundwater and its supply; the impact of law enforcement and emergency medical services; supporting a day school like it used to be and support of software development which “makes millions” and they could afford to “truck water in.”
Those living across from Firm Foundation were in favor of it and there were letters read stating a “splendid job of renovation,” and those in favor of occupation, education and employment opportunities. Some called it a “small private university where I could take classes,” while others worried about the amount of water, students wandering around and being bussed in.
No decision was made that day. The Board of Supervisors is to analyze facts and information and determine if the zoning is consistent with the special use permit; “not a matter of like or don’t like,” according to County Counsel.