San Carlos and its school district are looking at a land swap deal that could trade space for a new charter school with an area for more playing field space but city officials say there are still issues to consider — namely the neighbors and a private developer’s offer of $4.5 million above the appraisal of $13.5 million.
The idea of a trade has been quietly mulled for months but on Monday the proposal came front and center when Craig Baker, superintendent of the San Carlos Elementary School District, sent City Manager Jeff Maltbie a letter seeking a formal agreement for the property exchange. The district board is holding a special public meeting Thursday to talk about the possibility and San Carlos Mayor Mark Olbert is hopeful to get it on the council’s Monday night agenda.
The proposed swap is between the district-owned property at the top of the hill on the Tierra Linda Middle School campus for the city-owned land on Crestview Drive near Marigold Lane. The city would have a new spot for potentially more field space and the school district would have land to relocate the Charter Learning Center which in turn would free up space at Tierra Linda for a fourth- and fifth-grade school.
At first blush, those on the front line of the decision are excited by the possibility. Board member Seth Rosenblatt said “in concept I think it’s a brilliant idea” although he preferred holding off on further opinion until after the public weighs in Thursday. Olbert, too, sees the proposal as a likely win-win for the school district, the city and the community served by both. Councilman Ron Collins echoed the sentiment, calling the offer “a very intriguing idea” and an “an opportunity to help the school and to help us.”
But nothing is set in stone and officials say the public, particularly neighbors around the two sites in question, may raise concerns not yet considered.
“What I’m really looking for is what’s the real impact. At the end of the day we’re trying to improve the quality of life and conceptually it seems to, but we need to look at all the details,” said Councilman Cameron Johnson who wants to hear from parents of students, parents of sports youth and neighbors.
In his March 17 letter to Maltbie, Baker called the district’s Thursday meeting “critical” now because of community concerns including whether new schools will be built on existing sites and if sports groups risk losing field space.
In November 2012, San Carlos voters approved a $72 million bond measure to address capacity issues because of the district’s burgeoning student population. An estimated 600 new kids over the next handful of years is a key driver in seeking land and the city parcel is attractive because space is limited in San Carlos and the Peninsula, said board President Adam Rak.
Moving the charter school to its own site on the city land would allow a new fourth- and fifth-grade school for without significantly altering the existing campus population.
“For me, it’s a no-brainer,” Olbert said. “Even worse than not having a new field, frankly, I think is finding a place to move 400 kids so that we don’t have another 400 kids trying to get dropped off.”
Rak said modernizing the fourth-to-fifth-grade school at Tierra Linda can’t happen until the Charter Learning Center moves which is why the goal is to start addressing the need and see if the district needs to look for an alternative to the city site.
One negotiating factor may be the value of each parcel.
The district land has been appraised at about $12.9 million but that doesn’t take into consideration its lack of access aside from through the Tierra Linda campus, Maltbie said.
The Crestview Drive property is appraised around $13.5 million and the city has received an offer from an undiscovered townhouse developer to purchase it for $18 million, Maltbie said.
The developer’s offer is indicative of the current housing marking and the rarity of a 4-plus acre parcel in San Carlos, he said.
Because of that offer, the Crestview property’s value is considered closer to $21 million because of the $18 million purchase, a few million the developer would pay into the community and resulting tax revenue, Maltbie said.
“So it’s a fairly valuable asset for the community,” Maltbie said.
But just because the offer is higher doesn’t necessarily make it more attractive. Tierra Linda is worth $12 million, which “goes a long way” toward matching the same mark and the district “definitely has a need,” Maltbie said.
Rak said discussion needs to move out to the public for its viewpoint on the possibility before both sides start knuckling down on price.
The city land, which was purchased in 1974 as a possible Interstate 280 connection that didn’t happen, is currently designated in the general plan as a future park site which means the city would have to amend the zoning to accommodate either a school or housing.
Another wrinkle might be a federal court ruling that due to issues like the land’s slope it was deemed developed to its maximum, Councilman Matt Grocott.
Grocott said he has the city currently researching the possibility which, if true, is not an insurmountable challenge but does mean changing a long-standing agreement with the community to leave it as is.
“If there is a public hearing and this is what it is, then that needs to be acknowledged,” Grocott said.
Even without the land, a new school is going to go somewhere in San Carlos, he said.
At least an agreement with the school district would mean more fields for the city both at the school and the park where a private development — while potentially bringing in more money — does not, he said.
Even if development funds were ostensibly collected for park space, Grocott said he hasn’t much faith in it happening because the proceeds from the In-N-Out Burger land were also meant for open space but instead, after the dissolution of the Redevelopment Agency, were shuffled toward economic development.
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