Decision near on Castilleja expansion plans

An aerial view of the Castilleja campus that was presented to Palo Alto's Architectural Review Board last year.

Daily Post Correspondent 

After years of debate and more than 20 public meetings, the Palo Alto City Council on Monday (May 23) could approve Castilleja School’s plans to rebuild its campus and expand enrollment to 540 students.

Castilleja wants to modernize by tearing down several buildings and replacing them. The proposal includes 52 parking spaces in an underground garage plus 37 surface spaces.  The council will also consider putting limits on the number of special events on campus.

Castilleja is a private school for girls in grades six through 12. It’s at 1310 Bryant St., in a neighborhood of single-family homes.

The school has been at its current location since 1910. A permit issued by the city in 2000 allows the school to have up to 415 students. But the city learned in 2013 that Castilleja had been going over the enrollment cap for years. In response, the city fined the school and ordered it to reduce enrollment by four students a year. It’s down to 422 students this school year.

The city also told Castilleja to apply for a new permit if it wanted to exceed the enrollment cap. The Castilleja School Foundation filed an application for a campus redesign in 2016, and the city has held 21 public meetings on the project since then.

The project has been the topic of intense debate.

Supporters of the plan say Castilleja is a community asset and the school has worked hard to address concerns. But opponents say the school mainly serves rich out-of-towners and shouldn’t be rewarded for past bad behavior.

Phased enrollment growth

Under a proposal the council will consider next week, enrollment growth would occur in phases, starting with a cap of 450 students. After that, enrollment could grow by up to 25 students each school year. But that’s only if average daily car trips to campus, as well as morning peak car trips, did not increase. Castilleja would be required to monitor car trips and report to the city three times a year.

If three reports in a row showed that the number of car trips was over the limit, the school would be required to reduce enrollment by at least five students. The city’s planning director and chief transportation official would decide how much of a reduction is needed to get car trips back under the limit.

More square footage considered

The council will also consider whether to approve a variance that would allow the project to exceed the amount of square footage allowed at the 6-acre site.

Castilleja has a variance for its current buildings, which total 138,345 square feet. The new buildings would total 128,687 square feet, less than what’s there now but more than the 81,379 square feet that’s allowed under city zoning.

The variance may be appropriate given the uniqueness of the site, according to a report to the council. The site is the largest in the city that is zoned R-1, which is a type of single-family zoning.

“The property has housed a private school for over a century, and the majority of existing structures were constructed well before the enactment of modern development standards,” the report said.

Another question is whether square footage of the underground garage should count toward the total. As part of its Castilleja decision-making, the council will consider an ordinance that would exempt the square footage of the garage.

In addition, the 89 parking spaces in the garage and surface lot are less than the 104 spaces required by the city.

Special events

Another issue is the number of special events held on campus. According to the report to council, the school violated its 2000 permit in relation to events, and the city began taking enforcement actions in 2017

Under proposed conditions for the project, Castilleja would be allowed to hold up to five major events each year, with more than 500 attendees. Up to 50 special events, with more than 50 people in attendance, would be allowed. Of those, 37 special events could have more than 100 attendees.

As many as five special events would be allowed on Saturday nights, and no special events would be permitted on Sundays.

1 Comment

  1. At first I was against the expansion because I believe it’s too intensive for an R-1 neighborhood like this. It was like having a Walmart move in. But over time, the neighbors who oppose Castilleja have behaved like an over-privileged bunch of entitled crybabies. Now I favor this expansion just because I want to stick it to them. Many, I suspect, inherited their homes from parents who actually worked hard for what they had. And i’m sure a few castilleja opponents are looking to sell after they stop this expansion.

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