The Pacific View property will be art-only and city-run, the Encinitas City Council decides

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In the interest of speeding things up on the old Pacific View School lot, Encinitas will pursue a purely artistic focus for the site and drop longstanding plans for ecology programs, the city council ruled last week.

The city will also stop looking for a private, not-for-profit partner to operate the site and will continue renovating the existing buildings rather than replacing them, council members agreed.

Noting that it’s been seven years since Encinitas bought the long-closed elementary school and the site is still not in public use, Mayor Catherine Blakespear said it was time to downsize and regroup the plans. She suggested using the site only for artistic activities, saying they should choose those such as a museum or art class, which can be conducted without triggering major state coastal permit requirements.

Council members Tony Kranz, Joy Lyndes and Joe Mosca said they didn’t want to drop the green portion of the plans forever but said it was a good move in the short term.

“I like the direction I hear my peers championing,” Councilor Kellie Shay Hinze then said, commenting that just focusing on art would provide many different opportunities.

The school, which closed in 2003, is located on a prime coastal hilltop location along Third Street downtown. When the city bought the 6-acre property, city officials said it would become a self-sustaining, independently funded facility, and they began looking for private, not-for-profit partners to operate the site.

In response, a coalition of Encinitas art enthusiasts and nonprofit groups formed an organization called the Encinitas Arts, Culture and Ecology Alliance and created a comprehensive plan for the site. The group’s planning document included everything from composting classes and farmers’ markets to artists’ studios and stalls, some of which would not have been directly permitted under the site’s existing zoning.

Alliance members have worked for years to make their dreams a reality and have estimated that they have increased the property’s value by approximately $1 million, primarily through volunteer work. However, after failing to get City Planning Commission approval for permits that would have allowed them to host money-generating special events on the site, group members eventually asked the city to intervene.

At last week’s council meeting, some alliance members cheered loudly when the council voted unanimously to direct city officials to downsize plans, prepare cost estimates for building renovations, and schedule for the city to manage the site rather than a private entity. Several said they believed the council was making the right move and the decision meant that “something was finally going to happen” at the site.

“This community is so ready,” said artist Danny Salzhandler, noting that it has been proposing to have art programs on the site for two decades.

However, some people said they were saddened that the ecological elements were removed from the plans.

“I think we’re missing an opportunity if we exclude the ecology aspect,” Jessica Toth, executive director of the Solana Center for Environmental Innovation, told the council.

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