Phillips Brooks School, the private preschool-through-grade-5 school now operating at 2245 Avy Ave. in Menlo Park, has purchased a 10-acre undeveloped parcel along Los Trancos Creek on unincorporated land in Santa Clara County, according to Portola Valley deputy town planner Tom Vlasic. The property is just across the creek from the Alpine Inn parking lot in Portola Valley.
The school bought the property without having decided "exactly what to do with it," Mr. Vlasic said he was told.
Mr. Vlasic said in a report to the Portola Valley Town Council that he spoke with Phillips Brooks Trustee John Shenk, a Woodside resident, on Sept. 10. Mr. Vlasic noted that, according to Mr. Shenk, the school has not yet submitted a plan to Santa Clara County and is aware of the lengthy planning processes facing the school and the need to work with concerned neighbors and communities.
Repeated phone calls from the Almanac requesting comment from Mr. Shenk and from Phillips Brooks School were not returned.
Phillips Brooks leases its current campus on Avy Avenue from the Las Lomitas Elementary School District.
Portola Valley concerns
Some Portola Valley residents are raising concerns that Phillips Brooks plans to move its campus to the new site. If a school is built there, it could increase traffic through Portola Valley.
Mr. Vlasic said in an e-mail to Portola Valley council members that the school could face a number of issues in applying to the Santa Clara County Planning Commission for a use permit to operate a school. Among them:
The site adjoins a perennial creek that would be vulnerable to rainwater run-off from impervious surfaces at the school.
The site is right across the creek from the outdoor eating and drinking area of the Alpine Inn, a popular tavern.
An engineering consultant to the school concluded that just four acres of the hilly site are suitable for development.
Santa Clara County may require the school to serve the local "rural" community. A 2007-08 school directory shows 93 percent of Phillips Brooks' 192 families living outside Portola Valley and 50 percent living in Menlo Park and Atherton.
The site is about 300 feet south of Arastradero Road and near the intersection with Alpine Road -- a junction with tight, narrow curves and a short, steep uphill grade. Improving the intersection would require an encroachment permit from Portola Valley.
The school would also have to win agreement from neighbors to widen the one-lane private road that fronts the site, said Georgia Bennicas, who owns five acres between the site and Arastradero Road. She lives in Portola Valley.
"They're never getting access," Ms. Bennicas said in an interview. "They're not coming across my land; they're not buying an easement from me; they're not getting through me."
Real estate agents have approached her more than once, she added, telling her that an individual wanted to buy her property for a home.
"They're never getting a school there, not after the way it was misrepresented to me," she said. "It was really very sneaky, the whole thing. They did this whole thing very sneakily."
The Almanac was unable to verify Ms. Bennicas' characterization of the school's intentions.
Alex Von Feldt lives with her family on Creek Park Drive, across the creek in Portola Valley and just west of the site. "I'm worried about the impact of such an intense development on the creek as well as Arastradero Preserve," she told the Almanac. "I don't know how they (would) plan to get the traffic in and out without affecting the neighbors."
Five years ago, the potential impacts to flora, fauna and a wetland nixed a Phillips Brooks campus on 14 acres of a wooded 92-acre parcel on Lawler Ranch Road in Woodside, just west of Interstate 280 at Sand Hill Road.
Council weighs in
Given the potential impacts on Portola Valley, Town Councilman Steve Toben won a unanimous council vote to make the Phillips Brooks matter an "emergency addition" to the Sept. 12 meeting agenda so that council members could discuss it.
The council advised Ms. Bennicas that she has its support.
"We're going to mount a good argument in Santa Clara County and we're going to be talking with the leadership in Santa Clara County," Mr. Toben said. "We're as aroused by this news (as you are). ... They didn't come to the town; they didn't come to the neighbors."
In early 2006, Phillips Brooks got the go-ahead from the city of Menlo Park to embark upon a $10 million upgrade of its 4.5-acre campus on Avy Avenue. The project is nearing completion.
Phillips Brooks has been leasing the campus from the Las Lomitas Elementary School District since 1978. A new lease runs until 2017 with an option for one five-year extension, a school spokeswoman said.
Rent payments to the Las Lomitas district amounted to $800,000 in 2005 -- 7 percent of the district's $12 million budget.
The new buildings will expand the school's floor area to 31,000 square feet from 18,000 square feet and alleviate a situation in which art, music, science and foreign language teachers have to share classrooms, the spokeswoman said.
The school has tried to address traffic congestion by staggering dismissal times and encouraging carpooling, the spokeswoman said.
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