While the council didn't take any formal action Monday during its third public hearing on the school's contentious plan, its direction means that the school will have to modify its application and return for a fresh round of public hearings in front of the city's Planning and Transportation Commission and Architectural Review Board. It effectively ensures that the project, which has been in the works for nearly five years, will not reach the finish line any time soon.
Much like the broader community, council members held a wide range of positions on the school's proposed redevelopment, which would involve replacing campus buildings, building a new underground garage, relocating the school's swimming pool to an underground location and gradually expanding student enrollment from the current level of 426 to 540.
Some, including Mayor Tom DuBois and council members Lydia Kou and Greer Stone, were deeply critical of the proposal and suggested that they could not support the plan in its current form.
Others, including Vice Mayor Pat Burt and council members Alison Cormack and Greg Tanaka, were more willing to advance Castilleja's project, albeit with some modifications.
Despite the division, council members generally agreed that the key to Castilleja's success will be traffic management. The proposal already includes a "no net new trips" requirement, suggested by planning commissioners, that mandates the school not incur more traffic than currently exists today. It also includes an aggressive transportation-management program that relies on shuttles, carpools and bike programs so that students and faculty don't commute in cars.
If traffic counts show Castilleja failing to limit its traffic, the school would face penalties and be required to halt its enrollment growth.
But despite this requirement, implemented to minimize the impact of the school's growing enrollment on the neighborhood, council members said Monday that they are skeptical about the city's ability to enforce the traffic measures. Council member Eric Filseth wondered whether it's even possible for Castilleja to add students while keeping traffic levels steady.
"We're running up against some laws of physics here," Filseth said. "It's hard to have a destination school in a residential neighborhood that continues to grow and doesn't run into traffic problems. That's kind of what we're grappling with."
The council's biggest accomplishment over the course of Monday's five-hour discussion was its decision on the plan's most controversial element: an underground parking garage. Having failed to offer a clear direction on the garage at its prior two hearings, the council Monday backed the only compromise that could muster majority support: a scaled-down version of the garage that would accommodate up to half of the school's required parking spots, or 57 cars.
Burt said allowing the underground garage but in a reduced form achieves the "right balance" and alleviates community concerns about the facility, which many residents had criticized as being incompatible with the single-family residential neighborhood.
For DuBois, Kou and Stone, even the smaller garage proved too much. DuBois and Kou both said they would prefer no garage at all, while Stone asserted that he would need more information about the smaller garage before he could support it.
While the council's vote offered Castilleja a tenuous path forward, it effectively dashed the school's hopes that the project would advance soon. Instead, the proposal will now be remanded to the planning commission, which already held six hearings on the project, and the architectural board, which reviewed the project over three hearings. Each panel ultimately recommended approval of the project.
Tanaka said requiring a smaller garage constitutes "a total reset of this whole project."
"It's not like we're changing a window. It's an entirely different project," he said.
The council's decision to require a smaller garage appeared to catch Castilleja by surprise. Mindie Romanowsky, Castilleja's attorney, said the new direction would require the school to offer more surface parking on its campus, potentially encroaching into its playing field and green spaces.
"My concern here is, if only 50% of the parking spaces are allowed to be underground, I'm not sure where else we'd park," Romanowsky said. "That's the concern."
Aside from its split over the parking facility, the council largely agreed that Castilleja should be required to prove definitively that it can manage its traffic before it can increase enrollment.
To that end, council members approved a two-page motion crafted by Stone and Burt that calls for stronger penalties for noncompliance, a possible creation of a TDM Oversight Committee and an increase in the proportion of Castilleja students who live within bicycle distance from the campus.
In another blow to the school, council members also indicated they favor lowering the number of special events of 50 or more attendees that Castilleja is allowed to hold on its campus. After the planning commission recommended a maximum of 74 special events annually (and none on Sundays), Kou suggested that the commission and staff consider limiting the number to between 50 and 70.