Tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood overlooking Mission Valley, the Academy of Our Lady of Peace (O.L.P.) is a Catholic High School for young women. The private institution, founded in 1882, relocated from downtown to Normal Heights in 1924.
In 1993, the school obtained a conditional use permit that set the enrollment at 640 students and 46 faculty members. Since then, school enrollment has swelled to 726, the number of faculty has grown to 67, and the school is running out of land.
During the past three years, school administrators have hired architects and consultants to bring forth plans to add a new building to house a technology-and-science department, a library and media center, offices for faculty, and a two-story parking structure. The expansion plans have created conflict between Our Lady of Peace and the community that surrounds the school.
Last September, the Greater North Park Planning Committee opposed the project eleven votes to one.
They said the school has operated in violation of the conditional use permit for over a decade. The traffic from the extra students has transformed residential streets into speedways. Community members also say the school has disregarded the number of special events allowed by the conditional use permits. Most of all, the community takes issue with the prospect of removing three historic homes to make way for a parking structure and new building, violating the community’s general plan.
Despite the community’s concerns and the rejection from the North Park Planners, in October of last year the San Diego Planning Commission unanimously approved the project.
On Monday, January 26, the city council heard the community’s appeal. Hundreds of residents crowded council chambers, and, for over three hours, dozens of speakers testified for and against the project.
Following the testimony, District 3 representative Todd Gloria offered up a motion, calling for an adjustment of the school’s enrollment to 750 students and 67 faculty members, while denying the permits necessary for the school’s expansion until the community and school administrators reach an agreement about the future of the three historic houses.
The council, however, decided to delay the ruling until a March 3 meeting, allowing the city attorney’s office and city staff time to review the impact of Councilmember Gloria’s motion. If the project plan is denied in its entirety, the school would be required to begin the permit and design process anew, which could take years.