In a 3-2 vote, Belmont City Council denied the application of Crystal Springs Uplands School (CSUS) to build a middle school campus on Davis Drive on Tuesday.
"We are very disappointed in the City Council's decision, but would like to thank the Belmont community for its overwhelming support of our school," said a representative of CSUS.
The singular motion that brought the project to an abrubt halt centered around the General Plan Amendment, which would have allowed the city to rezone the Davis Drive office park property that is currently designated as industrial, to commercial to accommodate the school campus.
Councilmembers Warden, Wozniak and Feierbach voted "yes" on the motion to deny the application; Councilmembers Leiberman and Braunstein voted "no" on the motion.
"We need more commercial property in our community, not more schools," said Councilmember Christine Wozniak.
The motion was made by Feierbach after more than two hours of discussion and public comment. Approximately 15 members addressed the council; most were in favor of the project.
Wozniak said that changing the city's General Plan to allow for the school to take the place of the former commercial buildings would make it easier to change again.
"I don't believe in changing the General Plan for one applicant, because when we make that change, we are changing the vision for our community," said Wozniak.
Mayor Dave Warden was also against changing the General Plan, but said he struggled with his decision.
"I want to do the right thing, but there's no right answer here. It's a land use issue, it's a planning issue. I have to draw on my knowledge of the community, and this comes down to putting a middle school in the middle of a business park," said Warden.
After nearly two-and-a-half hours of discussion and public comment Councilmember Feierbach made a motion.
"I move that we direct staff to prepare a resolution to deny the application for a General Plan amendment," said Feierbach, which essentially made any discussion of the other four project entitlements moot since the rezoning of the property was the cornerstone of the entire application.
Feierbach read from a prepared statement prior to making the motion, in which she outlined her reasoning for not supporting the application. Her reasons included loss of tax revenue and increased traffic on Ralston Avenue.
"I was enthusiastic about the project in the beginning, but then started looking at all of these other things," said Feierbach.
She added that the mailers sent out by CSUS and the discussions that took place on Belmont Patch also turned her away from the project.
"I couldn't recover from it," she said.
Councilmembers Warren Lieberman and David Braunstein each said they still had some reservations about the project, but were open to further discussion.
Lieberman said he thought the General Plan Amendment should be considered in close alignment with the project's Development Agreement, which outlines the legal and monetary aspects of the application. Part of the Development Agreement included a one time payment of $1 million to the city, and $250,000 per year to offset the loss of property taxes.
"The positive incremental revenue that would be generated from CSUS would allow us to take on projects we might not otherwise be able to do, such as turf the Belmont Sports Complex," said Lieberman.
And David Braunstein stressed the weight of the issue on council.
"You have no idea how seriously we take this issue and how many hours we've put into it. Your input is not lost on us," Braunstein said to the audience and the applicant.
"At the end of the day, I can see where it would make sense to allow CSUS to come to Belmont. With businesses on Davis Drive and CSUS, we can get into a win-win situation," added Braunstein.
Mayor Dave Warden said he had received more than 350 emails and dozens of phone calls about the project.
"At the end of the day, both sides have compelling reasons for being for or against the project. And I've tried to weigh them, but I have to justify my decision, and it is my decision. This has been a torturous process for me," said Warden.