Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church is set to add to its private school and build a new rectory after special land use permits were approved Dec. 12 by the City Council despite concerns raised by several neighbors about heavy carpool traffic.
The council voted 3-1 to approve three special land use permits that allow OLA to expand its educational building, increase the number of students and build a new rectory for priests to live.
The school currently has 530 students in grades pre-K through eight. With the council approval, the school will add up to 78 more students. Twenty-eight of the students will attend the pre-school.
Councilmember Joe Gebbia voted against the plans because he said OLA should work more with area residents to come up with a better traffic mitigation plan. His motion to delay the vote 60 days died for a lack of a second.
OLA is located on nearly nine acres at 1320 Hearst Drive, a circular roadway that serves the church and school as well as 21 surrounding single-family homes.
Principal Lisa Cordell said the changes are needed because most of OLA’s buildings date back to the 1950s. “We are in need of becoming a 21st Century school,” she said.
There are four main structures on the property: a sanctuary, rectory, pre-school and K-8 private school.
Lisa Taylor, who lives on Hearst Drive across the street from OLA, opposed the plans because more students likely mean more traffic. “We are held hostage in our house twice a day due to the carpool,” she said.
Clinton Fletcher, who lives on Humility Lane, said his narrow road suffers from heavy school traffic. “We are neighbors,” he said, “and we need to work together. The reason I’m voicing opposition is because there is no binding plan in place. This should not be an ‘us versus them’ … but the brakes need to be pumped.”
Many parents and neighbors also spoke in favor of the plans, noting the quality education their children receive at the school and how they chose to live near OLA so they could also be part of the congregation.
Richard Sweeley said he has lived across the street from the school since 1987 and his four children received an excellent education at OLA. “I knew there would be change,” when he and his family moved there, he said.
“Schools get bigger, airports get noisier. I like them both,” he said.
Cordell said the church and school were founded on the mission of service to others.
“We know there’s a traffic problem. We do everything we can,” she said.
Carpools are started at 7 a.m. to try to mitigate the morning rush. The school informs neighbors of special events at night, such as Christmas concerts, to let them know about an increase of traffic. Attempts are being made to have more parents carpool, she said.
The traffic problem at OLA is not a secret, Councilmember Linley Jones said.
“That said, OLA is a great neighborhood school … and it would be a tremendous loss if we don’t allow for additional students to attend,” she said.
New sidewalks are being built on Lanier Drive near the school to make it easier for students to walk to school.
Jones suggested OLA consider forming a task force to address concerns of neighbors and to find ways to encourage families to carpool.