School will open Aug. 14
By Philip Haldiman, Independent Newsmedia
A popular Peoria charter school is opening a new campus this month after the city rejected an appeal by an adjacent office complex complaining it would cause more traffic.
The Planning and Zoning Commission denied an appeal of the new BASIS school site plan at Lake Pleasant Parkway and Yearling Road by neighboring Plaza Del Lago Professional Condominium Association, which claimed the increased student population of 1,000 will lead to high traffic volume in the Plaza Del Lago Professional Center, 9772-9844 W. Yearling Road.
The commission voted 4-1 to oppose the appeal, with Chairman Shawn Hutchinson the sole supporter.
The July 20 meeting broke for two closed-doors sessions for commissioners to receive legal advice.
State Treasurer Jeff DeWit, who has ownership in the office complex, said the school already makes it difficult for customers and employees to get to the center.
“Traffic already backs up from the current school to the driveway. We’ve had a doctor that had to park at the Home Depot (across the street) to see a patient because he wasn’t able to get to his office,” Mr. DeWit said. “And now there will be a new building with 1,000 students, many of them with their own cars.”
City staff approved a site plan on Feb. 27 to build the two-story, 54,225 square-foot campus on 8.5 acres for grades 5-12, near the northwest corner of Yearling Road and Lake Pleasant Parkway. The school is scheduled to open for classes Aug. 14. The new campus is located across a major wash channel to the west of the existing BASIS school and the Plaza Del Lago offices. A future bridge is planned for the wash channel, linking the two school sites.
The dispute involves an agreement between the school and association that has been in effect since 2011 that allows drivers to cross the lot of the office complex to get to the school.
Charles Wirken, a lawyer with the Gust Rosenfeld firm representing the Plaza Del Lago POA, said the bridge will exacerbate the use of the cross-access easement and further inflame traffic congestion.
He said the bridge will unlawfully give the benefit of the easement to a property that it was not intended to benefit.
The POA requested the bridge be eliminated from the proposal, Mr. Wirken said.
“My client does not object to the BASIS school site. We object to the proposed bridge in the approved site plan,” Mr. Wirken said. “You’ve tried to find your way through traffic or a busy parking lot. You’re looking for the path of least resistance so if you see an opening you may well take it. Why should I wait in this line when I can turn here and cut through Plaza Del Lago, go across the bridge and drop my kid off, and at the end of the day do the same thing to pick up a child?”
Mr. Hutchinson agreed with Mr. Wirken.
“Based on dropping my kid off at public schools around Peoria it is a nightmare, especially on the first day at school with cars lined up,” he said. “I am inclined to agree with the appellant that cars are going to seek that path of least resistance and that bridge would indeed impact the cross easement.”
Planner Sean Allen said the bridge would link the two school sites creating a unique access to Yearling Road, which would allow the appellant and BASIS to close the cross-access easement between their properties.
Thomas Galvin, a lawyer with Rose Law Group representing BASIS, said there is no evidence the site plan should be overturned. He said the easement issue is a contractual agreement recorded between two separate parties.
The school does not have the resources or time to be in endless, fruitless negations when the school year is set to begin Aug. 14, Mr. Galvin said.
“We need to talk about what we are here for and what we are not here for,” Mr. Galvin said. “We are not here for an easement issue between Plaza and BASIS. We are here for a site plan review for a new school on Yearling Road, which has two access points. We’re not here to talk about anything related to that, and frankly I am confused how issues on an separate property have anything to do with the school and reviewing the site plan.”
The expansion of BASIS was initially processed by city staff through the administrative site plan review process. But because the case was appealed, it required a public hearing before the Planning & Zoning Commission, where staff’s decision could be upheld, modified, or overturned.
Planning Director Chris Jacques said a successful appeal needed to demonstrate staff’s decision to approve the plan was in error.
He said construction was allowed to move forward prior to a final decison on the site plan appeal because of the strict deadline for the school’s opening and the subject of the appeal was the non-essential bridge and a cross-access easement between the existing site and Plaza del Lago, which was not relevant to consideration of a site plan for the expansion site. It was also allowed to move forward because the appellant made multiple requests to postpone the appeal hearing, he said.