February 28, 2008
Heschel Day School West gets OK, but future still looks clouded
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Jess Thomas, president of the Old Agoura Homeowners Association, is less conciliatory. He maintains that a school can be approved for a conditional-use permit only if it meets all the terms and conditions of the North Area Plan and that Heschel does not comply with fire prevention and wildlife protection, among other requirements. He is especially worried about wildfires.
Secondly, he said that the school fails to protect the nature of the existing old community, another requirement of the plan. "Old Agoura is an island of tranquility in a sea of exploding congestion," he said.
Agoura Hills was incorporated as a city in 1982 to give the community local control over development. Through the years, some residential projects have been approved as well as some high-end furniture stores farther north along Canwood in an area, Thomas maintains, that is zoned for commercial use and creates minimal traffic, especially during peak traffic hours. No large private school has ever been approved, Thomas said.
While Thomas credits Yaroslavsky with doing some wonderful things in his administration, he said, "He's partial to Heschel over our needs and desires," an allegation that Yaroslavsky vigorously denies.
Thomas also fears that in time, despite the restrictions of the conditional-use permit, Heschel will want to expand and build a high school.
Old Agoura Homeowners Association has teamed up with Save Open Space (SOS), a nonprofit environmental organization that has consistently opposed the project, and both are considering filing a joint lawsuit.
SOS chairMary Wiesbrock is particularly concerned about preserving the wildlife corridor and protecting children from possible underground toxic waste from the nearby Calabasas landfill, even though the site has been exhaustively tested and declared safe, according to Wentz.
"We really would prefer that Heschel find an alternative site," Wiesbrock said, adding that her organization has suggested possible locations.
Yaroslavsky, however, maintains that schools are permitted use on that property and that they are not inconsistent with the North Area Plan.
In fact, Yaroslavsky met with the Old Agoura Homeowners Association almost 10 years ago when the project was first proposed. He told them that in 33 years of public service, a third-generation teacher himself, he has never disapproved a school, though he has imposed conditions and mitigated impact.
Despite the length of this battle, Yaroslavsky sees it as a typical neighborhood confrontation with one exception. "It's been ugly," he said, adding that the vitriol has been on all sides, with people passionate about their positions.
But he believes the right people are talking to each other now, at least between Agoura Hills and Heschel West. As for Old Agoura Homeowners Association, Yaroslavsky described them as good people. But whatever happens, Yaroslavsky is certain a school will be built on that property, and that it will be an asset to the community.
Yaroslavsky said his goal has always been to address the legitimate concerns on all sides and to impose the correct mitigating conditions so that at the end of the day, when the school is up and running, people will say, "You know, we can live with this. This is fine."
Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School West, www.heschelwest.com; city of Agoura Hills, www.ci.agoura-hills.ca.us; Old Agoura Homeowners Association, www.oldagoura.org, Save Open Space, www.saveopenspace.com; Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, http://zev.lacounty.gov.
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