Zoned out? Neighbors' concerns grow with school's expansion

With a long-term lease but a decreasing enrollment, the Epiphany School plans to expand its campus at 3710 E. Howell St.

However, nearby neighbors are concerned that the growth of the private school, which recently purchased adjacent residences, will create traffic and safety problems and change the character of the neighborhood.

Since its inception in 1958, Epiphany has provided elementary education for children inkindergarten through sixth grade. However, due to middle-school options starting at grade six, many parents have pulled their children out of Epiphany early, according to Epiphany Head of School George Edwards.

To draw students back to Epiphany, he and his staff will change the school to pre-kindergarten through fifth grade and add two sections per grade, increasing the enrollment from 135 to a projected 200 students over the next five years.

Since their lease expires in 2011, officials from Epiphany School preemptively bought houses at 3605 and 3609 E. Denny Way and 3625 E. Howell St. If the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) decides to grant the school an Administrative Conditional Use Permit, the Howell Street residence may be converted into classrooms. This would change the zoning of the home from single-family to institutional, and this concerns neighbor Loring McAllaster, who lives across the street.

"As much as the school and the church have been good neighbors, I question whether their long-range plans will work in this area without changing the nature of the street and neighborhood," McAllaster said.

According to McAllaster, Epiphany School plans to purchase two more homes on the Denny Way block and has not consulted with the neighbors about its plans. He believes that since the school was feeling pressure to expand, they "put the cart before the horse" and did not consider other issues.

McAllaster also wants to ensure that the neighborhood's character is not destroyed by traffic congestion, traffic lights or even the proposal for an underground-parking garage.

Another neighbor, Bart Smith, agrees: "I live right across from the church, and quite a number of us are concerned about the traffic on the surrounding and secondary streets. There's also no parking, so parents park wherever, and the school needs to address this."

Edwards maintains that traffic problems and safety issues will be handled appropriately and that neighbors should not be overly concerned.

"We have two crosswalks across Denny to help with students crossing the street," Edwards said. And "there's only two critical times for traffic: 8:15 to 8:30 a.m. and 3:15 to 3:30 p.m."

He added, "An underground parking garage might be the only way to reduce on-street parking."

As ordered by the DPD, Epiphany hired a traffic study group that will send its findings to DPD land-use planner Lauren Hirt, who is examining the case.

"[The study group is] not going to find anything surprising," Edwards said.

Edwards wrote in the Madrona neighbor-hood's newsletter that the school's goal is to retain the feel of the neighborhood, which it has done in the past when the home at 36th Avenue and Howell became Augustine Hall for pre-kindergarten.

He went on to add that when the four-parcel acquisition on the block bounded by Denny Way, 36th Avenue and Howell is complete, the school will begin to address the problems of traffic and parking problems, along with other neighborly concerns.

On Tuesday, June 1, the Madrona Community council was to vote whether to support Epiphany's plan, which will influence the DPD's decision on whether to rezone the Howell Street residence.

Since Loring and some close neighbors don't live within the Madrona boundaries - they technically live in Denny-Blaine - council vice president Suzanne Sheppard made it clear they could not vote.

"The city sets up the neighborhood boundaries, and the bylaws of the Madrona Community Council are not meant to be exclusionary," Sheppard said. "It's not like they don't have a voice. They can call the DPD, too."

Edwards said he met with neighbors on May 24 to discuss the creation of Neighbors of Epiphany School to give them a voice in future developments.[[In-content Ad]]