Like a Good Neighbor: Neighbors Discuss Previous Expansion Concerns

Like a Good Neighbor: Neighbors Discuss Previous Expansion Concerns

Photo Illustration by Sam Ko

Bruce Killlingsworth never thought he would be placing signs protesting Harvard-Westlake on his lawn.

As a child, he would routinely walk the two minutes up to Harvard School for Boys for a game of baseball with his neighbors. Now living in the same home on Alcove Avenue more than 50 years later, Killingsworth said he was disappointed with the school’s proposed Parking, Safety and Athletics improvement plan.

“I have seen this neighborhood develop over the past 65 years,” Killingsworth said. “I have always had good feelings toward [Harvard-Westlake], so I was extremely sad to hear they wanted to build a bridge and parking structure. It was like a bad dream. And now, the bad dream is over.”

The school recently announced that it purchased Weddington Golf & Tennis and will be putting the Parking, Safety and Athletic Improvement Project on hold. The purchase is a breakthrough in the midst of a four-year-long conflict regarding the PSA plan, President Rick Commons said.

Plans to expand began years ago after the upper school campus became home to grades ten through twelve. The plans address a need for parking and athletic space the school has been trying to resolve since its merger in 1991, Commons said.

“Since 1991, we have many more activities and events and parents coming in great numbers,” Commons said. “What that means is we have far more cars coming onto campus for school and in the afternoons and evenings, more events. That began with the merger and has grown ever since.”

Almost 10 years ago, the school began to look into the property they own across from the school on Coldwater Canyon, which ultimately became a part of the PSA plan: a three-story 750 spot parking lot with an athletic field on the top to address the late night practices that some athletes currently face. In the plan, the school proposed a pedestrian bridge to connect the campus to the structure, as well as other features, including an additional two turn lanes to help improve traffic.

According to Commons, the most pressing motive for the structure was safety. Students who park off-campus currently have to walk down Coldwater Canyon and are exposed to oncoming traffic, and during school events, that problem is exacerbated.

“There are some drivers crossing completely ignoring the [pedestrians],” Blythe Berk ‘19 said. “It is actually so dangerous, and they drive past without a second thought. Safety is a real problem that should be addressed.”

However, this effort garnered opposition and conflict, most notably in the creation of the non-profit organization Save Coldwater Canyon! in 2013, which had over 3800 anti-structure petition signatures and support from community groups such as the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the Studio City Neighborhood Council. SCC placed signs in protest, displaying slogans such as “Stop Harvard-Westlake’s Destruction of Coldwater Canyon!” and “Say No! To Harvard-Westlake’s Private Bridge.”

SCC Board member Sarah Boyd presented many grievances during the discussion of the project, including the structure’s impact on the environment and an increase in traffic. However, Boyd’s most pressing argument was the issue of fairness.

With the PSA plan, Boyd said the school would attempt to build more than 50 times the ordinary hillside limit and a retaining wall that would become the largest in LA, setting a dangerous precedent for other developers.

Another issue of fairness came from the outward perception of the school and its infringement on neighborhood social rights. From their perspective, the structure was a symbol of the school’s influence and privilege, Boyd said.

“If this weren’t Harvard-Westlake School, we wouldn’t even be [negotiating this plan] four years later,” Boyd said. “Harvard-Westlake has a lot of influence.”

This sentiment is magnified among neighbors living close to the school. Joseph*, who lives on Alcove Avenue, said the perception of the school makes it difficult for the community to support a parking structure.

“You have to understand what everybody feels,” Joseph said. “The administration has to be conscious of what they are doing around the area and they have to be conscious about their perception.”

Sophia* ’19 said she agreed with these sentiments before she enrolled at Harvard-Westlake two years ago. As a neighbor living a mile away from the upper school campus, she said her family opposed the structure until she entered the school and realized the benefits of the PSA project.

“I understand where they were coming from, and it was an unfortunate situation, but I think the school had to do it,” Sophia said. “Previously, [my family and I] didn’t really see that it is a necessity. Now, as a student, I see that while it was an ambitious plan, it was in the students’ best interest. I think that it could have benefited the neighborhood as well as the school in the long run.”

Commons said it was this type of emotion on both sides that prevented the communities from reaching a compromise prior to the impending purchase of Weddington Golf & Tennis.

“I can get emotional about wanting to protect students, wanting to get students home earlier from practice and wanting to provide parking on land that we own,” Commons said. “I think the same applies to our neighbors. It’s hard to have good conversations when we’re emotional on our side and they’re emotional on their side.”

One of the many results of the Weddington purchase, including the construction of a Harvard-Westlake Community Athletics Center and recreational opportunities for neighbors, is the school’s exploration of parking alternatives. Commons said the school is considering adding parking on the main campus, which could have the possibility to resolve the four-year-long conflict.

The announcement of the school’s purchase was received well by SCC, Boyd said.

“If it is true that the school has abandoned the idea of developing the west side of Coldwater Canyon and expanding across Coldwater, we consider it a success [for SCC],” Boyd said. “Not only for our group and the community at large, but also for the environment and for the commuters who use Coldwater Canyon daily.”

However, the tensions are not completely resolved. The golf club has been a controversial site for years.

Prior to the school’s purchase, the owners had planned, with strong neighborhood protest, to develop apartments and reduce the athletic facilities on the property. Because the school is now planning to build an athletics center, there may be conflict regarding the reconstruction of the golf club.

However, the four-year PSA project dispute has mainly been pacified. The protest signs have been taken down, according to SCC board member Suellen Wagner, although they hope the school will donate the property for the proposed parking structure to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, which owns the adjacent land. Boyd said the organization will still continue to address other neighborhood complaints and hopes to work with the school in the future.

“Our organization has many goals relating to the protection of the canyon’s residents, open space and wildlife,” Boyd said. “We are appreciative that [the school] has finally reached out to our organization and look forward to sharing our ongoing concerns about the current operations of the school and how it affects the neighborhood.”

With the purchase of Weddington Golf & Tennis comes the beginning of a stronger bond in the community as a whole, Chief Financial Officer David Weil said.

“We hope that the recent announcement of our intent to purchase Weddington Golf and Tennis demonstrates the school’s willingness to listen to the community’s concerns regarding the size and location of the PSA project,” Weil said.

*Names have been changed.

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