Alverno Heights Academy

ALVERNO HEIGHTS ACADEMY FAQs

This page is intended to inform members of the community regarding the proposed project at Alverno Heights Academy. The City may update this FAQ as questions and comments are submitted.

Submit a Comment

If you have a question or would like to make a comment regarding the Alverno Heights Academy project, you can submit your questions through the City transparency portal at City@CityofSierraMadre.com, or visit Alverno Heights Academy’s webpage at: http://www.alvernoheightsacademy.org/

Overview

The Alverno Heights Academy (AHA) proposes to introduce TK-8th grade co-ed students to the existing high school campus in fall 2020.  The new lower class will add a maximum of 200 students, which is within the Master Plan’s allowable capacity for a maximum enrollment of 400 students.  AHA has a legal right to use the property up to the capacity approved in the AHA 2011 Master Plan Amendment.

AHA also proposes to install three portable buildings to accommodate 10 classrooms within the general location of the approved two-story multi-purpose building as identified and proposed in the AHA 2011 Master Plan Amendment. The proposed portable buildings will be placed generally in the footprint of the approved two-story multi-purpose building and are approximately 1/3 the size. 

Project at a Glance

  • Installation of 3 portable buildings, totaling 4,320 square feet, accommodating up to 10 classrooms for a maximum of two-years;
  • Enrollment of up to 200 TK-8th grade co-ed students
  • Avoidance of vehicular queuing on Michillinda Avenue through an onsite vehicular queue line for student drop-off and pick-up confined to the campus with vehicular exit on to W. Highland Avenue;
  • Scheduling classes to commence in September 2020;
  • Consideration by Planning Commission of a Master Plan amendment for approval of a permanent classroom facility prior to May 2021;
  • Siting of the  permanent classroom facility to be located in the southwest quadrant of the campus;
  • Submission of planning entitlements and building plans for the construction of  a permanent classroom facility by May 2022; and
  • Reconfiguration of the Michillinda Parking lot to coincide with the construction of a permanent classroom facility.
 

History of Master Plan Approval(s) and Amendments

The AHA site has a long history of approvals to operate as a High School, and has had various approvals allowing student capacity to reach 500.  When AHA built-out their campus, they included parking, traffic plans, future building sites, and similar items to plan for and accommodate a capacity that was much larger than the current and historic operation.

Please see the below timeline summarizing the entitlement process for the AHA Site over the past 60 years:

  • April 1959: Planning Commission adopted Resolution 85-59 approving a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for AHA to operate a High School with a maximum enrollment capacity not to exceed 500 students.

  • June 1959: City Council adopted Resolution 1642 approving a Master Plan and CUP for AHA.

  • Feb. 1964: City Council adopted Resolution 2000 amending the CUP to impose conditions related to parking and traffic.

  • June 2011: Planning Commission hearing to consider an amendment to the Master Plan.

  • July 2011: Planning Commission adopted Resolution 11-10 approving an amendment to the Master Plan and the CUP for the construction of 12,680 SF, two-story multi-purpose building and a 2,900 SF outdoor amphitheater. The Master Plan reduced the maximum enrollment from 500 to 400 students. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Alverno Heights Academy (AHA)?
Alverno Heights Academy is an independent, Catholic, college preparatory school for young women.

Under what authority does AHA operate in the City of Sierra Madre?
The Planning Commission adopted a Master Plan amendment for AHA in July 7, 2011. A copy of the Amended Master Plan may be found here. 

What is AHA proposing to do?
AHA is proposing to expand its student body to the legally allowable capacity to include Transitional Kindergarten (“TK”) through 8th Grade students and to install three portable buildings to accommodate up to 10 classrooms.

How was AHA’s proposal approved?
The City conducted a Pre-Application Development Review meeting with City staff and representatives of AHA and their development team on May 6, 2020.  A formal notice to proceed was issued on May 13, 2020. Please see the conditions of approval here.

How can AHA do this without amending their Master Plan?
AHA can increase the number of students because the Master Plan approved a maximum student capacity of 400. AHA has enrolled approximately 200 students. AHA is entitled to enroll an additional 200 students. 

AHA can install three portable buildings to use as classrooms at the location of the proposed two-story multi-purpose building approved under the Master Plan.

Why doesn’t the City limit the student body to high school-aged women as identified in the Master Plan?
Under Government Code section 65008, subdivision (a)(1)(A), it is unlawful for a city to deny “to any individual or group of individuals the enjoyment of residence, landownership, tenancy, or any other land use in this state” because of age or gender. Essentially, any land use action subject to the Government Code, including the issuance of a Master Plan, cannot consider the fact that the users will be female or high school students. That fact is illustrated by Sierra Madre Municipal Code section 17.38.040(B), titled “Contents of the Master Plan.” Of the items to be included, not one lists age or gender. Those factors are not considered in approving a Master Plan.

The Master Plan and CUP were first adopted in 1959. Government Code section 65008 was adopted in 1971. The fact that the original Master Plan and CUP predate Government Code section 65008 may explain why a consideration of the students’ age and gender factored so prominently in the Planning Commission’s and City Council’s initial consideration.

How can the City permit the installation of portable buildings?
The current Master Plan calls for a two-story multi-purpose building. The proposed portable buildings will be generally located within the footprint of the approved 12,860 square feet two-story multi-purpose building. The portable buildings total 4,320 square feet, which is approximately 1/3 of the size of the approved two-story multi-purpose building. 

Will a public hearing be held before the Fall 2020 school term?
No. A public hearing is not required for AHA to exercise a vested right. 

Did City staff approve an expansion of use for AHA without public input?
No. The Planning Commission held two public hearings on June 2, 2011 and July 7, 2011 during which the public was permitted to provide its comments regarding the maximum number of students permitted at AHA. AHA received approval for a student capacity of up to 400 by the Planning Commission via Resolution 11-10 on July 7, 2011.  Resolution 11-10 also allowed for the construction of a 12,680 sq. ft., two-story multi-purpose building and an additional 2,900 sq. ft. amphitheater. 

Why didn’t the City require AHA to do public outreach?
AHA has all of the necessary approvals and vested property rights to operate as a 400 student school.  It is in the best interest of AHA to operate as a good neighbor, but the City cannot mandate additional outreach.  The City did request “a robust public outreach effort to commence as soon as possible, particularly to the residents along West Grandview Avenue, West Highland Avenue, and Wilson Street. AHA shall capture the comments in writing and submit to the City for our records.”

Will there ever be another public hearing?

Yes. The City requires the Master Plan to be amended before May 2021 to accommodate the construction of a new, permanent classroom facility in a location not contemplated by the Master Plan. The amendment process will require a public hearing before the Planning Commission, but will not require AHA to seek approval regarding student capacity.

What happens if the City Council or Planning Commission denies the proposed amendment to the Master Plan?
AHA has held the legal right to proceed with the operation of a 500 student high school since 1959 and a 400 student high school since 2011.  This right is vested and neither the City Council, Planning Commission, nor City Staff can deprive AHA of its property rights.

If the proposed Master Plan amendment is denied, AHA can still legally operate as a 400 student school.  They would have to contain operations within the current buildings on campus and in the addition of the 12,680 sq. ft., two-story multi-purpose building and an additional 2,900 sq. ft. amphitheater that have approval to be constructed.

Is there sufficient parking on campus to accommodate an additional 200 students?
Yes. There is adequate parking sufficient to accommodate the proposed student, faculty, and employee parking requirements for the campus.  There are a total of 108 onsite parking stalls.  Code required parking for TK-12th grade is 73 stalls, providing a surplus of 35 parking stalls.  The City is also requiring that the proposed reconfigured Michillinda Parking lot coincide with the construction of permanent classroom facilities.

Will a noise study be conducted prior to any expansion in the fall of 2020?
A noise study will be conducted at the commencement of the school year to adequately capture ambient noise levels of vehicular traffic and student body population. A noise study conducted prior to the start of the school year will not be helpful because no students will be on campus.  The purpose of delaying the noise study until school is in session is to determine if mitigation is necessary and possible.

Will a circulation plan and traffic study be prepared prior to the commencement of the school year?
The City evaluated the onsite vehicular circulation plan provided by the AHA architectural consultant.  The plan shows TK-8th grade vehicular entry from the existing driveway with frontage on Michillinda Avenue, and vehicular exit onto West Highland Avenue.  The traffic study determined that there is adequate onsite vehicular queue line to prevent horizontal queuing along Michillinda Avenue (that presumes that vehicles on a roadway do not back up over the length of the roadway).  In this case, vehicles will stack up upon one another at the point where congestion begins, at the TK-8th grade drop-off and pick-up point adjacent to the proposed classroom buildings (referred to as stack queuing).  The traffic analysis performed confirmed these assumptions.  The traffic analysis also determined that a dedicated right-hand turn lane will not be required on northbound Michillinda Avenue.  The traffic study also analyzed the potential impact of traffic patterns on West Highland Avenue, to ensure that the driveway width and driveway apron are adequate in width to accommodate vehicles exiting on to West Highland Avenue. The traffic study noted the driveway width is 18 feet wide.