It’s the wrong place because it’s not safe.
That is the essence of concerns the Bellevue Planning Commission reiterated for the third time Thursday when it voted 6-1 to recommend the City Council deny a rezone and conditional use permit to allow Omaha Public School to build an elementary school near Fort Crook Road and Childs Road.
Todd Aerni voted against the recommendation.
Thursday was OPS’ third attempt to persuade the Planning Commission to recommend approval of the new elementary school, which would be on the west side of Fort Crook Road adjacent to two Union Pacific train tracks. The district came before the commission on July 25 and Aug. 22, but each time the commission delayed a recommendation to allow OPS to address safety concerns.
The train tracks are the biggest concern. Commissioners repeatedly stressed it was dangerous for students to cross the train tracks and Fort Crook Road, which has six driving lanes and turn lanes at the intersection with Childs Road. According to OPS documents, most of the students who attend the school would come from the east side of Fort Crook Road.
At the Aug. 22 meeting, OPS proposed busing all students, even those the district deemed within walking distance, from the east to the west side of Fort Crook Road. That did not assuage commissioners’ concerns, who felt students who lived near the school would still attempt to walk, posing the example of a student who missed the bus.
They also expressed worry that buses could become stacked over the train tracks and OPS should invest in the infrastructure to make crossing Fort Crook Road more safe.
OPS countered both then and again Thursday that building an overpass over Fort Crook and the tracks would be cost prohibitive and, in an opinion shared with the city’s Public Works Department, adding a crosswalk and sidewalks on Fort Crook Road and near the train tracks would “provide a false sense of security” and the department was not “recommending a crosswalk along Fort Crook Road or a sidewalk connection to the railroad tracks.”
All buses leaving the school would be directed west, away from the train tracks, to prevent stacking, according to OPS’ plan.
Lisa Sterba, OPS’ chief operations officer, said the district would educate students and parents about safety and discourage them to walk across Fort Crook Road and would encourage families to call the school if they missed the bus and a staff member from the school would pick up the student.
OPS officials stressed they were looking out for the safety of the students. Busing would cost the district more than $108,000 a year, said David Kramer, an attorney representing the district.
Commissioner Tom Ackley said it was typically the responsibility of developers to build infrastructure related to their projects and asked what OPS’ plans were to add sidewalks on blocks on the west side of Fort Crook.
Kramer said it would be “unreasonable” and “unusual to require developers to put those kinds of improvements blocks away from their property,” and said any future development in the area would be an opportunity to require those developers to add sidewalks.
One resident testified in favor of the school during Thursday’s meeting.
Also during Thursday’s meeting, the commission recommended approval of a rezone for a 72-unit, town home development near the southeast corner of 48th Street and Capehart Road. The units would sell for between $200,000 and $215,000.