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[whitespace] Neighbors brought a long list of complaints to CUP hearing

Los Gatos--In an emotional and, at times, nasty meeting, Peppertree Preschool neighbors and supporters traded testimony on May 24, on the school's adherence to its conditional-use permit (CUP), among other topics.

Despite Planning Commission chairwoman Laura Nachison's assurances that the commission was considering only Peppertree's abatement of CUP violations, neighbors and parents took advantage of the hearing to air a wide range of grievances--from one neighbor's charge of guns on the premises to parents' complaints about neighbors videotaping their children.

In the end, the commission accepted town staff's report stating Peppertree was in compliance. The commission asked the school's owners, Jeffrey and Dana Osborn, to work with neighbors to solve traffic and parking safety issues and an individual neighbor's concern over a wall cracked by a school tree. Peppertree is required to report back to the commission in January.

The Planning Commission launched a staff investigation into possible violations of the school's 1979 CUP in response to residents' concerns raised at a Jan. 26 meeting. Residents complained the school had too many children, held after-hours activities, unlawfully stored materials outside, had an illegal storage trailer and tolerated unsafe traffic circulation.

Staff reported back to the commission that the trailer had been removed, outside materials were now stored in a legal shed, the number of children and hours of operation were consistent with the CUP and traffic circulation was not unsafe or illegal. Peppertree is located on the corner of Los Gatos-Almaden Road and Leila Court.

Neighbors showed up in force to counter staff's assertion that the violations had abated. New accusations, including guns being on the premises, were also leveled at the preschool. Neighbors denied that they were trying to close the school, saying compliance was their only objective.

"The goal is to make it a safer, nicer place for children, for bicyclists, for pedestrians, for drivers and for residents," neighbor Sherri Gillespie told the commission.

Other neighbors stressed the long history of problems with Peppertree. "The Peppertree file is enormous," Leila Court resident Elizabeth Kipp said. "It covers many years. [The owners] don't work with the neighbors' complaints and we must always come before you to correct abuses."

An even larger number of Peppertree supporters showed up at the meeting, arguing the school offered a safe learning environment for their children. While commissioners tried to keep parents on the CUP issues, their testimony was often as emotionally driven as the neighbors.'

"Although my daughter is going to finish school in three weeks, I would hate to see this resource threatened," parent Patricia Ramona said.

Other parents focused less on the preschool and more on the neighbors. Some questioned the validity of neighborhood concerns, saying the preschool has been in existence longer than most of the homes on the street. A number of parents also expressed concerns over the neighbors videotaping and photographing their children.

"It sure seems like the neighbors have nothing else to do but complain about this facility," parent James Long said. "I think it's time to lay off Peppertree."

Chairwoman Nachison, in accepting the report and asking the school to return in January, said she was dismayed with the ongoing feud. "I'm disturbed that the situation had to reach the pitch that it did tonight," Nachison said. "We've got a situation here where the parents of this school somehow now believe the school is in danger of being closed. That is certainly not the case."

Neither Jeffrey nor Dana Osborne returned calls for this story.
Nathan R. Huff

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