School hallway

by Joanne Faryon | inewsource

Following nine years of debate and deal-making, the Poway Unified School District finally sold an 11-acre parcel of land in Rancho Bernardo to the highest bidder: a healthcare company.

San Diego-based AmeriCare Health and Retirement Inc. bought the property, dubbed the “water tower” site, for $7.38 million.

“Our intention is to build a senior living community under our brand name Silvergate,”  Matt Petrie, AmeriCare’s director of property development, said.

The school board approved the sale at a meeting Monday night.

AmeriCare outbid two other companies: Shea Homes which offered $7.3 million and Nierman Pearlman Properties with an offer of $6.65 million.

The property was originally earmarked for a school, but a study of the demographics in the area determined the district doesn’t need to build one.

The fate of the land has been debated for years. Developers had shown interest in building homes on the property, but community members said they need more park and recreation space. In 2006, the district had even tried to swap the vacant land in exchange for a new administration building. But the deal fell through.

AmeriCare’s bid came as a surprise earlier this month. The company had shown interest in buying the land in 2011, but was not aware it was officially up for bid until recently.

There are zoning hurdles AmeriCare will have to overcome in order to build a senior community, but Petrie said the company plans to work with the residents and the city.

The district plans to use the proceeds from the sale in its operating budget.

A new state law that allows school districts to put the profits from surplus property sales into its operational budget, until 2016.

District officials also promised to use some of the money to pay back its Mello-Roos special tax account.

An inewsource investigation earlier this year revealed the district used Mello-Roos funds to market the water tower site and three other surplus properties it owns.

The district paid a consultant about $150,000 to evaluate the properties and meet with potential buyers.

Mello-Roos taxes are supposed to be used for infrastructure costs in new developments.

The school board also approved applying for a waiver from the state, which would allow it to sell its three other properties without a public bidP. Instead it could sell the land using the Request for Proposal (RFP) process.

Trustee Kimberley Beatty was the only school board member to oppose applying for the waiver, citing concerns about public transparency.

Beatty said she wasn’t sure “why we couldn’t do this (sell the land) in an open bidding process.”

There will be a public meeting to discuss the waiver in January.

Joanne Faryon is a freelance reporter and former inewsource and KPBS reporter.