ALBANY -- The City Council on Monday denied an appeal of St. Mary's College High School's plans for a new music building and chapel.
The council voted 5-0 to uphold the approval by the Planning and Zoning Commission. After nearly an hour of public comment, the council members had relatively little to say about the controversy before voting.
The appeal was filed by members of the Peralta Park Neighborhood Association. Member Donna DeDiemar said in an email that she was disappointed in the decision.
"We were surprised that the City Council was unwilling to spend a single second discussing the merits of even one of our grounds for appeal, but it is not the end of the world," she wrote. "What matters going forward is continuing to build a better relationship with St. Mary's, and we are committed to that effort."
DeDiemar added that the association is considering its options regarding legal action.
Vivian Kahn, a consultant for St. Mary's, said it was time for the project to move forward. The current plans were filed in 2011, but efforts to expand the campus began in 2006.
"We have gone to many, many hearings," Kahn said after the meeting. "We have modified the application that we submitted. We have imposed conditions on ourselves in response to what we saw as valid concerns that were being raised. The additional conditions that PPNA was asking for just were beyond the pale."
The appeal claimed inadequate environmental review of the project and an abuse of discretion. Specifically, opponents focused on the school's enrollment and how the chapel would be used.
The school applied for an increase in its allowed enrollment from 450 to 600 in a previous expansion in the mid-1990s. The city has allowed St. Mary's a 5 percent variance -- meaning up to 30 extra students.
Opponents say the environmental impacts of those extra students have never been studied and that the approved number (600) should have been followed.
According to a staff report, enrollment has fluctuated between 609 and 628 over the past five years.
According to federal law, cities cannot impose burdensome land-use restrictions on religious institutions. However, St. Mary's included its own restriction in the conditional use permit on use of the 200-seat chapel for nonschool activities such as weddings. Those events would be limited to two per year.
Opponents complained that there was no "baseline" measurement and demanded that the school compile a list of all events over the past three years that would be transferred to the new chapel, including date, time of day and approximate number of guests.
Several neighbors spoke in opposition to the project at the council meeting, although some neighbors did speak in favor of the school. Supporters of the project were mostly parents and teachers at the school.
The council also approved plans to apply to join the Marin Energy Authority (MEA) as part of what is known as Community Choice Aggregation.
The vote was 4-1, with Michael Barnes dissenting.
Cities and counties are now allowed to purchase power on behalf of residents for reasons such as getting a better price or purchasing from more environmentally sustainable power sources. The council would still need to approve a contract if MEA accepts Albany as a member.
The MEA was started in Marin County and includes 11 cities in Marin as well as Richmond. It promotes itself as offering competitive rates and cleaner power than PG&E.