Live updates: Council meeting doesn’t result in growth decision

Head+of+School+Chris+Mazzola+holds+a+flyer+for+a+November+meeting+with+residents.+The+school+has+continued+its+neighborhood+outreach+efforts+as+it+seeks+to+boost+its+enrollment.

Shun Graves

Head of School Chris Mazzola holds a flyer for a November meeting with residents. The school has continued its neighborhood outreach efforts as it seeks to boost its enrollment.

By Shun Graves

A six-hour-long discussion tonight at the Ross Town Council ended without a much-anticipated decision on Branson’s proposed enrollment increase.

The motion to continue at a later date passed at around midnight Friday. Another meeting — perhaps many more, as Mayor Elizabeth Robbins said — will likely continue discussions by the council on details such as traffic monitoring, on-campus sports events and amplified sound.

The indecisive conclusion likely presages further questions by Robbins and Councilwoman Elizabeth Brekhus on what they see as flaws or possible improvements the school, and town staff, must address. But their suggestions, especially Brekhus’ idea to restrict the additional students to a certain geographical radius, met some pushback from other members.

A public hearing segment tilted very far in support of the enrollment increase, and for deciding the increase tonight. But the issues the council addressed early during the meeting resurfaced later, and by midnight, most of the council had decided to continue discussing the matter in another meeting, likely within the next few weeks.

The Blazer provided live updates throughout the meeting.

Live updates

12:07 a.m.

Live coverage, as well as the council meeting, has ended. The discussion of the enrollment increase concluded without a decision on the enrollment increase.

Midnight, Jan. 14

The seventh hour begins.

Elizabeth Brekhus moves to continue the measure — to discuss the matter at a future meeting. The council agrees 4-1, with Kuhl dissenting. The council proceeds to address non-Branson items.

11:50 p.m.

“We’re trying to legislate all sorts of things that aren’t problems,” Kuhl says of the council’s discussions of restrictions on events.

Councilmembers imply that the school has not paid fees for the enrollment increase project. That’s not exactly true — the school had paid $90,000 to the town for the review process by early December. It did spurn a request from the town to reimburse it for fees from Measure F, public records show.

11:40 p.m.

Robbins raises other issues, such as amplified sound and summer events, in urging more meetings.

The Ross Town Council meeting approaches midnight as the discussion about the enrollment increase continues. (Shun Graves)

11:35 p.m.

The council discusses whether to hold more meetings on the enrollment increase. “There should be more discussed,” Brekhus says.

11:30 p.m.

Status update: The council continues to discuss changes to rules on events on campus. A decision still seems far away.

Brekhus says the meeting should have ended at 10 p.m. She criticizes what she sees as “no limitation” on school events. “This is not ready for passing,” she says of the permit.

11:20 p.m.

Robbins brings up the idea of moving the Branson football team, or other teams, off-campus. Kircher notes the importance of athletic events, and says the question merits more consideration.

Kuhl pushes back to Robbins. “So what?” he says of the football games. “I don’t think that’s a big deal.”

“We are violating a principle that government that governs least governs best,” he says.

11:15 p.m.

McMillan pushes back on Brekhus’ criticism of traffic plans and her proposed geographic restriction. Robbins then brings up Branson’s proposed changes to its limits on sports events.

11:10 p.m.

The council’s discussion of the traffic plans, led by Brekhus’ criticism, continues. “They don’t know the town,” she says of traffic consultants. “I don’t have confidence in the plan.”

I don’t have confidence in the plan.”

— Elizabeth Brekhus

11:05 p.m.

McMillan says the council should trust the traffic plans. “What are we going to do? Start over with a new traffic consultant?”

Brekhus cites “really poor analysis” on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard for her doubts about the traffic plan. Robbins urges a “more robust” traffic monitoring plan.

11:00 p.m.

The sixth hour begins.

Brekhus questions the school’s traffic reports, saying they did not include outlier events. The school violated its 1978 permit “again, again and again,” she said, endorsing more limits on the school.

10:55 p.m.

The council proceeds to the issue of transportation, especially around a vehicle count maximum and a 6% buffer around counts.

10:45 p.m.

McMillan wants to stick with the school’s proposed 25 students yearly over the course of four years. Councilman Bill Kircher concurs.

10:40 p.m.

The council chooses not to include Brekhus’ construction condition. Mayor Robbins raises the question of how to phase an enrollment increase.

10:35 p.m.

Elizabeth Brekhus returns to her earlier point about possible future construction, and a condition that would prohibit such growth. But the school has not formally proposed any new buildings, and its current buildings have the physical capacity to accommodate more students, town staff determined.

The Ross Town Council discusses the proposed Branson enrollment increase. (Shun Graves)

10:30 p.m.

Julie McMillan pushes back, and says the council should not decide tonight. And Measure F did not represent a referendum on Branson, she says. Rather, it only had residents decide if the council should consider the growth, she says. “People are mischaracterizing what that vote really was.”

10:24 p.m.

Councilman and Mayor Pro Tempore Beach Kuhl, who stayed quiet during most of the meeting, now castigates how long the process has taken, urging a vote tonight. “We have talked this thing to death.” He calls the “nit-picking” of details “silly,” and urges residents to trust the school.

We have talked this thing to death.”

— Beach Kuhl

10:20 p.m.

The council returns to discuss. Despite many public comments urging a vote tonight, Mayor Elizabeth Robbins suggests an additional meeting before a vote.

10:13 p.m.

The meeting takes a five-minute break, after which councilmembers will discuss. Things to keep an eye out for: What happens to Brekhus’ geographic radius restriction, and what the councilmen who stayed quiet during the question sessions will say.

10:10 p.m.

A marathon public hearing session — whose vast majority of speakers support the increase — has ended. Now, Branson officials have their final chance to speak.

10:05 p.m.

Sophie Liu, a junior, also questions Brekhus’ proposed geographic limit, and supports the enrollment increase. More public comments in support continue to trickle in.

10:00 p.m.

The fifth hour begins.

Status update: The public hearing segment appears to be drawing to a close with more residents in support. The council will then discuss. A final vote could occur tonight, or in another meeting in the next few weeks.

9:55 p.m.

The next few speakers also support the enrollment increase as the meeting approaches its fifth hour.

9:50 p.m.

Will Bollini, a senior, says he thinks the transportation plan will succeed. Ross resident Pat Higgins also invokes the plan in his support.

9:45 p.m.

Brekhus’ proposed geographic limit has continued to draw some criticism. Craig Slayen supports the increase.

9:40 p.m.

Phil Gutierrez speaks in support of the proposal. Neighbors Amy Schaeffer and Peter Nelson also support the school’s growth, and commended Branson for its recent traffic initiatives.

So far, the vast majority of speakers have supported the enrollment increase.

9:35 p.m.

More Branson neighbors speak. Kathy Wilsey talks about potential impacts, and says the council should have an additional meeting.

9:30 p.m.

Lacy, then Slayen, speaks. “It will expand the diversity of thought,” Lacy says of the enrollment increase. Slayen says the increase will “further enrich” the school.

Now, Ethan Klosseck, a senior, speaks.

Branson students are in line to speak during the public hearing. (Shun Graves)

9:25 p.m.

Patty Treadwell, a Ross resident, speaks in favor. Up next: students Eva Lacy and Justin Slayen.

9:23 p.m.

Leighton McCamy-Miller, a senior, speaks in support.

9:20 p.m.

“The traffic issue is such a red herring, I can’t even believe it.” Mathew Salter speaks in favor of the enrollment increase. He calls Brekhus’ proposed geographic restrictions “off the mark.” The next speaker, Bob Dickinson, also supports the increase.

No speaker so far has opposed the increase.

The traffic issue is such a red herring, I can’t even believe it.”

— Mathew Salter

9:15 p.m.

Bill Cahill, a former Ross councilman, supports the increase. “Branson can’t continue to offer a quality program without an increased enrollment,” he says. The next two speakers, Edward McDermott and Damon Kerby, also support the school’s growth.

9:10 p.m.

Molly Gamble says the council should hold another meeting to discuss the enrollment. “The community needs a little more time to give input.”

9:05 p.m.

Mark Kruttschnitt, a Norwood Avenue resident, speaks about his experiences on a neighborhood group. He said Branson’s efforts “show a good commitment.” Now, Cedars Executive Director Chuck Greene speaks in support of Branson, and recounts the organization’s strong partnership with the school.

9:00 p.m.

The fourth hour begins. The public hearing segment starts with Colby Collet, a Branson parent and neighbor, who supports the enrollment increase.

8:52 p.m.

Brekhus, in questioning Branson officials, emerged as a vocal skeptic of the school’s ability to execute its traffic plan. Her suggestion that the school restrict the geographic origin of additional students stood as a prime example.

The public hearing will begin after a five-minute break.

8:48 p.m.

“I have some questions on the findings.” Brekhus casts doubts on whether Branson can achieve its net-neutral traffic pledge. She suggests that the school limit the geographical origin of new students.

I have some questions on the findings.”

— Elizabeth Brekhus

8:38 p.m.

Brekhus has continued to question consultants about the school’s methods for collecting traffic counts. She’s asking about specific locations where past traffic counts have happened.

8:30 p.m.

Status update: Councilmembers continue to ask questions about off-campus drop-offs and bus routes. The public hearing segment has yet to begin. A decision still seems far away.

8:23 p.m.

Brekhus questions Branson officials on why it will restrict its sports activities by hours of operation, not number of events. A school attorney responds that the school will have a limit on traffic trips.

8:12 p.m.

The school presentation has ended, and its transportation consultant, David Parisi, discusses transportation details. A public hearing, when the public will comment, will begin afterward.

8:05 p.m.

Assistant Head of School Nathalio Gray makes the case for an enrollment increase. And David Hanson, Branson’s chief financial and operating officer, speaks about neighborhood collaboration.

David Hanson, Branson’s chief financial and operating officer, presents the enrollment increase plan to the Ross Town Council. (Shun Graves)

8:00 p.m.

The third hour of the council meeting has begun. Head of School Chris Mazzola now speaks. “We can accommodate all new students without adding new buildings,” she says.

Don’t expect a decision just yet.

7:54 p.m.

After an hour, councilmembers have finished asking questions to town staff. Now, Branson officials will speak.

7:49 p.m.

Robbins asks whether the town can ask Branson to convert its shuttles to electric vehicles.

7:45 p.m.

As the council continues to discuss the project’s details, let’s take a look at some other recent developments. Ahead of the meeting, dozens of residents submitted public comments — with many in support of Branson.

7:40 p.m.

Elizabeth Brekhus asks about the remote drop-off proposal. “That’s further impacts on the town,” she says.

This monitoring thing seems kind of cumbersome.”

— Julie McMillan

7:34 p.m.

Robbins, the Ross mayor, questions why the limit on student pick-ups does not extend past 3:30 p.m. Robbins, along with McMillan, have asked the most questions so far, mostly around traffic monitoring and construction. Some of the other councilmembers have not asked questions yet.

7:25 p.m.

“This monitoring thing seems kind of cumbersome,” McMillan says, and proposes an automatic traffic tracking system. Town consultants explain why the school plans to periodically measure traffic.

7:15 p.m.

Councilmember questions continue. Mayor Elizabeth Robbins questions how Branson’s theater could accommodate more students, and whether that would complicate the increase. But the school has not formally proposed such an expansion, or any new construction.

7:05 p.m.

It’s shaping up to be a long evening. Councilmembers have many questions about the project’s details, especially around traffic on weekends.

6:55 p.m.

Councilmembers have started to ask questions. Julie McMillan says she has many questions — now, she wants to know why the school will not have to do an environmental review.

6:50 p.m.

Streeter, the planning director, concludes that town staff recommends that the council approve the increase.

Ross Planning and Building Director Patrick Streeter discusses the school’s proposed enrollment increase. (Shun Graves)

6:45 p.m.

Ross staffers determined that Branson will not have to conduct the lengthy environmental report that school officials feared. And once discussion returns to the council it could: deny the new permit; decide at a later date; or approve the permit.

6:40 p.m.

Rupp discusses the details around the most contentious issue, Branson’s traffic. A monitoring program will record traffic around Branson, and if traffic exceeds certain levels and does not improve, the school could face fines.

6:37 p.m.

Planning consultant Meredith Rupp discusses some of the town’s review work. The town has determined that the increase will not require new construction, but that the school now has more athletic events than in 1977.

6:28 p.m.

Planning and Building Director Patrick Streeter begins his presentation of the staff report about Branson’s enrollment increase.

6:25 p.m.

Councilmembers now discuss how they have interacted with the school.

6:00 p.m.

The meeting has begun. The council will get to the Branson matter later this evening.