Public pans proposed Cal Poly dorm at Grand Avenue entry

jhickey@thetribunenews.comNovember 6, 2013 

Residents of neighborhoods surrounding Cal Poly expressed disbelief at a public forum Wednesday that the university has waited until a late stage to solicit public input about a 1400-bed freshman housing complex it plans to build directly across from homes on Slack Street.

“Is this meeting pointless?” one person asked.

If approved by the California State University system’s board of trustees, construction will begin in 2015 on what is now a large surface parking lot on Grand Avenue.

In addition to dorms, a coffee house and a welcome center, the project will include a 300-space parking structure to partially offset the loss of 1,300 spaces.

“Is the project far along? Yes,” said Keith Humphrey, Cal Poly vice president for student affairs.

The forum was the first chance for the public to comment on the proposed dormitories, and it was attended by approximately 50 vocal city residents, as well as a handful of Cal Poly students and parents.

Residents expressed support for increased campus housing, but were unanimously opposed to the location and Cal Poly’s choice to place its youngest students there.

Because students under 21 cannot get into bars, they roam the neighborhoods near Cal Poly in search of alcohol at house parties and fraternities, causing noise, trash and public urination problems, residents said.

“We are the ones hosing the vomit,” said Kathy apRoberts. “We are unpaid custodians for the campus population. They need to be in the interior part of campus. Raise your hands if you have picked up student trash.”

A roomful of hands shot up.

While Cal Poly considered three other sites in the interior of campus, they were eliminated for a variety of reasons: one site was too far from existing dining facilities, and it would be too expensive to build another dining hall; another would need to be seven stories, obstructing the view of nearby hills; another would require an expensive relocation of existing facilities.

One resident suggested Cal Poly build on campus agricultural land.

“The agricultural fields are also part of our classroom experience,” Humphrey said.

“Many units of agricultural land have been displaced for sports fields,” a resident retorted.

Cal Poly currently has about 7,200 beds on campus. A recent study showed student demand for about 10,300 beds at the campus’s current enrollment of 19,600. The Grand Avenue plan would close more than one-third of the 3,400-bed gap.

University officials showed slick renderings of the four- and five-story surrounded by bike parking and landscaping. Officials also stressed the importance of bringing students out of the neighborhoods and onto campus—citing a study that showed that 93.1 of students who lived on campus the first year returned for a second year, compared with 78.7 percent of students who lived off-campus. First-year students on campus showed an academic improvement equivalent to ¼ of a grade compared to off-campus freshman.

In September, President Jeffrey Armstrong told faculty and staff that the university should continue to grow enrollment, increasing Cal Poly population's by 4,000 to 5,000 students over the next few years to 25,000 by 2022. But Humphreys said the increase is “not a set goal right now.”

Currently enrollment is capped at 20,000 with a commitment to house 30 percent of students on campus. To increase enrollment would require a new master plan with accompanying mitigation of student impacts, said Cal Poly Facilities Director Joel Neel.

At the end of the meeting, Stan Nosek, interim president for administration and finance, promised to provide residents with answers and a second forum, with a date to be determined.

An environmental impact report that will explain potential impacts on the campus and adjacent neighborhoods will be ready for public comment later in November. Completion of the dormitories is tentatively slated for the 2018-19 academic year.

“I think the neighborhood has been forgiving and understanding, because we all were young once as well,” said neighbor Joe Arsenio. “However, this is exceptionally intrusive. Even animals wander in a certain circle, and these students will also wander in a circle that includes our territory.”

 

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