Cal Poly dorm proposal passes CSU committee

Seven-tower complex, opposed by some neighbors, must next clear a key vote by California State University trustees

nwilson@thetribunenews.comMay 20, 2014 

Here's a rendering of the proposed student housing project at Cal Poly.

COURTESY PHOTO

A large, controversial dormitory proposed for the Cal Poly campus at Grand Avenue and Slack Street took a step toward approval Tuesday.

A California State University Board of Trustees committee charged with considering its environmental impacts voted unanimously to move the project forward.

The eight-member Committee on Capital Planning, Building and Grounds voted 6-0, with two members absent, to certify the project’s final environmental report after considering view obstructions and impacts on traffic and air quality.

The full CSU Board of Trustees is expected to vote Wednesday in Long Beach on the final environmental report certification and an amendment to the university’s master plan that allows for the dorms to be built in the proposed location.

The proposal calls for 1,475 beds in seven three- to five-story towers oriented around a central greenspace. The project would also include a parking structure.   

The committee heard comments from more than a dozen people who were split between supporting and opposing the project. 

The project’s supporters, including students, alumni and local business representatives, cited its proximity to existing campus dining and housing. 

According to the university, the new dorm will help meet a demand for 3,000 more beds on campus; reduce the need for rental units in the community; and improve the social, academic and behavioral aspects of students’ college experiences. Once built, an estimated 46 percent of students — about 8,775 of 19,000 — would live on campus, up from the current 38 percent, or 7,300.

Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong said students do better academically living near campus and have fewer behavioral problems; he said 27 percent of freshmen have cars this year, indicating most won’t impact traffic. 

Joi Sullivan, Cal Poly’s incoming student body president, said: I “would largely attribute my success at Cal Poly to my proximity to the core of campus in my first year, including my participation in student government.”  

Opponents included residents in the neighboring community, some alumni, and San Luis Obispo’s community development director Derek Johnson.

They voiced concerns about the large size of the project, as well as a range of issues associated with hundreds of students moving in — including traffic and noise.

Some noted that because Cal Poly covers 6,000 acres and is the largest CSU campus, the project could have been positioned elsewhere.

Rebecca Keisler, co-chair of the Monterey Heights Neighborhood Association, said 250 people sent the CSU board a petition opposing the project.

“Five-story, institutional-style buildings, housing 1,400 students, the square footage of four super Wal-Marts, do not belong across the street from single-story, family housing,” she said.

But the committee decided the benefits of providing first-year student housing close to dining services outweighed the impacts. 

Those impacts included a university estimate that traffic would increase by 

79 trips — around 2 percent per day — in the peak afternoon travel period at one of the busiest intersections, Foothill Boulevard and Santa Rosa Street. 

Armstrong vowed to work with the city and community to mitigate impacts; he committed to contributing more than $500,000 to the city to help improve nearby roadways and intersections to ease traffic congestion.

The CSU will ask the state Legislature for that money, but the university may be responsible for coming up with the funding if it’s not allocated.

The university also plans to reduce a proposed four-story building along Slack Street to three stories and add a floor to a building farther into campus. That will help improve neighbors’ views.

If approved, the university plans to break ground in 2015 and open the dorms by fall 2018.

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