Cal Poly will reconsider its choice to build a new freshman dormitory on a parking lot near San Luis Obispo residences — but it will take more than complaints from neighbors to change the project’s location.
“We are going to consider all opinions, but the ultimate decision will be made on what’s best for student learning,” said Stan Nosek, interim vice president for administration and finance, at the second community forum held at Cal Poly in less than a month to discuss the 1,400-bed, five-story First Year Student Housing South Project proposed for the corner of Grand Avenue and Slack Street in San Luis Obispo.
Nosek added that the university is beginning to look at a new, previously unconsidered site for the project.
“I am not going to share that tonight with you because it engages some campus programs that we haven’t talked to yet about that site,” Nosek said.
Attended by more than 150 residents, Monday’s forum had a noticeably less hostile tone than the discussion held Nov. 6, in which San Luis Obispo residents shared angry stories of drunken Cal Poly students creating noise and havoc in their neighborhoods, and concerns that an additional freshman dorm so close to the city will only exacerbate existing town-gown tensions.
With maps, charts and university representatives lining the room, the second forum featured a more thorough explanation from Cal Poly about alternative locations and why it didn’t choose them — namely because none could provide the 1,400 necessary beds to meet student demand in a cost-effective manner.
An independent market study determined that Cal Poly will be able to finance $200 million in bonds for the project, which will be paid with revenue from student rent payments, said Mark Hunter, Cal Poly’s associate vice president for facilities.
In September, President Jeffrey Armstrong told faculty and staff that the university should continue to grow enrollment, increasing Cal Poly’s population by 4,000 to 5,000 students over the next few years to 25,000 by 2022.
According to university spokesman Matt Lazier, a market demand study determined that 10,000 beds are needed to meet current enrollment levels, compared to the 7,200 now on campus. The proposed 1,400-bed dorm only meets half of the unmet demand and does not take into consideration any future enrollment increases, he said.
Residents called the proposed location for the student housing project short-sighted because the need to build even more dormitories and dining facilities seems inevitable. They asked Cal Poly to amend its master plan now to allow for more building in the interior of the campus or on open land.
“Cal Poly has a duty and a responsibility to think further into the future with regards to housing,” one resident said. That comment was met with resounding applause.
Residents also complained that neither Cal Poly’s proposal, nor the draft environmental impact report, takes into account the possible impact that freshman residences will have on the neighboring former site of Pacheco Elementary School, which will soon house Teach Elementary School.
However, Cal Poly officials explained that traffic near the school should not worsen.
“Because the project results in housing a significant number of students on campus, it actually reduces traffic along the Grand Avenue corridor,” said EIR author Nicole Carter, a senior planner with SWCA Environmental Consultants.
Instead, the loss of the Grand Avenue parking lot will redistribute traffic to other highly impacted city-street entrances to Cal Poly, Carter said.
Neighbors also continued to decry what they perceived as a lack of notice about the project.
“From a process standpoint, if you reached out to myself and my colleagues, I could have given you the tone of the constituents in this room, early on, and it could have been addressed before the draft EIR,” said San Luis Obispo City Councilman Dan Carpenter.
Nosek admitted that the university did not do a good enough job in seeking community input early on. Cal Poly announced the proposed site to media in May, as well as at various public meetings and with local government agencies. Nearby residents received a postcard announcing the project in August, followed by forums in September and November.
“We don’t believe that, looking at it, it was adequate. Moving forward, you will see the leadership team approaching projects in a different manner,” Nosek said.
The project is set to go to the CSU Board of Trustees for approval in March, according to Lazier.
A copy of the EIR is available at Cal Poly’s Administration and Finance Page at http://afd.calpoly.edu/facilities/facp_index.asp.
The deadline for EIR comments is Jan. 9. Formal comments on the report must be submitted in writing to: CSU Board of Trustees c/o Nicole Carter, Senior Planner SWCA Environmental Consultants 1422 Monterey St., C200 San Luis Obispo, CA 93401. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.