Cal Poly student housing project approved by CSU trustees

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

Cal Poly’s proposed large-scale freshman dorm complex was approved by the California State University Board of Trustees on Wednesday — essentially clearing the way for construction.

The university will still have to seek CSU board approval for its final design and financing plans, but the 1,475-bed, seven-building project remains on track to begin construction in winter 2015 and open in fall 2018.

After hearing from impassioned public speakers on both sides of the issue on Wednesday, the board voted to certify the university’s environmental impact report, which assessed the project's impacts on the community.

It’s planned for the south side of campus on an existing parking lot near the intersection of Grand Avenue and Slack Street. The construction is expected to be done in one phase, according to the environmental report.

The project envisions seven three- to five-story towers oriented around a central greenspace, as well as a parking structure.

A vocal group of residents has opposed the project, saying it would be built too near residential neighborhoods. They say Cal Poly has space elsewhere, given that hundreds of acres of campus property exist farther away from neighborhoods with single-family homes.

“I feel like this is an exercise in futility,” resident Linda White said at the Long Beach meeting, which was live-streamed. “This two-day meeting is nothing more than a rubber stamping of the EIR. Cal Poly’s presentation Tuesday (to the board’s Committee on Capital Planning, Building and Grounds) was filled with emotion, hopes, beliefs and assumptions, rather than fact.”

But the university said the proposed location for the freshman housing complex is the best site because it keeps first-year students together, closer to existing housing and dining, and other locations considered are more costly to build on.

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’s student body president, Jason Colombini, an agricultural business major, said he supports the proposed project location because moving it further into campus could take away agricultural education space.

“Would it make sense to tear down the Baker science and math building to create space for a dorm?” Colombini said. “No. So, why would it make sense to tear down my classroom (ag space), where I study and work?”

The board determined that impacts to the community — including traffic, air quality concerns and view obstructions — weren’t significant enough to override approval of the project in the university’s proposed location.

The board voted 11-0, with trustee Hugo Morales abstaining, in favor of the certification and an amendment to the university’s Master Plan to allow for its construction where a parking lot now exists.

Morales abstained because he wasn’t present for Tuesday’s discussion of the project. Trustee Lupe Garcia acknowledged Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong’s commitment, made at Tuesday’s meeting, to work with the community to mitigate problems, including traffic congestion.

Either the state, CSU or Cal Poly — depending on funding allocations — will pay more than $500,000 to mitigate traffic impacts caused by the increase of students living on campus.

Derek Johnson, the city of San Luis Obispo’s community development director, said at the committee meeting Tuesday that he believed the environmental report underestimated the traffic impacts. On Wednesday, Johnson encouraged the university to continue to work closely with the city on how to address traffic concerns.

Representatives of neighborhood groups continued to express disappointment Wednesday.

“When Cal Poly announced plans to add housing to over 1,400 students, we were elated,” said Sandra Rowley, president of the San Luis Obispo-based Residents for Quality Neighborhoods group.

“We never thought it would be directly across from a residential neighborhood. Considering the land available on campus, it’s incomprehensible this location was the one selected.”

But the university believes the mitigations will help satisfy community concerns and the dorm will provide a benefit for Cal Poly’s future.

“This project is essential in meeting an existing demand for student housing on campus, and it is a positive and necessary step in our broader vision of becoming a predominantly residential campus and creating a more vibrant living community at Cal Poly,” said Matt Lazier, the university’s spokesman. “… Specifically, we are eager to continue dialog with the city and neighbors to seek their input on an ongoing basis and discuss ideas to enhance neighborhood wellness. “