In a letter to the editor, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong addresses concerns with the proposed housing project. | Courtesy Photo

Courtesy Photo

An artist’s rendering of a proposed housing complex, which Cal Poly aims to build on Grand Avenue by 2018.

Aja Frost
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Despite community concerns, Cal Poly has decided to move forward with plans to build a 1,400-person freshman residence hall near the Grand Avenue entrance to campus. The university hopes to start the $200 million construction project next year and finish by Fall 2018.

The university sent out an email informing the campus of its decision at 11 a.m. But first, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong spent an hour talking to concerned community members and listening to their comments.

“They would love to see the housing somewhere else,” he said.

Cal Poly examined two other sites for the project: an 8.6-acre site along Via Carta, between the sports complex and the Poly Canyon Village housing complex, and a site along California Boulevard east of the railroad tracks, south of Highland Drive and just north of Alex G. Spanos Stadium. These sites, however, were rejected because of their higher per-bed construction cost, lengthier building time and distance from other freshman dorms.

“The residents seem to understand — I can’t speak to whether they accept it or not — but they seem to understand my rationale that that’s really the only place we can add first-year housing,” Armstrong said.

The university is in the process of hiring two additional police officers, a decision that was partly made because of the neighborhood’s concerns. Armstrong said that there will probably be a sub-station in the Grand Avenue area so that the officers could be assigned to the neighborhood.

Local residents have also suggested that the university change its design so the attached parking lot would be between the dorms and the neighborhood, which would provide a barrier.

“Our folks will be talking about that,” Armstrong said. “We do have a nice green buffer planned of landscapes, terrain, even fences, so that students have to follow the sidewalks and go the normal pathways.”

Cal Poly proposed the Grand Avenue site in May 2013. Two public forums held later in November and December revealed some local residents’ dissatisfaction with the location.

“Their biggest concern is that freshman students, who are underage, going out into the neighborhoods for parties right by their house,” Armstrong said. “And that is a legitimate concern.”

The new housing will allow the university to house nearly 45 percent of undergraduates, up from the current mark of 36 percent. This year, Cal Poly was forced to convert rooms in Cerro Vista and Poly Canyon Village into doubles and triples to accommodate the increased number of freshman living on-campus.

Although Cal Poly’s administration is committed to providing first-year housing, Armstrong said he feels that Cerro Vista and Poly Canyon Village are better suited for continuing students.

“We don’t want those to be freshman housing in the future,” Armstrong said. “That’s okay, the students (living in Cerro Vista and Poly Canyon Village) are doing well, but it’s not ideal for long-term student success.”

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According to Armstrong, there will be 1,400 fewer students living in the nearby neighborhood because the additional housing will allow Cal Poly to provide more housing for upperclassmen.

The university is not planning on increasing acceptance rates specifically as a result of this project, although Armstrong has said that he hopes to increase the student population to around 24,000 in 12 or 15 years.

Although the two other sites looked at weren’t found to be suitable for freshman housing, in the future Cal Poly will likely look at their potential for upperclassmen housing.

There will be another 45-day comment period after a review of the two rejected sites has been added to the draft Environmental Impact Report. In May, the university will seek approval from the CSU Board of Trustees.

“I hope the Board of Trustees will approve the decision,” Armstrong said. “Normally, once you get to that level, the staff works with you. No one wants projects to get to this level and fail.”

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