sheila sobchik

Blueprints are becoming buildings as the Cal Poly Housing Corporation (CPHC) begins construction for the Bella Montana faculty housing on Highland Drive.

However, the process has not been easy for the CPHC – or the city of San Luis Obispo.

The land borders the Foothill neighborhood and when its residents were first informed of the changes, they were anything but happy to hear what the university had in store for them.

Upon hearing the CPHC’s plans, the Neighborhoods North of Foothill association (NNOF) stepped in. The organization, comprised of about 180 members and Foothill residents, became concerned about traffic on Highland Drive and that students would be occupying the proposed homes, said Jim Reinhart, the CPHC managing director. That concern eventually led to legal action and the NNOF sued the university over the Environmental Impact Report which described the effects that the buildings would have on the land itself and the area surrounding it.

In a document issued by the NNOF on Oct. 31, 2001, the organization said the Draft Environmental Impact Report “was a seriously flawed document. The responses to many of (the Foothill homeowners’) questions by the Cal Poly planners and project managers were dismissive and unhelpful. Therefore, the Neighborhoods North of Foothill association retained the services of an attorney to represent their concerns to the university and to the CSU Board of Trustees.”

But when the court decision was handed down in 2003, the NNOF was defeated. Former president of NNOF Joan Lynch said that, years later, the association is still very concerned about the traffic impact and the congestion it could create.

Intersection improvements are planned on Highland Drive and Santa Rosa Street to improve the traffic flow, Reinhart said, and “Caltrans and the city have been working with Cal Poly Housing to install a median” to direct traffic on Highland Drive. Caltrans has been involved to due the fact that Santa Rosa Street becomes U.S. Highway 1 after Highland Drive.

“The university is still obliged to mitigate the traffic impacts,” Lynch said. “They are trying to meet the needs of all the people at the intersection there.”

She said the university has been “close-mouthed” about its plans, which have changed significantly over time, adding that originally, the Bella Montana homes were to be a rental facility and later the university decided to sell the homes rather than rent them out. Also, original plans stated there would be 13 buildings as opposed to the currently planned 21 buildings, she said.

“In the master plan for the university that was adopted in 2001, they talked about using (the land) for single-family homes and were going to build a subsequent facility north on U.S. Highway 1,” Lynch said. She now speculates that that project has been “put on the backburner.”

“No one knows what’s going on,” Lynch said. “The university is like any other big corporation because they are an agency that doesn’t have to answer to the city or the county – they can do what they please.”

Reinhart added that the legal action delayed the project for nearly two years and since then, interest rates and construction costs have increased, but he anticipates that the property will be ready by its October 2007 deadline.

“It will be interesting to see how it evolves,” Lynch said. “Whether or not this is the best approach, we’ll have to see what happens.”

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