Real estate developer David Moon knew a lot about building student housing, having developed off-campus dormitory projects next to California State University campuses in Monterey Bay, Sacramento and Stanislaus. But Bakersfield was new to him.
Hoping to replicate his success, he negotiated to buy a 6.45-acre lot on the northeast corner of Coffee Road and Stockdale Highway, then filed plans to build twin five-story dorms there to house students attending Cal State Bakersfield, which had not been made aware of his intentions.
Alas, the proposal has not gone over smoothly with nearby residents or the university, and now the president and owner of Monterey-based Coleraine Capital Group Inc. finds himself in the uncomfortable position of playing defense.
Even before the project's first public hearing, nearby residents have railed against the proposal, saying it is unsuitable for the busiest intersection in town and that it would disrupt surrounding residential areas. The university, for its part, wants only on-campus dorms.
To Moon, the dorms are a responsible, market-based attempt to meet local demand for student housing. Pointing to soaring enrollments and continued growth in the off-campus college dorm industry, he said universities are typically reluctant or unable to develop on-campus housing on their own.
He's aware of public comments characterizing his proposal as unique or some how unusual. But he insists it's nothing of the sort.
"It's becoming more and more common," he said in an interview. "Universities just don't have the budget to build the housing they need."
Moon's right that colleges have largely gotten out of the housing development business, said Lincoln, Neb.-based real estate industry advisor Jerry Hoffman, who was unfamiliar with Coleraine's Bakersfield project. Colleges are experts at building classrooms, he said, but they increasingly turn to outside developers for help developing student housing.
"More often than not, the college (or) university is working in partnership with the student housing developer of the project, even on-campus and especially off-campus," said the president of Hoffman Strategy Group.
Hoffman said there may have been a misstep in Moon's Bakersfield rollout. Calling the project's community opposition an anomaly in the off-campus student housing industry, he said successful developers usually try to build relationships with the university and the community before proceeding with their project.
"I think that's probably the better way to go with a development," he said. "It takes a little bit longer, but you're building relations. That's building some social capital, if you will."
Moon sees considerable demand for dorms serving CSUB students. The university has more than 11,000 students but only 500 on-campus units. If they were filled — and the university reports they're only 64 percent occupied — they would house just 5 percent of the student population.
"We're just providing, frankly, a much better accommodation to the students," he said.
Sensitive to community criticism, he emphasizes the weekly social programming Coleraine's projects provide, as well as their amenities — gyms, computer labs, internet cafes, gaming areas — and nightly security staffing between about 9 p.m. and 4 a.m.
Speaking by phone Friday, Moon addressed several specific claims made by project opponents, including concerns that student drivers and pedestrians will clog the intersection of Coffee and Stockdale.
He said dorm residents will be charged money to use parking at the site, which should discourage students' use of cars. Instead, he said shuttles will run throughout the day between the dorms and the CSUB campus about a third of a mile to the west.
Responding to criticism the project is too dense for surrounding neighborhoods, he noted the property had been slated for a 100,000-square-foot office development that would have a greater impact on the area than dorms.
He suspects part of the reason some members of the community are against the plan is the property was idled for more than two decades.
"People get used to that condition," he said. "But the truth is, something is going to be built on that property. It always was."
Having heard accusations he might rent out space at the proposed dorms to low-income residents, Moon said none of his dorm projects have been occupied by anyone other than students. Not only are they class-A apartments, he said, but lenders behind their financing have strict criteria for how they'll be used, as a way of protecting their investment.
He also denied there's any plan to sell the project once developed. Although that happened in Monterey, he said, that situation resulted from a special option the university had as part of its management agreement.
"Our plan is to hold them long-term," Moon said.
Moon's main defense was to list the dorm projects he has developed since starting in the student housing business nine years ago at Cal State Monterey Bay.
Frustrated at not being able to find on-campus housing for his son, a new student at the university, Moon was encouraged by campus officials to build dorms off site. So, in 2015, he opened a three-building, 579-bed, fully occupied project that the university agreed to operate. A year later, CSUMB's nonprofit foundation purchased the project for $68.5 million.
Two other off-campus dorm projects followed: a 660-bed, three-building project that opened at Cal State Stanislaus in 2017, and a three-building, 750-bed project that debuted at Sacramento State in 2018.
Coleraine has two additional projects in the works, not counting the one in Bakersfield. One at Humboldt State encountered community opposition and has so far failed to make much progress toward approval. The other, at San Jose State, is proposed to be a 19-story project with 1,039 beds and a four-story parking structure.
In Bakersfield, Moon tried to present his plans to the public at a community meeting scheduled for March 4. But after the event was unexpectedly canceled by the church hosting it, Moon offered to postpone a Board of Zoning Adjustment meeting that had been set for March 12. The BZA meeting has been tentatively rescheduled for April 9, when the board is expected to consider whether to grant a conditional use permit for the dorms proposal, which would be located on land zoned for offices rather than residential.
Meanwhile, Moon has rescheduled his community presentation for 5:30 p.m. Monday at St. John's Lutheran Church, 4500 Buena Vista Road.