Plans to build twin, five-story college dormitories at Coffee Road and Stockdale Highway were met with strong skepticism among residents who gathered Monday to hear project details and voice their concerns about how the development would affect surrounding neighborhoods.
Developer David Moon, trying a second time to present his vision to neighbors after a similar meeting was canceled at the last minute earlier this month, told about 200 people gathered in southwest Bakersfield that the project would improve the academic performance of students living at the dorms while also ensuring safety and shielding neighbors from traffic, noise and parking problems.
Before his 40-minute presentation concluded, the president of Monterey-based Coleraine Capital Group Inc. was interrupted by frustrated neighbors who wanted him to answer questions ranging from who would live there to why Moon didn't propose the project elsewhere in the city.
The quasi-public meeting on the grounds of St. John's Lutheran Church offered the first close look at what neighbors think of the 660-bed project, which is one of several student housing projects built or proposed by Coleraine. The gathering's sometimes-hostile tone suggests the developer faces an uphill battle to win a conditional use permit from the city's Board of Zoning Adjustment April 9, when it is tentatively scheduled to consider the project.
No members of the City Council showed up for the meeting.
Moon said he chose the 6.45-acre parcel at the intersection's northeast corner because it is located about a quarter of a mile from the campus of Cal State Bakersfield, whose students the project is intended serve, even though the university has no involvement in the dorms and President Lynnette Zelezny has stated she opposes the project.
The developer said the dorms will offer gyms, group study areas and various other amenities, in addition to shuttles to and from the CSUB campus. He emphasized plans to provide social programming designed to stimulate students, which he noted is not available to those living in off-campus apartments not geared toward college life.
"Basically, it's all about engaging (students) with their peers," Moon said.
Coleraine's local consultant, Roger McIntosh, emphasized the project would cause less traffic disruption than if the parcel were developed into a 100,000-square-foot office complex, as allowed under its current zoning for commercial office.
Moon also asserted the project would create 150 construction jobs during the 18-month building period, with the resulting payroll totaling more than $15 million.
Many in the audience remained critical as they spoke up with comments or questions about the project's potential to clog the intersection and lead commuters to drive through surrounding residential areas.
One concern a few audience members raised was that the dorms could eventually become subsidized housing for low-income residents.
Moon countered by pointing out his other dorm projects are full and that the project's lenders would certainly try to protect their Bakersfield investment by imposing restrictions on what types of residents could live there.
The audience was audibly incredulous when Moon asserted the project would increase nearby home values by 10 percent to 18 percent, as he said happened following his development of a 660-bed, three-story dorm near Cal State Stanislaus in 2017.
Several attendees asked why he purchased the property he did rather than one on the west side of campus. Moon answered that some properties proposed by the audience were not available for purchase; in other cases, he said he might look into whether specific parcels might be for sale and whether they might be suitable for dorms.
At one point, CSUB graduate student Haley Schlechta took the floor to say she supported Coleraine's project, in part because she considered costs too high at the 500 on-campus dorms owned by the university.
"I think that this would be a good idea," she said, visibly irritated by residents opposed to the development.
Proposed traffic designs around the development drew criticism from speakers who said proposed turning lanes all but ensured some people trying to get to the dorms would be routed through adjacent residential areas.
Stockdale Estates resident Gary Simmons expressed fears the dorms would spread problems to surrounding neighborhoods.
"There's going to be a drug problem and there's going to be a drug-trafficking problem, and they're going to be cutting through neighborhoods … while you're sitting there in Monterey," he told Moon.
Moon responded by saying he has become familiar with college students in recent years and that he foresaw no such problems.
"These are good students," he said, "and I'm trying to support them."