Here is one way to bring a community together.

Buy the last undeveloped parcel on the city's busiest intersection, build the tallest buildings for 2 miles around, and add 660 college students with 24-hour lifestyles.

Oh, and fail to get the blessing of perhaps the single most important voice in the discussion: The president of the university that the privately owned, privately managed dormitory would ostensibly serve.

Cal State Bakersfield President Lynnette Zelezny, seven months into her new job, has a vision for her institution, and off-campus housing is not part of it. That most certainly includes the five-story project proposed by Coleraine Capital Group Inc. of Monterey.

Zelezny, in the midst of an ongoing introductory tour of the greater Bakersfield community, has ambitious plans for expansion: She intends to guide CSUB from its present enrollment of 11,000 to 17,000 within five years. At the same time, she wants to further distance the 49-year-old institution from its commuter-school origins.

Those two goals can be achieved only one way: With on-campus housing.

Zelezny's ambitions are fine with the folks living in three of the developments that surround the site of the proposed dorms: Residents of Stockdale Estates, to the immediate south, Quailwood, to the immediate northeast, and Old Stockdale, a half-mile east, appear to have near-unanimous animus for the project.

"I'm delighted to have her as an ally," Joe Kandle, a resident of Stockdale Estates, said of Zelezny. "Her position sounds very logical.

"There is enough land out there on that campus for 28 of these dormitories, enough to house 18,000 students. They've got 375 acres, and only half the campus is being used. Why should we have all these students walking across that busy intersection when there's room for them right there on campus?"

Kandle and his neighbors hate what the dorms might do to the city's already-busiest intersection at Gosford-Coffee road. Some 65,000 cars pass through daily, a few hundred more than the No. 2 intersection a mile to the east, Stockdale and California-New Stine. 

Now add hundreds of new residents to that mix.

"It'll bring activity — noise and lights — 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said Karyna Wilson, a 40-year resident of Stockdale Estates. "That's just the way 18- to 24-year-olds live. They're planning on 400 parking spots for 660 students, and you know those students will have guests."

Gary Simmons, who lives just down the street from Wilson, is of the same mind. 

"It's already very, very congested, and this will make it worse," he said. "This is about the sanctuary and safety of the neighborhood."

Those are different objections than Zelenzy's: For her, on-campus housing is primarily about the "wraparound" educational experience afforded by close proximity to professors, classrooms and amenities in a holistic college atmosphere.

"The research that on-campus housing benefits students is very strong," she said. "Students who are trying to learn how to navigate the university experience need to be on campus."

Indeed, much of the research does support the value of on-campus housing. Although the growth of social media has muddled the picture because students can cocoon themselves in the digital comforts of their old home lives, residential students benefit when classroom and non-classroom experiences begin to merge and they have more frequent interactions with faculty, according to the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. 

"Our student housing is beautiful, and residents have easy access to the library, the student recreation center, sporting events that are on campus, and then we have the meal plan," Zelezny said. "So they have little to worry about with so many needs taken care of."

Zelezny's saleswomanship is very much needed. CSUB's lone housing complex, which opened in 2014, is at only 64 percent of capacity, lovely as it may be. Thriving destination universities tend to have waiting lists for campus housing.

The last thing Zelezny needs at this crucial stage in CSUB's evolution is competition from off-campus housing projects.

At least one good thing has come of the dorm controversy: Zelezny's vision for growth and engagement has a more attentive, appreciative audience. If she can use this common purpose to forge alliances with the neighbors, other benefits may well come along.

Contact The Californian’s Robert Price at 661-395-7399, rprice@bakersfield.com or on Twitter: @stubblebuzz. His column appears on Sundays, Wednesdays and Saturdays; the views expressed are his own.

(3) comments

Inconvenient Truth

There wouldn’t be a market for off-campus housing if CSUB dorms were priced more reasonably.

dogmom85

Agreed.The cost is INSANE. You can get an apartment in Edgewater with your own kitchen and bathrooms, one roommate and pay half of what it costs to live on campus with next to zero amenities.

RefereeB

For his sake, I hope he hasn’t closed escrow on the dirt. Instead of playing defense he needs to mount a full retreat and try to partner with the University on some of their acreage. Sort of reminds me of those guys that were going to tell us how to develop the NE bluffs. 25 years later it remains open space and tumbleweeds.

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