Dorms_rendering.jpg

An artist's rendering of the proposed dorms.

A proposal to build two five-story private dormitories for 660 Cal State Bakersfield students on a parcel of land at the busiest intersection in the city and next to residential neighborhoods should be rejected. It is in the wrong place.

The Monterey-based developer has shown a stunning lack of collaboration with the university he proposes to serve and a disregard for the problems his project likely will cause area residents and business owners, as well as motorists trying to navigate through the intersection of Stockdale Highway and Coffee/Gosford roads. 

When members of the city’s Board of Zoning Adjustment meet April 7, they should reject developer David Moon’s request for a conditional-use permit to allow him to build and operate his proposed private dormitory.

In arguing for his project, Moon points to similar dormitories he has built near state universities in Monterey Bay and Sacramento, as well as Cal State Stanislaus in Turlock. Moon has two additional projects in the works – a 19-story dormitory near San Jose State and one near Humboldt State, which has been snagged by community opposition.

Nine years ago, Moon was frustrated by his inability to find on-campus housing for his son at Cal State Monterey Bay. He said he was encouraged by campus officials to build dorms off site. In 2015, he opened a three-building, 579-bed, fully occupied project that the university agreed to operate. A year later, the university’s nonprofit foundation purchased the project.

But when it came to Bakersfield, there was no such partnership, nor collaboration with CSUB. In fact, the university president opposes the project for a variety of reasons, including her belief that if students are to live in dorms, they should be on campus and operated by university officials. The relatively new dorms on the CSUB campus are only 64 percent filled.

But, while the university’s concerns have merit, they should not be the basis for the city’s decision to deny Moon’s conditional-use permit.

Rather, that decision should be based on the impact of concentrating so many residents – students, or otherwise – into a project that is located in an area already significantly impacted by traffic congestion. The high-rise project also is not compatible with nearby single-family neighborhoods.

In response to neighbor and university concerns, Moon has detailed his project features, which he said will include shuttle service to transport students to the university and amenities that will minimize students’ needs to leave the complex.

He also contends the fee that will be charged for resident-use of the proposed 400 on-site parking spaces will discourage students from having cars. Really? What will prevent student-residents, or their guests from parking for free on nearby streets, or in residential neighborhoods?

Moon blames opposition to his project on neighbors’ desire to keep the property empty. Like his failure to understand other concerns, Moon apparently does not understand the property’s history.

The parcel has been a dirty, dusty eyesore for decades. Its only use has been to sprout political signs every election. Its development has been long-awaited and welcomed.

But when the property was sold by Tenneco Land Co. to GC Investments Inc. in the 1980s, Tenneco included a 25-year deed restriction, banning the property from being used for retail commercial. Tenneco was a 50-50 partner in the Towne & Country Shopping Center, which is across the street.

When sold years ago, the property was zoned for apartment use. But when the deed restriction expired, the commercial real estate market was booming and property owners successfully petitioned to have the zoning changed to accommodate commercial use.

Residents and surrounding property owners cheered the owner’s announcement in 2013 to build a well-landscaped complex of three-story office buildings on the property. A site-plan map also included a hotel at the north end of the property.

Neither the previous, nor the present zoning and location accommodates the 24/7 teeming concentration of private student dormitories Moon proposes. And no amount of promises from the developer will make this a good fit.