SJSU Focusing on Expanding On-Campus Housing.

San Jose State University has abandoned plans for a combined commercial and academic development and will focus instead on expanding on-campus housing.

Besieged by community criticism and undercut by a crashing commercial real estate market, San Jose State University has abandoned plans for a combined commercial and academic development and will focus instead on expanding on-campus housing.

An updated master plan that goes before California State University trustees for approval today has dropped a proposal for adding up to 2.5 million square feet of high-rise commercial space. But the 10-year plan still calls for construction of 1.3 million square feet of new space, expanding campus buildings by 30 percent. Most of that increase would be in student and faculty housing.

University President Robert Caret said he is disappointed that his idea for creating a ``vertical research park'' on the landlocked campus faltered. Caret had hoped to lure companies seeking downtown office space to the campus to share space with academic uses, but the proposal drew fire from San Jose and campus neighbors. That arrangement would have created revenue to help the university modernize and a hands-on learning environment for students and teachers.

Someday, that idea may be dusted off, Caret said, though not in the foreseeable future.

``I think if the economy booms, those ideas could be resurrected,'' he said, ``but the economy would have to boom a lot.''

Rather than fight a political battle to keep the 2.5 million square feet of commercial space in the master plan, the university ditched it and is focusing on what is within reach: more than tripling housing on the main campus to serve 5,700 students.

The move to add housing coincides with growth in freshman enrollment as a result of the so-called second baby boom. Enrollment at the campus remains capped at 25,000 full-time students.

University leaders say more students living on campus will create a more traditional academic community, making San Jose State more attractive to younger students and countering its reputation as a commuter campus.

Demand for on-campus housing already is so high that students are having to triple up in dorm rooms designed for two.

Deanne Miller, 24, a teaching major and residence hall adviser, contends the project will make campus life better. ``If we don't make the changes now,'' she said, ``five years down the line we will be a worse situation.''

The housing plan also includes transitional housing for roughly 400 university faculty and staff members, an inducement the university hopes will attract top-quality people despite the Bay Area's high cost of living.

The blueprint calls for demolishing all the existing housing, located at the corner of 10th and San Salvador streets. The work would be done in phases through 2010, with cost of the first phase estimated at $215 million and construction tentatively scheduled to start early next year.

Counting the housing, the master plan proposes replacing about half the older buildings on campus, increasing the density by building up.

The housing project would be self-supporting; rent would be used to pay for the bonds that would finance the project. But financing for the academic development is not guaranteed, because capital needs in the 23-campus CSU system are far greater than the the available dollars.

Adding student housing could have some benefits for the neighborhood, neighbors said, although they would like the university to add more parking to its long-range development plan. As envisioned, the parking ratio would remain at 0.38 parking spaces per full-time student, less than the recommended national average of 0.50.

Even though the new housing would be much denser than what's there now, the university has tried to respond to neighborhood concerns about its design, said Tom Clifton of the Campus Community Association.

The key to avoiding a battle with neighbors was dropping the commercial development.

``If they are not building 15 stories out to the edge of our neighborhood, we have fewer concerns,'' Clifton said.

A draft environmental impact report assessing the effects of the university's development plans drew withering criticism from many of the organizations that reviewed it. In a letter to the university, San Jose's planning director called the report ``fundamentally deficient'' in violation of state law.

But most of the city's concerns have been allayed now that the commercial component of the plan is gone, said Ron Eddow, head of the city's environmental review section.

Although neighborhood and city opposition was a factor in the university's about-face, the decision was largely dictated by the region's economic collapse, said Don Kassing, vice president for administration and the university's chief financial officer.

``There is so much vacant commercial space it just is not realistic to move forward,'' Kassing said.

Contact Becky Bartindale at bbartindale@sjmercury.com or (408) 920-5459


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