Ohlone College seeks to lease frontage property for development - Article, Office of College Advancement

Friday, January 13, 2017—Reprinted from East Bay Times.

By Joseph Geha.

Two rows of olive trees next to street.A view of Ohlone College’s surplus frontage property, facing north between the olive trees along Mission Boulevard in Fremont. —Photo by Joseph Geha.

Ohlone College has launched another effort to lease 15 acres of surplus property along Mission Boulevard in front of its Fremont campus to a developer.

College officials say a building development could create a stable revenue stream to help Ohlone maintain classes during lean budget years and possibly even expand them.

But critics say there’s already too much traffic in the area to throw up a new development.

At their meeting in October, college board trustees unanimously authorized staff to collect bids from developers interested in building on Mission. The board hopes to select a developer by mid-April.

The community college has discussed the idea of leasing or selling the frontage property several times over the past 25 years, according to officials, and it almost did so in 2014.

It selected Carmel Partners as a building partner but by early 2015 the developer pulled out.

Carmel CEO Ron Zeff said while he can’t remember the specifics, his firm “ultimately determined it was going to be a tough entitlement” to achieve and decided not to pursue it further.

Ohlone President Gari Browning said Carmel indicated at the time it was leery about navigating the political process to get a project approved, since among other things the city council would have had to rezone the property before anything could advance.

Carmel’s proposal to build a mix of retail space and 314 housing units spread across three parcels between Witherly Lane and Pine Street also evoked considerable opposition.

Among critics of the project was Joe Lonsdale, a longtime Mission San Jose resident who ended up running for the college district’s board of trustees on a campaign platform of killing the proposal. Lonsdale wasn’t elected.

Two rows of olive trees next to street.An overhead view of the three parcels making up 15 acres of frontage property along Mission Boulevard, on the Ohlone College Fremont campus. The smallest parcel runs along Witherly Lane and the two larger ones are bounded by Witherly Lane and Pine Street. —Courtesy of Ohlone College.

Lonsdale said in an interview he still opposes residential development in front of Ohlone.

“The schools here are crowded. Traffic is bad. We don’t need more apartments here,” Lonsdale said, adding that he would be less inclined to oppose a mix of commercial and retail at the site because it would at least generate money for the city.

Browning said leasing the property would create a steady flow of rent from whatever development ends up there.

She said community college funding falls under the state’s whim and can always be reduced during tight budget years. Unrestricted money from land leases, on the other hand, could fund more full-time and adjunct faculty positions, thereby serving more students. “It enables us to provide the best possible education we can, which is what we’re here for,” Browning added.

In light of past community opposition, Browning invited residents and neighbors to attend her quarterly advisory meetings to address their concerns.

The school is also taking a slightly different approach this year. Last July, Ohlone obtained a waiver from the California Community Colleges Board of Governors, which will allow its district board to directly market the property to developers and negotiate with them.

Susan Yeager, vice president of Ohlone’s administrative services, said the bidding still will be a public process and discussed at board meetings. What the waiver ultimately does, she said, is allow the board to select the project that brings the most value for the college and the community.

“Obviously the college is wanting to be a good neighbor, but we’re also wanting to utilize our assets as efficiently as possible,” Yeager said.

While it’s too soon to tell what kind of projects ultimately will be proposed, college officials have suggested the board likely would favor a mixed-use development.

Under the city’s zoning laws, that could mean a mix of residential and commercial or all commercial and retail. The only restriction is that it cannot be completely residential.

Yeager said it’s too soon to tell what the Fremont City Council will have to say about a project, but she thinks the interest the school arouses from developers will be a good gauge.

“They won’t propose if they don’t believe they have a chance of getting their proposal through the city,” she said.

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