Countdown to CollegeTown

In Local News, News
John Pekcan
Photo by John Pekcan / Daily Titan

A panel of city officials entertained public input during a special meeting on the status of CollegeTown, a rezoning project that could transform the urban geography of east Fullerton.

The project is now at its halfway point and is expected to be completed April 2014.

The two-block area directly south of the Cal State Fullerton campus will be sculpted by market forces, according to Charles Kovac, a project manager for the city of Fullerton.

The CollegeTown plan was orchestrated between three entities: Hope International University, Cal State Fullerton and the city of Fullerton, and will cost an estimated $1 million—about $330,000 for each of the three parties. However, it will not guarantee the district will flourish with new development.

Instead, it is expected to show investors the business potential that is usually associated with owning property next to a college campus.

The CollegeTown concept was originally formed between planning officials from the city of Fullerton and CSUF as a long-term development plan for the area around campus and became one of the reasons Hope International decided to not move out of the area in 2010.

The idea gained momentum when Hope International sold part of its property directly south of its campus.

After the purchase and demolition of a 10-story office building, a private contracting firm began to build what is now University House, which is expecting to move residents in this May.

When University House is completed, the land value of the surrounding area is expected to rise.

This could trigger a domino effect of new development and rising land values as tenants and developers scrap older buildings and build modern ones over the next several years, in compliance with the building and zoning requirements of the CollegeTown plan.

That process, however, would be completely market driven; the city cannot force current landowners to make any changes to their property.

Project planners are now finalizing community outreach and technical studies in preparation for an environmental impact study, Kovac said.

Ideally, the two-block area’s capacity will equate to about 13,888 beds with almost 500,000 square feet of office space, said Karen Gulley, principal at the Planning Center DC&E, a consulting firm hired by the city.

A core CollegeTown goal is to make the area more pedestrian-friendly and expand public transportation services in the area—some concept art illustrated the possibility of light rail running through the center of Commonwealth Avenue.

Kovac said the project is going as planned, but some neighboring residents do not approve of the plan, maintaining that possible street closures would be a major strain for commuters who rely on Nutwood and Chapman avenues to board the 57 Freeway.

At a public meeting on Feb. 5, dozens of local residents filed into the Fullerton Library Conference Center to voice their concerns, such as unwanted noise levels caused by sponsored concerts in the “mixed-use” spaces.

Others claimed that traffic bottlenecks caused by the influx of new college residents would plague the area already bogged down during peak hours.

At the center was the city’s contribution, a $330,000 commitment citizens worried would come out of their wallets. Fullerton officials, however, confirmed the city’s portion would not come from taxpayer dollars.

“They key thing is having everybody understand what the project is without having misinformation or anything,” Kovac said. “As long as we get out what the information about the project is, we think that people will warm up to it.”

Gulley said the project as a whole has the opportunity to bring the neighborhood together in a way that fuses community and college life in a beneficial way.

“The vision for CollegeTown can really be captured in a single idea: In the future, CollegeTown will be a place where campus life and city life converge,” said Gulley. “What we mean by that is this will be a place that does not only cater to students, but also the broader community.”

Last summer state-level budget cuts waylaid every redevelopment agency in every California city. Since city redevelopment funding is granted by Sacramento, developments are out of commission unless planning began before last summer.

“The redevelopment agency has been dissolved, but we still have obligations that we have agreements with, whether it’s with organizations or developers, that we still have to honor,” Kovac said. “But once those are finished, then we’re done—we can’t create any new obligations.”

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