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College and community face off over Aztec Canyon

Posted: July 21st, 2017 | Features, News, Top Stories | No Comments

By Doug Curlee | Editor at Large

Temporary cease-fire may or may not remain in place

Aztec Canyon, at the extreme west end of San Diego State’s property, is seen by residents around it as an unspoiled jewel of open space and wildlife habitat in the middle of the daily hustle. The people who live in the 341-home College View Estates want it to remain just that.

San Diego State sees it somewhat differently — in fact, a lot differently.

An artist rendering of the proposed Phase I of San Diego State University’s Chapultepec Hall (Courtesy SDSU)

The university, desperate for places to build badly-needed new student housing for freshmen who must live on campus their first year, has plans to build a lot of that housing in this area, with plans that would destroy a sizable chunk of that canyon — some of which San Diego State owns.

“We have plans for a Phase 2 — an 11-story dorm tower right near our existing west campus tower, Chapultepec Hall,” school communications director Gina Jacobs said. “There are also plans for additional structures there — what we call Phase 3.”

Those plans, once College View Estates residents found out about them, caused voices to raise and blood to boil. They have visions of Remington Road, the only way in and out of their community, clogged with even more traffic than it already is. (Remington Road would be a problem — it’s just barely a two-lane street as it is, and it desperately needs work.)

What could have ended up in confrontation and court has been cooled somewhat by a letter from Interim SDSU president Sally Roush to state Sen. Toni G. Atkins and City Councilmember Georgette Gomez.

“San Diego State has elected to go forward with only Phase 1 of our expansion plans for now. A structure of four to six stories will be built in what is now Parking Lot 9, right beside Chapultepec Hall,” Jacobs said.

The canyon that local residents hope to protect from future student housing projects. (Photo by Doug Curlee)

The planned dorm will cost about $130 million, and will house more than 800 students. In addition to residential square footage, there will also be 4,300 square feet of market area and a 3,850-square-foot community center.

Jacobs said it’s true the Phase 1 structure will be right beside the canyon, but that “right beside” is as close as it’ll get.

“It will not impinge on the canyon at all,” she said. “There is enough room for us to build the structures and the needed access and fire roads without touching a pebble in the canyon.”

That has solved the immediate problem, but what might have been a fairly warm relationship between town and gown has now been turned into a wary standoff between the two sides.

Dr. Robert Plice is one of the leaders of the College View Estates Association, and one of the chief spokesmen for the community. He understands how problems like this can divide the two. He’s a retired SDSU professor.

“The community is largely supportive of more student housing on campus,” he said. “If SDSU had originally proposed a project equivalent to the Phase 1-only version, there would have been concern and comment, but mostly positive support.”

The Phase I buildings will be built over this parking lot on the SDSU campus. (Photo by Doug Curlee)

So for now, the resistance to the project is on a stand down — but that might change.

“Now that we know SDSU has its sights set on developing the canyon, we are reluctant to state our position,” Plice said. “We’re keeping our options open.”

If that sounds as though both sides have consulted lawyers, they have.

Assuming completion of the final Environmental Impact Report, and other related matters, the final decision on this project will likely come in September, when it goes before the trustees of the California State University system. Approval is expected.

The community will accept the Phase 1 construction. The community will also keep an eagle eye on the university, the canyon, and the development plans for the future.

The much larger plans for Phase 2 and Phase 3 are still on the books.

They haven’t gone away — they’ve only been postponed.

They will be back.

—Doug Curlee is Editor at Large. Reach him at doug@sdcnn.com.

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