Neighbors raise parking, traffic concerns at public meeting on new SRJC housing

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Santa Rosa Junior College’s ambitious on-campus affordable student housing project was met with both enthusiasm and concern from students and neighbors at a public meeting Wednesday night in Santa Rosa.

The five-story development will house nearly 380 students and is planned for the corner of Elliot Avenue and Armory Drive, next to Highway 101. SRJC President Frank Chong said at the meeting that the project will break ground in 2020, and is expected to be completed in time for the fall semester of 2022.

The project is unusual among community colleges, as only 1 in 4 offer on-campus housing, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. But SRJC officials emphasized the need for the project in light of rising rent prices in Sonoma County.

“Everybody has to be a part of the solution to the housing crisis that we’re in,” said Senior Dean of Students Robert Ethington in an interview Tuesday. “A lot of students leave because they can’t afford to live here. ... We’re hoping this will provide students with an inexpensive place to live on campus.”

Chong said at the meeting that the college wants to be “good neighbors” to residents in the area, which is why officials organized the open forum Wednesday. He added that living near a college campus presents challenges, such as noise levels, and wanted to discuss those issues with neighbors.

About 50 people attended the meeting, and while many residents thought the project was a good idea, some raised concerns that the new development could increase traffic and negatively affect parking in the area.

“I think it’s beautiful, but we already have a parking issue and we have for years,” said Robin Rothrock, who lives near the proposed housing. “Where is everyone going to put their cars? It’s just a concern.”

Chong said the solutions to traffic and parking concerns are “still in the works,” but that the college is committed to addressing them. Ethington said during the meeting that the college is encouraging students not to bring cars to campus and to use bicycles or public transit instead, adding that the development will include bike racks for tenants.

“I assure you we’re going to be addressing your concerns,” Chong said at the meeting. “We hope this will help the community rather than hurt it.”

SRJC Board President Jordan Burns said he believes the project will reduce traffic because fewer students will be driving back and forth to classes, given the proximity of the development to campus.

Ashley Britton, who lives in the neighborhood, said she supported the project, but wished the college had a more concrete solution to traffic and parking concerns.

“These things do affect my everyday life,” Britton said. “I’m all for student housing. I just wish they had a better answer for residents’ concern about the parking situation.”

Some students who attended the meeting, however, were frustrated by the concerns residents raised. Dakota McGranahan, a third-year student, said that to complain about increased traffic and noise was “privileged,” considering that many students struggle to find secure and safe housing to attend classes.

“I’ve been a homeless student before ... It’s really hard,” McGranahan said. “This (project) is a step in the right direction.”

Pedro Avila, the college’s vice president of student services, said he felt the meeting was “positive,” and that most residents seemed supportive of the project.

He added that the college will need to do more work to address some of the concerns raised at the meeting, and will be working with the city to consider solutions.

“I’ve been working with the students and identifying what are the impediments to their success for a few years now, and one (of those) is housing,” said Li Collier, senior dean of counseling and student success. “This is going to help a lot of our students.”

You can reach Staff Writer Chantelle Lee at 707-521-5337 or chantelle.lee@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ChantelleHLee.

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