At Monday night’s city council meeting on November 10, an item of discussion was California Health Science University’s (CHSU) request for city council’s direction regarding establishment of student and/or faculty housing in the area surrounding the CHSU campus.
The CHSU new campus is currently located in the area designated as Research and Technology Park (RT-Park) at Alluvial and Temperance Avenues. This area was designated in 1998 in order to promote economic development and a stronger employment base for the city.
In 2016, city council approved a master plan that had three phases of development for the campus. This included two campus developments: a west campus and an east campus, east of Temperance Avenue. A 250-unit student housing development adjacent to the east campus was also planned.
The current vision for the CHSU campus has grown and now includes a commercial development and a single family home development.
The planned 250-unit student housing development will be moved to be on the west side of Temperance Avenue, north of the main campus. Directly across from the student housing, there will be new commercial development and a single family residential development will be built in place of the original student housing.
Developers Granville Homes and the Assemi Group assured the council that these homes being built would be for faculty and staff housing. However, there were only five houses designated for CHSU community members and the rest of the development would not be for faculty or staff.
The city council was not happy about the designation of the homes, because they believed that the RT-Park was not a housing development.
Councilmember Jose Flores said that they had said housing should be built for the university, but that it was supposed to be for students and not a residential neighborhood.
“If what we have on the books says no residential neighborhoods, I am sure we didn’t promise that, did we?” Flores said. “Did anyone promise a neighborhood?…That’s not faculty housing that’s just a new development in Clovis.”
Mayor Drew Bessinger said that he was concerned that other developers could come in and start making houses in a zone that was meant to bring jobs to the city.
“I am not against the faculty housing because it does make sense…what I’m concerned about is that if we have too many vacant for sale units,” Bessinger said. “We have seen several living homes, group homes, transitional housing and my concern is that that will get wedged in as an unanticipated issue if we are not careful.”
The president of CHSU Florence T. Dunn was in attendance during the meeting and Darius Assemi, president of Granville Homes and board member of CHSU, was also at the meeting via phone call.
They explained that there has been an increase in enrollment and that their plan for development has grown to what the current plan shows. Assemi mentioned that they want to create jobs for the city and build something that the community can be proud of.
“What we are trying to create is a very walkable and attractive campus…we are trying to create faculty housing that is separate from student housing, but in close proximity.” Assemi said.
Dunn said that the college will bring more jobs to the area and will have more impact on the city and the community.
“This is a very long term vision and all we want the council to do is to protect this concept,” Dunn said. “We are recession proof, students in a professional school will not sit out a year, faculty will always continue to be employed.”
The council moved to discussion where councilmember Vong Mouanoutoua said that he felt 22 years was long enough to find someone to invest in the RT-Park and that there was someone already here that was investing in the RT-Park, and it was CHSU.
“This is something in which we must embrace and support and with the vision that CHSU has, I don’t want to wait for a ‘Google’ to come in,” Mouanoutoua said. “They are local, and they are local dollars from local individuals who we can hold accountable…and be responsible to the community.”
Councilmember Bob Whalen said that while he attended Fresno State there was a plan for student housing and that student housing development has now become a problem for the college. He said he didn’t wish to see this happen to this development so that they had to be careful in what they needed to do next.
“From this council staff direction, is always work with our folks to make sure we can figure out a path to success,” Whalen said. “We want to do what we can to accommodate students and faculty housing to support CHSU.”
Councilmember Lynne Ashbeck said that there was no housing allowed in RT-Park, but that the council will work with CHSU to come up with a plan to make something happen.
“We have a big investment as a community in this project from the medical neighborhood point of view,” Ashbeck said. “We owe it to the community 50 years from now…I think this could be pretty extraordinary.”
Mayor Bessinger said that from a standpoint from the city of Clovis, this is a big deal and that the success of the university will also be the success of the city.
“I would like to see (faculty housing) faced in as the school increases (in size),” Bessinger said. “I think I will be more comfortable with that, instead of building 120 units and only having the need for 60.”
The council agreed to work with CHSU on the ownership of what faculty housing and how many can be built in order to continue the growth of the university.
City Manager Luke Serpa gave his weekly update on the status of the city regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
Serpa mentioned that the city has very similar numbers to the county, which are trending down, but that the state has seen a significant increase in infections during the last week.
Serpa also said that there were no deaths from complications of COVID-19 from the city of Clovis and that current numbers of hospitalizations in the county are slightly up from the past few weeks.
The county remains in the Red Tier with 6.1 infections per every 100 thousand people, a 5.1 percent positivity rate and a 7.4 percent in the Healthy Equity Metric.