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Ohlone negotiating with developer over frontage property

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The olive grove along Mission Blvd would become a pedestrian pathway for the development.

The olive grove along Mission Blvd would become a pedestrian pathway for the development.

Rob Adamic

Rob Adamic

The olive grove along Mission Blvd would become a pedestrian pathway for the development.

The Ohlone College Board of Trustees voted last week to enter negotiations with a company over the development of the frontage property along Mission Blvd. at the Fremont campus.

The development of this property has been talked about for many years and has long been thought of as a safety net that would bring stability to the school.

“A few years ago when we had the economic downturn the funding from the state was reduced so we had to cut our classes and… couldn’t offer the classes to the level that the students needed them,” explained Ohlone college President Dr. Gari Browning.  “If we had an income source that was separate from that, that couldn’t be controlled by the state and it wasn’t at the mercy of the economy and it came in all the time, then we could keep things even.”  This would mean that regardless of the economy or funding from Sacramento, Ohlone would never be forced to cut classes or programs.

Steelwave, LLC. was the company chosen by the board out of the two proposals that were received.  The company’s proposal calls for 18 apartment buildings that would house 275 units.  There are also plans for a mixed use town center which could be used for public events and would hold 17,910 square feet of retail and/or office space.  The town square would serve as a gateway to the college and would link up to the apartments by way of the protected olive tree grove which would become a “pedestrian pathway” connecting the new development to Ohlone College and Mission Blvd.  Steelwave estimates that the company would spend $106 million dollars to build the project.  In return for the development, Ohlone College would receive $1,332,936 in rent per year from the company with a 99 year lease.

Ohlone has explored developing the property many times over the past 25 years.  The most recent was in 2014 when a deal was struck with Carmel Partners but by 2015 the developer pulled out because of unforeseen complications. 

“I have really huge concerns that the developer will walk again especially considering the hostile environment that the city is now taking towards development,” Board Chair Richard Watters told the other trustees at the meeting.  Watters was in favor of a proposal from Dutra Principals which was the only other proposal the board received.  “I worry about selecting this particular developer because I don’t find that they have necessarily a vested interest in Fremont where as the other proposal, even though it wasn’t as financially lucrative, does.”  Ohlone College would only make $558,000 per year from the Dutra deal.

Some of the complications in the past came from state level regulations that the college has since gotten a waiver for.  However, there may be many complications locally. A good number of Fremont residents have been against the idea of building housing or retail space on the property for fear that it would worsen the already congested traffic on Mission Blvd.  These vocal residents could influence the city which would likely have to rezone the frontage property land before building could commence.  The board members themselves may also add complications.

Last week’s vote, means that Ohlone will now begin negotiating with Steelwave over the final plan.  This is when board members can tweak parts of the proposal, express concerns, or ask that stipulations be included in the plan.  Board Vice Chair Greg Bonaccorsi said that he would like to see the apartments be set aside for educators like Ohlone College faculty as well as staff from other local schools.  Board Trustee Ishan Shah asked that at least some of the apartments be reserved for senior housing.

“It is a balance between the economics for the district and the socially conscious balance but… also …the project has to be economically viable for the developer,” cautioned Susan Yeager, Ohlone College vice president of Administrative Services, who presented the two proposals.  “I think that’s what this period is intended to work at and I think that we can do that.”

Board Trustee Shah is a former Ohlone student who went to the school during the economic downturn and saw many classes canceled.  He described the period as a “dark time” and said, “this frontage property is a way for us to insure that we have some sort of lifeline away from the state of California and the decisions… from Sacramento.”  Shah supported the Steelwave proposal stating, “We at least owe our students a conversation with this developer. We owe exploration of this idea to see if we can truly strike a compromise. No one is going to be fully happy. No one ever is.”

Ohlone College now enters a 60 day negotiating period with Steelwave after the 6 to 1 board vote.  The Board of Trustees will report on the progress of the negotiations at the next meeting scheduled for May 10.

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Ohlone negotiating with developer over frontage property