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Storke Ranch Residents Uneasy With UCSB Dorm Planned for Next Door

University plans to add housing for 1,000 students near Santa Catalina dorm at corner of Storke and El Colegio roads

A new dorm planned for the west end of the UC Santa Barbara campus is upsetting some nearby Goleta residents, a small number of whom would see the development go up just a few feet from their backyards.

The focus of the ongoing debate is the San Joaquin housing project, a dorm that would be built at the corner of Storke and El Colegio roads on the same site as the existing Santa Catalina Residence Halls, formerly called Francisco Torres. The dorm, tentatively planned to house 1,000 students, would occupy what is currently a large parking lot.

Opinions of some of those living in Storke Ranch, a residential neighborhood just north of and adjacent to the project site, range from not wanting to see the dorm at all to grudging acceptance, with the hope of limiting negative impacts as much as possible.

More than a dozen residents gathered last month in a meeting room of the Santa Catalina dorms for the latest of 65 total public meetings and hearings since UCSB introduced the project in 2006, a university representative said. The dorms are part of the campus Long-Range Development Plan process.

Density, traffic congestion, visual impacts and proximity to the project topped the list of concerns from those in attendance at the meeting.

A final version of the Long-Range Development Plan was developed in 2010 and then agreed upon by UCSB, the City of Goleta and Santa Barbara County. Because the university is a state institution, however, development plans do not need to be approved through the typical Board of Supervisors process.

Construction of the project, which will be funded using housing rental fees, is expected to begin in 2014, the UCSB representative said. Some planning documents show the dorm could open as early as the fall of 2016.

Although the project has been in the works a while, one Storke Ranch homeowner said it didn’t come to his attention until a year ago.

William Etling, a Santa Ynez resident who owns a Storke Ranch house, said he has urged UCSB to not build the dorm so close. The backyard of Etling’s property, where his daughter currently lives, is about 35 feet away from the proposed site.

“It’s wrong, but they can do it because they’re a state agency,” Etling said. “Nobody is going to stop them at this point.”

Besides additional housing that will rise to five stories in some places, the San Joaquin project currently includes new dining facilities, sand volleyball and basketball courts, and a maximum 600-space parking garage.

Etling, who graduated from UCSB and has owned the nearby house since 2001, said he is concerned about a planned second-story, recreational balcony area.

“On a bad day, that’s six guys throwing beer cans into my backyard,” he said. “It’s going to be very intrusive. I say, ‘Why don’t you put stuff on campus?’ That’s where housing belongs.”

UCSB says it’s hosting public meetings — so far, two have specifically been for airing neighbor concerns — so it can incorporate many of their suggestions into the revised plans, a university representative said.

“We regard UCSB as a community-based institution,” the representative said. “We want the community to both benefit from and take pride in our presence here. So, we regard the community as an important stakeholder in our campus’ well-being. We are currently in a detailed planning phase during which we are sharing specific plans with the community in order to solicit their input.”

Storke Ranch resident Kelly Hildner told Noozhawk she’s most concerned with the proximity and height of the project, as well as its community and environmental impacts.

She and other residents were hoping the university might move the dorm to what they’re now planning as the new parking lot.

Even though UCSB officials anticipate students will travel via bike and shuttle, Hildner isn’t convinced traffic will be a non-issue.

“We are just requesting that they do some things to accommodate our desires, given that we’d rather not have a bunch of buildings go up right next to people’s yards,” she said. “The university has been good about some changes.

“We’re surrounded by university on three sides,” she continued. “It really has an impact on us what they do. We hope they’ll listen to us. It’s too many people to add to a small community and really not have any negative effects.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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