Developers share new details, invite community input

New details of a planned student housing development at Witham Oaks emerged Wednesday night in a meeting between the project developers and a group of local residents hoping to preserve at least part of the property.

For instance:

 • The development will cover 26 to 28 acres of the 95-acre parcel.

 • It will have a total of 296 apartments and 792 beds in 12 three-story buildings, plus a three-story clubhouse for tenants.

 • It will be built in two phases, with construction expected to start next summer and wrap up in 2014.

 • And any acreage not used in construction will be set aside as open space.

Ted Rollins, chief executive officer of Campus Crest Communities, and Mike Hartnett, the company’s chief investment officer, were in town with several other company officials and consultants to discuss their plans with about a dozen members of the Friends of Witham Oaks, a group of local residents who organized two years ago to protect the property in its undeveloped state.

Annexed for development in 2004, the parcel is about a mile and a half west of Oregon State University’s central campus. It slopes from a wooded hillside at the western end of Circle Boulevard down to a flat area with some seasonal wetlands on the north side of Harrison Boulevard, across from the OSU dairy.

The city previously approved plans to build a 221-lot subdivision on the site, but that developer walked away from the project after the real estate market crashed. U.S. Bank foreclosed on the loan and put the parcel up for sale at $3 million.

Campus Crest, a North Carolina-based student housing developer with 27 projects nationwide, has a contract to purchase the land but has not yet closed the deal. Company officials made it clear Wednesday night that they have every intention of moving ahead with their plans, but they also insisted they welcome input from Corvallis residents.

Sitting around a conference table at OSU’s LaSells Stewart Center, the locals pored over aerial photos and conceptual drawings, asked pointed questions and shared their concerns. Their worries ranged from the loss of mature oak groves and sensitive wetlands to traffic impacts and barking dogs.

Ron Simons, speaking for Campus Crest, said the company would do its best to address those concerns and any others that came up. Pointing to a rough layout of the project, he said the complex would be sited to minimize impacts to the wetlands and maintain as much distance as possible from the adjoining neighborhood.

Any land not needed for construction — which would include most of the wetlands and the wooded uplands — would be placed under a conservation easement to ensure it would never be developed. Some portions of the property, Simons said, might be donated to the city, while others might be sold to a land trust or other suitable buyer. He said the existing public path through the property would be maintained.

“Everything that is outside this development envelope, we intend that to be in other hands for the public good,” he said. “We’re going to insist that there be no development, unless it’s a park.”

Rollins, the CEO, said the plan would help meet a growing demand for student housing while at least partially satisfying the desire of the Friends of Witham Oaks to preserve the area’s natural character.

“When we looked at this tract of land, we thought it was in a good market, and we thought there was an opportunity that we could do what we wanted and do something nice for the neighborhood,” Rollins said.

Some aspects of the project, however, are not negotiable, including the extension of Circle down to Harrison Boulevard and the addition of curbs, gutters and sidewalks to the Harrison frontage. Corvallis planners have made it clear to Campus Crest that it must build those road improvements.

“They are going to insist that Circle come here, and they want access (to the apartment complex) off Circle,” Simons said. “The city is driving this issue.”

Nor are the developers interested in shrinking their project below the current target of 792 beds.

“We think this is about the minimum” that is economically feasible, Simons said.

“We started out thinking we would need 1,000,” he added. “We’ve pared it down about as much as we think we can.”

The project still has a long way to go before construction can begin. The earlier development approvals have lapsed, and Campus Crest will have to obtain a comprehensive plan amendment and a zoning change from the city.

Simons said he hoped to file those applications by mid-December, followed 30 to 45 days later by a planned development application. Public hearings before the Corvallis Planning Commission would come next, perhaps in May or June.

In the meantime, Campus Crest officials invited the Friends of Witham Oaks to contact them with any additional concerns and said they would schedule a community meeting with area neighborhood associations and other interested members of the public in November.

Contact Bennett Hall at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@gazettetimes.com.

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Special Projects Editor

Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald

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