Developers unveil student housing plan for Sather property

2012-06-01T09:30:00Z Developers unveil student housing plan for Sather propertyBy Bennett hall, Corvallis Gazette-Times Corvallis Gazette Times

Owners seek annexation for 33-acre parcel near Oregon State University

The development team behind a plan to build a major student housing complex at Southwest 35th Street and Western Boulevard unveiled some of the details of the project at an open house Thursday at Oregon State University.

Billed as The Retreat at Oak Creek, the development would have at least 290 apartments with a total of about 650 bedrooms, said Blair Sweeney of Landmark Properties, a Georgia company that specializes in upscale student rental properties.

The main entrance would be on 35th, with limited access via Western, Sweeney said. A little more than one-fourth of the property would be set aside as open space to protect natural features such as oak groves and a buffer zone around Oak Creek.

Landmark plans to have a full-time manager on the site, as well as a “courtesy officer” — an off-duty police officer who would patrol the premises in exchange for a free apartment.

If all goes well, construction could start in the summer of 2013 and the complex could open the following fall.

But Sweeney cautioned that the plans are strictly conceptual at this point and could change as the project moves forward. And any large-scale development on the site is contingent on getting it annexed into Corvallis.

“We have to get through the annexation process before we get too deep into the architectural plans,” he said, “but I’d say we’re looking at a mix of two-, three- and four-bedrooms here.”

The 33-acre parcel, which wraps around the OSU Foundation property to the north of Western Boulevard and west of 35th Street, is just outside the city limits.

Under the property’s current county zoning, only a handful of single-family homes could be built there. If it were annexed into the city, it would come in at RS-12, a medium-high residential zoning designation that allows anywhere from 12 to 20 dwelling units per acre.

Owners Alan, Ronald and Larry Sather have filed a request with the city of Corvallis to put the annexation request on the November general election ballot. The Planning Commission will consider the request on Wednesday and make a recommendation to the City Council.

Even if the measure makes the ballot, however, passage is far from certain. Two previous efforts to annex the Sather property have fallen short.

In November 2001, an annexation measure for the Sather property made the ballot but went down at the polls. A Colorado developer wanted to build 200 units of quad-style student apartments on the property.

In 2005, Al Sather partnered with local developer Steve King to build a subdivision of 100 to 150 single-family homes in the $200,000 to $300,000 range.

But that proposal faced opposition from city planners because it included a request for a zone change to low-density residential. The plan was abandoned about two years later after the housing market took a dive.

On Thursday, a small stream of local residents filed into a meeting room at OSU’s CH2M Hill Alumni Center to munch finger food and look at full-color maps of the project area. Representatives of Landmark Properties and various consultants to the developer were on hand to answer questions.

Some of the visitors favored the project as a way to add much-needed student housing to the overloaded Corvallis rental market. But others had serious reservations.

Martha Smith and Suzanne Roppe, friends and neighbors who live in a small, quiet development of single-family homes just across Western Boulevard from the Sather property, say plans for The Retreat at Oak Creek make them nervous.

“We’re very concerned about traffic patterns,” Smith said, pointing out several intersections along Western on a map provided by the developers. “All of these will be hugely impacted.”

Roppe is worried that the project won’t have enough parking spaces, forcing students to leave their cars on neighborhood streets.

“They ride their bikes to school, but they bring their cars to live,” she said.

Both women also are put off by the sheer scale of the project and the potential for conflicts between a large community of students and families living nearby.

With several other major student housing projects either under construction or in the pipeline around town, Roppe said Corvallis is at a tipping point.

“I guess we need to decide, as a community, do we want to be a university community and the general population move away? Or can we all find a way to get along?”

But Sweeney said that the Sather property is the ideal place to build a student housing complex. In other communities where his company does business, he said, it’s unheard of to find 33 acres of vacant land zoned for apartments within a mile of a university campus.

And even though rental markets are notoriously tight in college towns, few come close to Corvallis’ vacancy rate, which is hovering around 1 percent.

“I hope the residents of Corvallis recognize there’s a need for student housing here,” he said.

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

Copyright 2015 Corvallis Gazette Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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