FREMONT -- Ohlone College hopes to turn one of its assets -- surplus land in a historic area -- into a steady cash stream, leasing part of its sprawling campus to developers.

While some in the college's historic Mission San Jose district worry the proposal might harm the neighborhood's pastoral beauty, college leaders say preserving the area's charm is one of their top goals.

"The board wants to leverage our surplus property to generate some income" for educational programs, "while also maintaining the feel of Mission Boulevard," said Ron Little, Ohlone's vice president of administrative services.

Called the Mission Boulevard Mixed-Use Project, the proposal would put 250 apartments in five buildings on 15 acres and could grant control of that land to developer Clark Realty Capital for 90 years. If approved, the three-story apartment buildings will mix with about 20,500 square feet of retail on the western edge of the 534-acre campus.

None of the apartments is intended for student housing. Rather, the college's main goal is to use the land to deliver a steady stream of revenue, as Santa Clara's Mission College has done by adding retail to its campus, said Ohlone College official Patrice Birkedahl.


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Ohlone leaders have been in talks with Clark Realty Capital for the project, Little said. Final project bids are due April 9, and Ohlone College's Board of Trustees could approve one as soon as next month. Financial terms call for the developer to pay the college $1 million once it obtains all approvals from city planners, Little said. After that, annual lease payments for the land would be about $600,000.

The state's recent fiscal crisis led many public colleges and school districts to seek alternative funding sources, Birkedahl said.

"It's not a bad thing for colleges to bring in a steady source of income, so they're not so reliant on the state," Birkedahl said. "(Using this) frontage property has been on the college's mind for a very long time."

Despite its hoped-for benefits, the plan has detractors.

"I believe the college will need that land in the future, and (Ohlone officials) will regret leasing it," said John Weed, a former Ohlone board member.

The college was built a short walk from the historic Mission San Jose church and its sprawling grounds, which lends to the neighborhood's pleasant, small-town feel.

In addition to concerns about aesthetics, residents in the proposed three-story buildings could clog the campus's roadways for students and nearby residents on Mission Boulevard, added Weed, who owns property in the neighborhood.

Little says he doesn't anticipate that being a problem, as Fremont's planning for the project will involve a comprehensive traffic study.

"The city's processes should address those concerns," Little said. "The vision is one of creating a vibrant, active village center ... that has that balance between minimal retail space and the Mission San Jose feel."

Ohlone's Fremont campus opened in 1967 on Washington Boulevard and moved into its current site in 1974. Its Newark campus opened in 2008. The college has 16,500 students and about 650 employees, including more than 500 faculty members, Little said.

Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.