Campus officials, students meet to discuss development of university-owned Albany land

Rachael Garner/Staff

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Students met with campus officials Friday to discuss development plans for the university-owned agricultural land in Albany.

Chancellor Nicholas Dirks agreed to meet with members of Students for Engaged and Active Learning, or SEAL, and ASUC Senator Haley Broder in October after a group occupied the Architects and Engineers building to protest the proposed construction of a Sprouts Market and senior citizen housing on the property.

The students from SEAL, the coalition spearheading the effort to stop development on the vacant lot, presented arguments against the development of the Gill Tract, offering alternative suggestions for how the land should be used. After leaving the meeting, SEAL member Zachary Raden said Dirks promised to give the issue a lot of thought. According to Raden, however, Dirks said he was “unlikely” to change his current stance on the issue.

The university-owned land, which some call the Gill Tract, is divided into three parts — a plot devoted to campus agricultural research, a community farming project and a third section that has been slated for development for 20 years.

“The Gill Tract offers us a very important opportunity,” said Camille Fassett, a freshman involved in SEAL. “It used to operate as an agricultural control. It affects all of us students who are really interested in urban agriculture.”

Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said the project would generate about a million dollars annually for the campus, some of which will go to “the very same program that many of (the SEAL) students are involved in.” The revenue will also be devoted to underwriting and subsidizing low-income housing for students.

Community members also joined students waiting outside the meeting. Susan Park from Phat Beets Produce in Oakland said the land provides an invaluable opportunity to expand local farming.

“We have a shortage of land in which we can (farm) on the East Bay because it’s so urban,” she said to the crowd Friday. “But we have this huge swath of land in Albany with top-quality soil, it makes no sense to pave over it to build a supermarket that’s just going to be selling produce shipped in from elsewhere.”

SEAL started a petition asking the UC regents to halt current development plans in favor of a collaborative process with students and community. Mogulof, however, said the campus has already been working with students and the community for more than a decade.

“(Dirks) is trying to reconcile the fact that these students are requesting an inclusive planning process,” Mogulof said. “But that’s exactly what the university concluded one year ago.”

The chancellor has promised to give an official answer to the proposal by the last day of the fall semester.

Contact Arielle Swedback at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @aswedback.