Saturday, December 19, 2009

Times Union FOIL request on Harriman plan rejected

First published in print: Saturday, December 19, 2009

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ALBANY -- Empire State Development has rejected a Times Union Freedom of Information Law request to see a development plan for Harriman State Office Campus.

ESD last month announced that Columbia Development, an Albany firm, had won the role of preferred developer at the campus where the state plans a wave of construction. ESD, though, would not release Columbia's development proposal, prompting the Dec. 1 FOIL request.

ESD rebuffed that request in a Dec. 8 letter, saying that releasing the Columbia proposal would impair ongoing contract negotiations with the firm.

-- Chris Churchill

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Harriman campus gets offer for redevelopment - Some concerned no plans have been released yet

By Bob Bennett

The eastern section of the Harriman Office Campus houses state Taxation and Finance, pictured, and other state offices. Columbia Development Companies is currently in negotiations for the right to redevelop the campus. So far, plans have not been released and several local and state leaders do not know how many, if any, private businesses will be located on the campus.
Photo by Bob Bennett.

December 14, 2009

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Columbia Development Companies has entered into negotiations for the right to redevelop the W. A. Harriman State Office Campus. But the company has not yet unveiled specific plans for the office park, which concerns some nearby residents and their City Council members.

The state-owned, 330-acre office campus is situated to the east side of the University at Albany and now houses state agency buildings, including one that houses the New York State Police headquarters. And although the property currently benefits from tax-exempt status, an influx of new development could generate a lot of tax revenue for the state, but several city residents still have expressed concern because they have yet to learn the details of Columbia's plan.

"To this day I've not seen the plan that Columbia has developed," said Albany City Councilman Mike O'Brien, who represents a district that includes part of the Harriman campus. "My hunch is that the plan is rather abstract," he said. "I suspect it's not super specific."

A directory of the office campus’s 330-acre layout, which houses several state office buildings and about 7,300 state employees. Those on the Harriman development board say state workers will not be moved under redevelopment plans. Photo by Bob Bennett.

Albany City Councilman Dan Herring said he has also not seen the plan, but he too has some concerns because the campus "butts up to" many people's homes, and because those people don't know what's going to be built there.

"People are just concerned because they want to know if it's going to be compatible with their neighborhood," Herring said. "One reason we want some more details is to address their concerns, but the city is very pleased that it is being developed."

Both councilmen said part of their constituents' apprehensions stem from a proposal from the University at Albany, which approached the Harriman board about building dorms near those people's homes.

Assemblyman Jack McEneny, D-Albany, said, "I have always had a problem with the way Harriman was done."

He said he has always thought the office campus should fall under UAlbany's control as a way to help facilitate its technology school.

He also said the state needs the tax base the campus could potentially generate, so he hopes the land will be leased to those in the private sector.

Peter Wohl, the president of the board of the Harriman Research and Technology Development Corp., a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corp., confirmed that UAlbany has approached the board about building dorms on the Harriman campus. However, he said the university was simply expressing its interest, which will be taken into consideration.

"There's a possibility that could happen," Wohl said, "but it was much more of an FYI."

He also said that nanotechnology, which has been a part of the master plan for redevelopment since 2006, is a first priority, and the board would very much like to build upon the research at UAlbany.

Wohl said the board is in pursuit of some research and development companies but that no one yet knows which companies could occupy the land.

Those companies are "sort of the ideal tenants," Wohl said.

The plan the board envisions would also include some residential housing, but research and development are the priority, Wohl said. The board is currently trying to get input from all of the stakeholders in the project, including the state and local governments.

"Let me express my understanding in the public's interest in the plan," Wohl said. "This plan very much envisions the community."

Wohl also said the project would generate some much-needed tax revenue for the city as well as the state. The plan envisions transferring ownership from the state of New York to private companies. During the initial phase of the plan, the Harriman development team would market parcels to interested parties, incrementally and in sub-sections, but the state would reclaim those parcels in a year's time if those businesses failed to draw revenue for the state.

"Obviously the state is feeling the pinch right now," Wohl said of New York's dwindling tax base.

Wohl also said approximately half of Harriman's 330 acres would be used — the other half is mostly occupied by state agencies.

The board also still envisions using the existing buildings, as former Gov. Eliot Spitzer's administration had previously proposed, and keeping all 7,300 state employees in place, Wohl said.

Tom Comonzo, the vice president of the public employees federation, said he's anxious to see the plan because there have been many proposals over the years that called for moving state employees. He also said the currents set-up is self contained and includes parking, so he would prefer to keep the employees there as long as possible.

Spitzer's plan for the office campus came after a 1998 proposal by the Office of General Services, which called for selling the land and moving all state employees to downtown Albany. Spitzer's plan also came after a 2003 plan Gov. George E. Pataki backed to demolish the buildings and start construction of a new office and technology park from the ground up.

"Overall, [the plan] is a step in the right direction," said Mike Yevoli, the director of Planning and Development for the city of Albany. It takes nontaxable property and creates potential for new tax revenue from private businesses and new opportunities for residents … not only for jobs. It's ripe for development, as opposed to picking a green field somewhere else."

Yevoli said the plan calls for a more community-friendly layout, which could include housing, but he is unsure exactly what that layout will look like.

Other than housing and research and development facilities, the campus would also include commercial retail businesses and office space, Yezoli said.

But it's still unclear exactly what businesses will be built on the land because of the ongoing negotiations with Columbia.

Eight calls to the development company were not returned.

Bob VanAmburgh, the executive assistant to Albany Mayor Gerald Jennings, who is on the board, said the mayor has long been committed to finding someone to develop the land there.

"It's the last major track of contiguous land in the city, obviously he's concerned with development within the area," VanAmburgh said, referring to the mayor.

He said he has not seen Columbia's plan for re-development so he would not comment on what businesses might be located there in the future, though he did say nanotechnology could be a consideration, which both governors have proposed.

He also could not say whether the existing buildings will be re-used.

The park is currently occupied by the state police academy, a state police forensics lab and several other state agency buildings.

Wohl said it could still be a couple of months before any final decisions are made. But he added that he understands the public's impatience at this point — talk of the project has been going on for about 10 years now.

But Wohl added, "We're actually trying to get something done."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement has been posted!

The UAlbany Capital Construction Plan Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement has been posted, and is available from  As noted previously, we are at a fork in the road!  The DGEIS does describe the fork as follows:

Notwithstanding the planning and concept work to date and the likelihood of the southeast corner site as the location for the housing, at the time of publishing this DGEIS, the University is pursuing an alternate concept to fully locate this housing project on the adjacent State-owned Harriman Campus.

The Harriman Campus location in mind is approximately 11 acres, inclusive of the 3.3 acres mentioned above, and is directly adjacent to University property, due north of the southeast corner site. Specifically, on November 30, 2009, the University asked the Board of Directors of the HRTDC to consider this project for the Harriman Campus site. HRTDC, in conjunction with the NYSOGS, is the entity responsible for planning and development of the adjacent campus. To date, HRTDC and the State of New York have earmarked the Harriman Campus for private development with no land specifically identified for University at Albany projects. The outcome of this request is not yet known, but should this site be approved by the HRTDC and NYSOGS, the University may amend its housing construction plans, necessitating an amended environmental review, as appropriate, to address environmental issues and impacts specific to said new site.

For the purposes of this DGEIS document, however, the site selection for this housing project is deemed to be the southeast corner of the UAlbany campus, and the design concepts for that site that have been developed, described above, and publicly shared to date will be discussed and analyzed herein for environmental impact.
Please read these documents and let us know what you think!

A Fork in the Road

UAlbany published its legal notice stating that its Draft Environmental Impact Statement is ready, setting a comment period through January 22, 2010, and a public hearing on January 14, 2010.  The notice appears below.

At this moment, UAlbany has only two potential sites for student housing - the Southeast  Corner of the Uptown Campus or on the Harriman Campus.  While they are pursuing the Harriman Campus option, that option requires approval by the Harriman Research and Technology Development Corporation Board of Directors.  That meeting is scheduled for January 11, 2010.  Until the Board acts favorably on the proposal, UAlbany will be building on the original site.

The Impact Statement isn't available yet.  When it does appear, please read it very carefully, and raise any concerns that you may have by sending your comments to UAlbany, and showing up at the public meeting.

Stay in touch!

Draft Environmental Impact Statement of UAlbany Capital Construction Plan

State Environmental Quality Review
Notice of Completion of Draft
Notice of SEQR Hearing

Date:               December 9, 2009

Lead Agency: University at Albany, SUNY

Address:         1400 Washington Avenue Albany, NY 12222

This notice is issued pursuant to Part 617 of the implementing regulations pertaining to Article 8 (State Environmental Quality Review Act) of the Environmental Conservation Law,

A Draft Generic Environmental impact Statement (DGEIS) has been completed and accepted for the proposed action described below. Comments are requested and will be accepted by the contact person until January 22, 2010. A public hearing on the DGEIS will be held January 14, 2010 at the Hall of Fame Room, SEFCU Arena, University at Albany, SUNY campus at 7p.m. Copies of the DGEIS are available on the University at Albany, SUNY web site at: and at hard copy repositories located at the University at Albany, SUNY Facilities Management Office and the Main Library on the Uptown Campus,the Guilderland Public Library, and the Hawley Library on the Downtown Campus.

Name of Action: University at Albany, SUNY Capital Project Plan

Description of Action:

As part of the continuing evolution of University at Albany, SUNY Uptown Campus, a Capital Project Plan has been developed that involves a holistic perspective and encompasses the foreseeable capital needs of the Uptown campus over a five year planning horizon. The following list provides a summary of the projects that constitute this Capital Project Plan.

1. Student Housing Project: Construction of new student housing facilities with approximately 500 apartment-style beds
2. Campus Center Master Plan: Construction of student activity, and surge space of approximately 50,000 sq ft under roof
3. Construct New Business School Building: Construct new 90,000 sq ft academic facility
4. Relocate Data Center: Relocate campus Data Center to another site on campus
5. Implement Various Athletics Improvements: Phase series of improvements to athletics facilities
6. Purple Path Continuation: Construction of the Purple Path to encircle and incorporate pedestrian and bicycle paths around the perimeter of the Uptown Campus
7. Northern Landscape Improvement Project: Perform activities consistent with Landscape Master Plan
8. State Quad Parking Lot Expansion: Add approximately 250 spaces to west side of State Quad parking Lot
9. Multi-Discipline Science Surge Building: Construction of academic building of approximately 150,000 sq ft to facilitate Podium renovations
10. Service Building Renovation: Add approximately 24,325 sq ft addition for vehicle, operations, small engine and metal shops
11. Entry Improvements: Improve entrance aesthetics and safety at Washington and Western Avenues
12. Bus Rapid Transit: Based on recommendations in the Harriman - University at Albany, SUNY Linkage Study, locate Bus Rapid Transit stations on campus
13. Bicycle-Pedestrian Path: Develop a network of paths, improving connections between each quad, the Podium, and the Purple Path

Location: University at Albany, SUNY Uptown Campus
                 1400 Washington Avenue
                 Albany, NY 12222

Potential Environmental Impacts:

Potential unavoidable adverse environmental impacts may result as a consequence of the Capital Project Plan.

Construction Phase: Potential unavoidable adverse environmental impacts as a result of construction phase activities associated with the Capital Project Plan include:

• short-term disruption and exposure of soils as a result of excavation, grading; and restoration activities
• increased potential for sedimentation and erosion as a result of disruption and exposure of soils
• consumption of petroleum hydrocarbon fuels during construction phase activities and the subsequent release of air pollutants and GHGs, including carbon monoxide, particulate matter, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide
• potential short-term and localized increases in dust and vehicle/equipment emissions to construction activities
• temporary construction-related noise, truck traffic and other campus disruptions.

The potential unavoidable adverse environmental impacts identified above will be term in nature and limited in scope. Following the completion of construction-related activities, restoration and mitigation measures will be implemented.

Operational Phase: Potential unavoidable adverse environmental impacts as a result of operational phase activities associated with the Capital Project Plan include:

• commitment of previously undeveloped land on the University at Albany, SUNY Uptown Campus for implementation of components of the Capital Project Plan

• modification or loss of existing terrestrial and forested habitats, vegetative cover, and landscaped open space as a result of implementation of the Capital Project Plan
• displacement of wildlife associated with existing habitats
• potential for increased surface runoff as a result an increase in impervious surfaces
• consumption of petroleum hydrocarbon fuels and the subsequent release of air pollutants and GHGs, including carbon monoxide, particulate matter, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide
• noise and lighting impacts to surrounding residential neighborhoods resulting from the development of one or more of these projects in proximity on the Uptown Campus, such as the Student Housing Project (Project No. 1)
• localized and short-term increase in traffic levels along roadways in the vicinity of the Uptown Campus during normal campus activities and during periodic, recurring events, such as sporting events at the multi-use stadium.

The potential unavoidable adverse environmental impacts identified above are not anticipates to be significant. Appropriately designed and implemented mitigation measures will minimize potentially unavoidable adverse environmental impacts associated with the implementation of the Capital Project Plan.

Contact Person: Errol Millington, Director
Address: Office of Campus Planning
University at Albany, SUNY
1400 Washington Avenue, Service Building A
Albany, NY 12222

A copy of this notice must be sent to:

Department of Environmental Conservation, Albany, NY 12233-1750
Chief Executive Officer, Town/City/Village of: Mayor of Albany
Any person who has requested a copy of the Draft/Final DGEIS
Any other involved agency
Environmental Notice Bulletin, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-1750

Copies of the DGEIS must be distributed according to 6 NYCRR 617.12(b).

Monday, December 7, 2009

WAMC: Progress on 2 Albany Projects (2009-12-07)

Here is an article and audio on the downtown Convention Center and Harriman Campus developments -

WAMC: Progress on 2 Albany Projects (2009-12-07)

Peter Wohl is interviewed, and committed to follow the 2006 master plan found here.

Time to share Harriman plan

First published in print: Monday, December 7, 2009

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So here's the Harriman office campus, 330 acres of the best, and perhaps last, developable parcels of land in Albany, ready for a very belated transformation. Soon enough, that dreary 1960s creation of some of the most bland and impersonal state office buildings imaginable could be ... well, what exactly?

We don't know, despite repeated efforts to find out.

Neither do the neighbors.

That's more than enough to cast dreary, potentially ominous, shadows over what should be encouraging news that a developer ­ -- a politically well-connected one as it happens -- has been chosen.

Could there be a more reasonable question than what Joe Cunniff, president of the neighborhood association along the adjacent stretch of upper Washington Avenue, is asking?

"I'd like to know if they're going to build a 300-bed hotel," he says. "Is a dorm included in all this? What exactly is in the package that was proposed?"

Something's wrong when the public can see the rejected plan for $2 billion worth of retail, office and residential construction submitted by Howard Carr of the Howard Group, but not the one proposed by the Columbia Development Cos. that's been approved by the state.

"They have a well-assembled team, and it looks to us like they can do a good job," John Egan, commissioner of the state Office of General Services and a Harriman board member, says of Columbia.

Perhaps they can. Work done by Columbia, along with its affiliated BBL Construction Cos., is everywhere in Albany.

Yet Empire State Development says ongoing negotiations with Columbia preclude the release of any details about what it's about to do with the Harriman site.

It's an unconvincing argument. The direction and quality of life in Albany is on the line. The accountability of the state government entity that makes those decisions is at issue, too. Failure to level with people about what's about to happen in their own neighborhood can only breed cynicism.

One crucial detail yet to emerge about what we can only presume will be a combination of housing, stores, a hotel and maybe a University at Albany dormitory is what will become of the road that surrounds the Harriman campus, cutting it off from the adjoining neighborhoods. That's really where the failure to use that land wisely begins.

Mr. Carr calls the road the moat that makes the campus an island of sorts. Mayor Jerry Jennings has argued as well, rightfully and forcefully, that the road must go -- in large part so more of those 330 acres could be developed and generate property taxes. A 2006 state master plan called for its removal, too. It's not overstating things to say that a plan that keeps even part of the road is compromised from the start.

It's enough to wonder. Does the fate of that road have anything to do with the secrecy surrounding the development plan?

It's time citizens of Albany saw what the insiders have in store for them.

The issue:

A developer is chosen for a huge project in Albany.

The stakes:

Why can't the public know the essential details?

To comment:

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A lesson in what not to do

First published in print: Sunday, December 6, 2009

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In one University at Albany classroom, the method used to redevelop Harriman State Office Campus has become a lesson in what not to do.

Harriman, for the unfamiliar, is a state-owned campus that officials want to transform through private development. The state has selected a development plan, but has refused to release it.

"The process certainly doesn't inspire confidence and trust," said Gene Bunnell, a UAlbany planning professor. "It's an odd way they're going about it."

Bunnell said that in a recent class, he unfavorably compared the state's method at Harriman to the very public process used to redevelop the old Stapleton Airport in Denver into a successful new neighborhood.

Officials here did use public input to craft a 2006 Harriman campus plan, but that blueprint seems to have been abandoned.

"I don't know why they scrapped that," Bunnell said.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Alexander is open for business

Chris Churchill at the Times Union has a blog entry describing the new Alexander apartments, which are located on the north side of the Harriman Campus. It's worth looking at to see the type of development that might occur on the campus itself.

Direct Link

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Reactions by Neighbors

I would submit that a substantial portion of the 11 acres (aka Parcel A) is nearly as close to the termini of Tudor, Clarendon and western Cambridge roads as the previously proposed "southeastern" site is to the properties along western Tudor. It is a minimal shift, in my view. I am no more comfortable with these 11 acres than the earlier southeastern/Tudor Road site. Again, convenience and expediency appears to be prevailing over the concerns of proximate neighbors. I remain unimpressed with the state's efforts to site these dorms in a location that does not intrude seriously on the neighborhood.

Leslie Knauf
34 Clarendon Road

I am sending this to some of my neighbors. I hope you hear from them.

As for my response---to transfer about 11 acres near the State Police headquarters and the sculpture building from the Harriman campus to the University campus for the construction of a 500 bed university dormitory seems nearly perfect to me. The University at Albany needs more dorm space and the Harriman campus--presently under used--is a fine place for a university dorm.

As for the development plan and the selection of a general developer, I know nothing about the plan except its general outline--office buildings, some apartments/housing with a very small number of retail stores. I know even less about the general developer. I wish it well. But to find a private use for the Harirman campus where several of the buildings will continue to be occupied by State offices (State police,Labor,Tax and Finance) for many more years seems like trying to find a reuse for a Cathederal--tough but not impossible.

The University is a great university and a resource for the region--to promote its further development is good for the city and the region. I look forward to the University using much more of the Harriman campus.

A disclaimer: As a former faculty member (Professor Emeritus, Department of Economics) at the University this opinion may contain more than a little bit of self interest.

Don Reeb

As a resident of Albany I am very interested in the development of the Harriman Campus. We have a unique opportunity to create a new neighborhood within the City of Albany.

In the past development in Albany has been plague with no vision, buildings go up helter-skelter with no rhyme or reason. No thought was given to future use of the riverfront when 787 was built or when Washington Avenue Extension was being developed.

Now it also appears that there is no master plan on the north side Washington Ave across from the Campus. Again the buildings seem to be going up wherever each developer wants them to go. No cohesiveness, no connection, not even visual pleasing. Case in point the Alexander; luxury high-rise apartments over looking…wait satellite dishes, Washington Avenue, I90, or office buildings. In a few years when they cannot fully occupy the building don't be surprised when it becomes Section 8 Housing.

We need to bring people back to the City, people who will be part of the community, people who will have a vested interest in Albany. Baby Boomers are looking to downsize to smaller homes, maybe town homes or condo units. We are losing them to the suburbs. A public park would be nice for the residents of that part of Albany. Dorms and maybe a second high school might serve the City better.

What we don't need is any more office buildings, all that brings is people who work here from 9 to 5 and leave the City, taking their earnings and spending elsewhere, while using the services that the City provides for free; fire and safety. Again at the expense of the property owners of Albany.

There is plenty of property in the Capital District for commercial use but this is a one shot deal that can bring more people to live within the City of Albany - let's not make this another wasted opportunity.

Sofeya (Pia) Lascaris
Democratic Committee Person
13th Ward

Plan OK'd, kept quiet

State grants Harriman development rights, won't release details


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First published: Wednesday, December 2, 2009

ALBANY -- The state and a private developer are proceeding with a plan for the large-scale redevelopment of Harriman State Office Campus -- but few people have seen it.

A state panel on Monday granted the right to redevelop Harriman to Columbia Development Cos. based on a proposal submitted last year by the Albany business.

But Empire State Development, the state's economic development arm, refused to release the development plan Monday -- and did so again Tuesday, citing ongoing negotiations.

That leaves some neighbors of the campus -- a 330-acre parcel near the University at Albany -- wondering just what is coming.

"Whatever was in that proposal should be public knowledge," said Joe Cunniff, president of Upper Washington Avenue Neighborhood Association, a piece of which borders the sprawling campus. "I'd like to know if they're going to build a 300-bed hotel. Is a dorm included in all this? What exactly is in the package that was proposed?"

The board of Harriman Research and Technology Development Corp. on Monday chose the Columbia plan over a proposal submitted by a rival developer. That developer, Howard Carr of The Howard Group, then released his plan, saying both proposals should be subjected to public scrutiny.

Carr repeated that assertion on Tuesday: "The public is never going to have a chance to give its input on this thing," he said. "I think the public is entitled to speak."

In February, the Times Union submitted a Freedom of Information Law request for access to the Columbia and Howard Group proposals. ESD denied that request because the process is active.

The Times Union submitted a second FOIL request Tuesday. The newspaper is waiting for an official response, although an ESD spokeswoman said the Columbia proposal will not be released until negotiations with the company are complete.

"We look forward to releasing the development plan when a specific agreement has been reached and has been approved by the Board," Jola Szubielski said in an e-mail.

In prior years, the public has weighed in on Harriman. The state held a series of public meetings, building consensus and gathering information used to compile a 2006 master plan for the campus.

That plan eliminated the wide road that rings the campus, emphasizing new connections to surrounding neighborhoods. It also called for moving state office workers from the campus, demolishing existing buildings, and building 3.6 million square feet of office, retail, hotel and residential space.

That plan, though, was largely abandoned by the administration of Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

In fact, the request for proposals, or RFP, issued last year made no mention of the master plan. And it put the center of the campus, home to 7,500 employees, largely off limits to development -- scrapping the plan to move workers or knock down buildings.

In reality, the state is bolstering its presence there, saying last year that it would build a $40 million laboratory for the Department of Agriculture and Markets on the campus.

It is now no longer clear that ring road would be eliminated, which could make it harder to connect to nearby neighborhoods or the University at Albany campus.

"The ring road is 1950s design, and it's exclusive in its nature," Carr said. "Harriman is an island and the ring road is a moat."

On Monday, Mayor Jerry Jennings, a member of the board, repeatedly made clear he wants the ring road gone entirely, in no small part because it would free up more acres for development that could go on the city's tax rolls.

Recently, residents around the campus have been battling their other massive neighbor, the University at Albany, and its attempt to build a new dorm on UAlbany's southeastern corner near Tudor Road.

Ironically, those same residents have pointed to the sense of inclusion they initially felt in the Harriman master plan to highlight what they believe was the university's failure to include their input on the dorm.

UAlbany's plan for the 500-bed, apartment-style dorms are inextricably linked to the future of the Harriman campus because the university has already moved to take 3.3 acres of Harriman land to accommodate the new student housing.

On Monday -- the same day that the board backed Columbia's proposal -- university officials briefed the board on a new plan that would require the transfer of roughly seven more acres of the state office campus, worth an estimated $3 million, to UAlbany in order to move the dorm farther north and pacify neighbors.

That proposal, which university President George Philip stressed is only preliminary, would require the southwest corner of Harriman's ring road to be moved.

Neighbors of both campuses have unequivocally said they would rather see UAlbany expand into Harriman than any closer to their homes. But some city officials are anxiously watching the university's expansion and fretting it will gradually eat up land that Albany deserves.

Councilman Michael O'Brien, who represents the 12th Ward north of the state office campus, expressed concern when the state seemed to abandon the master plan it so painstakingly crafted. O'Brien has not been privy to the Columbia plan and said he's eager to know just what the company wants to build.

"I'm happy in the sense that it looks like something is going to happen," O'Brien said. "My big concern is always the best use of the land for the city of Albany."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Rejected developer slams Harriman board

Tuesday, December 1, 2009, 12:01pm EST
The Business Review (Albany) - by Michael DeMasi and Adam Sichko

Direct Link

The leader of a real estate development company that lost the competition to develop the state’s massive Harriman office campus in Albany, N.Y., claims political influence won out over the best plan.

Howard Carr, president of The Howard Group, said the relationship between Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings and the winning developer, Columbia Development Cos., played a part in the decision by the board of the Harriman Research and Technology Development Corp.

“If...Columbia and BBL are always going to get the projects in the city then tell us all so we don’t waste our time and effort,” Carr said.

Columbia and BBL are affiliated companies in Albany that have tackled several large-scale projects in the city, including redeveloping historic Wellington Row downtown and the run-down Park South neighborhood. The companies also built the Patroon Creek office park across from the Harriman campus.

Calls to Jennings and several other board members were not immediately returned. Joe Nicolla, president of Columbia Development Cos., also couldn’t be reached for comment.

Carr’s accusations are unusual for Albany, where private sector developers typically shy away from publicly criticizing local elected officials. Carr, however, said he wasn’t concerned about burning bridges.

“What are they going to do?” he said. “Not give me this job?”

His claims came after a closed-door session Nov. 30 in which Harriman’s nine board members, including Jennings, unanimously picked the team led by Columbia as the preferred developer for the 330-acre office campus. No reason was given for the selection.

Reached later for comment, Peter Wohl, president of the Harriman Research and Technology Development Corp., cited Columbia team member M+W Zander U.S. as one of the reasons its proposal was preferred.

M+W Zander is the general contractor for the $4.2 billion computer chip plant that GlobalFoundries Inc. is building in Malta, N.Y. M+W Zander also built most of the Albany NanoTech complex near the Harriman campus.

“Their experience in these large-scale technology and R&D projects ... obviously bode well for them,” Wohl said. “You can’t discount having a member like M+W Zander, which has connections in the technology and R&D fields worldwide and can market this worldwide, well beyond the capabilities of some traditional developers we’ve seen.”

The state is targeting 139 of the Harriman campus’ 330 acres for redevelopment. The remainder will continue to be used by state agencies that employ 7,300 people.

The competing redevelopment proposals have not been released to the public since they were first given to the Harriman board in September 2008.

Carr said he felt free to disclose his team’s plans now that Columbia has been picked, and hopes the public will pressure the Harriman board to reconsider.

“My attitude was the state kept this under lock and key,” Carr said. “They never brought in any outside players. We were prohibited from speaking with the university due to procurement issues, or to any other stakeholders.”

Carr said his team, which includes Turner Construction Co. in Albany and C.T. Male Associates in Latham, spent more than $250,000 on its proposal for the site. Calls to officials at Turner and C.T. Male weren’t immediately returned.

Their plan envisioned nearly 8 million square feet of new buildings over a 15-year period, including retail, offices, research and development space, recreational areas, a hotel, performing arts venue, student housing and residential homes.

Carr said the $2 billion-plus development would link the Harriman campus to the adjacent University at Albany and the high-tech workforce at Albany NanoTech.

He said the state would reap more than $150 million through the sale of land and profit-sharing over 15 years without having to spend any taxpayer money on the project.

The selection of Columbia as the preferred developer means the Harriman project is now farther along than ever before in the seven years since former Gov. George Pataki started the process.

Throughout this decade, the state has pursued an ambitious plan to renovate the campus to lure high-tech companies and build retail shops and residential units. The initiative stalled repeatedly amid changing state leadership, the recession, tight credit markets and the state’s problems with multi-billion-dollar deficits.

Negotiations with Columbia Development will begin immediately, Wohl said. Among items to be negotiated are how much the state will invest in the project, who will pay for necessary zoning changes and site evaluations—and how long Columbia Development will have to secure tenants before the state intervenes.

Other members of the Columbia team are BBL Construction Services LLC, of Albany; CHA, of Colonie; Toll Brothers Inc. (NYSE: TOL), the nation’s largest luxury home builder; and Ocean Hospitalities Inc., of New Hampshire, part of the firm that purchased The Sagamore resort in Bolton Landing last year.

Dorms on Harriman Conceptual Rendering

Here is an image from yesterday's ACT recording of the Harriman Board Meeting that shows the new dorms, parking lots, and realigned ring road.

Columbia Development wins Harriman project - The Business Review

Monday, November 30, 2009, 1:31pm EST | Modified: Monday, November 30, 2009, 3:30pm

The Business Review (Albany) - by Michael DeMasi and Adam Sichko

Direct Link

Columbia Development Cos., of Albany, N.Y., has been selected to redevelop the state’s massive Harriman office campus in Albany.

The nine-member board of directors of the W. Averell Harriman State Office Campus voted unanimously Monday to choose Columbia Development to lead efforts to overhaul almost half of the campus.

The project is now farther along than ever before in the seven years since former Gov. George Pataki started the process.

“We’re thrilled. We’re heading down a path we’d been hoping to head down for years,” said Peter Wohl, president of the Harriman Research and Technology Development Corp., which runs the campus.

Throughout this decade, the state has pursued an ambitious plan to renovate the campus to lure high-tech companies and build retail shops and residential units. The initiative stalled repeatedly amid changing state leadership, the recession, tight credit markets and the state’s problems with multi-billion-dollar deficits.

The state is targeting 139 of the Harriman campus’ 330 acres for redevelopment. The remainder will continue to be used by state agencies that employ 7,300 people.

The latest round of bids was submitted more than a year ago. Columbia Development is leading one of two teams that competed for the right to redevelop the Harriman campus.

Joseph Nicolla, president of Columbia Development, was unavailable for comment. No details of Columbia’s plan were revealed at the Harriman board meeting.

Negotiations with Columbia Development will begin immediately, Wohl said. Among items to be negotiated are how much the state will invest in the project, who will pay for necessary zoning changes and site evaluations—and how long Columbia Development will have to secure tenants before the state intervenes.

“The board is not interested in saying, ‘Here’s 10 years, see what you can do with it.’ They are saying, ‘What can you come up with in a year?’ ” Wohl said.

In its bid, Columbia partnered with two big area companies: BBL Construction Services LLC, of Albany, and CHA, of Colonie.

Also involved in Columbia’s winning bid was M+W Zander U.S. M+W Zander is also the general contractor for the $4.2 billion computer chip plant that GlobalFoundries Inc. is building in Malta, N.Y.

“Their experience in these large-scale technology and R&D projects ... obviously bode well for them,” Wohl said of Columbia’s bid. “You can’t discount having a member like M+W Zander, which has connections in the technology and R&D fields worldwide and can market this worldwide, well beyond the capabilities of some traditional developers we’ve seen.”

Toll Brothers Inc. (NYSE: TOL), the nation’s largest home builder, is involved in Columbia’s plans. So is Ocean Hospitalities Inc., of New Hampshire, part of the firm that purchased The Sagamore resort in Bolton Landing last year.

The other development team to submit a bid was led by The Howard Group, in Colonie.

Howard Carr, president of The Howard Group, attended Monday’s meeting but left when the board went behind closed doors to talk about the Harriman campus. After a 20-minute discussion, the board emerged and formally voted to select Columbia as the winning bidder.

In response, Carr said he was disappointed. He noted the project’s rocky past as he reacted to the vote.

The Harriman board solicited bids from developers once before, in 2006. A winning bidder was never named, and the project was rebid last year after months of delay.

“Just because they picked [Columbia] doesn’t mean they go with them,” Carr said of the Harriman board. “These guys have backtracked 16 times already.” | 518-640-6818

Two New Blog Entries at the Times Union

The Times Union has two new blob entries concerning yesterday's developments.

Harriman board to hear about UAlbany dorm today [update]

Columbia Development tapped as Harriman developer

Read both, and comment away!

Two Recordings of Harriman Meeting

The November 30, 2009 Board meeting was recorded by Albany Community Television (Thank you, Joe Cunniff and Elise Van Allen. You did a great job!) and by Empire State Development Corporation (click on the link for '2009/11/30 - HRTDC Directors Meeting').  Both recordings skip over the Executive Session when the Board selected Columbia Development as the preferred contractor.

On the ACT recording at 15:00 minutes into the meeting, Mayor Jennings expresses his thoughts concerning development on UAlbany's Southeast corner. You should see this for yourself!

Harriman choice criticized

Panel's vote for Columbia Development is politically motivated, rival says

CHRIS CHURCHILL, Business writer
First published: Tuesday,December 1, 2009

Direct Link

ALBANY -- An Albany firm closely tied to Mayor Jerry Jennings on Monday won the right to develop one of the city's most significant and potentially lucrative parcels of land -- leading a rival developer to charge that the decision was politically motivated. The board of the Harriman Research and Technology Development Corp., which includes Jennings as a member, chose Columbia Development to lead the transformation of the Harriman State Office Campus, a 330-acre parcel where the state has long wanted a dense new neighborhood of offices, stores and homes.

Those plans had seemed stalled -- until Monday's surprise vote.
"They (Columbia) have a well-assembled team, and it looks to us like they can do a good job," said John Egan, Office of General Services commissioner and one of nine Harriman board members.

Harriman officials and the Empire State Development Corp., the state's economic development agency, have refused to release Columbia's construction proposal or a rival plan by The Howard Group of Colonie.

They did so again Monday -- citing ongoing negotiations.

But Howard Carr, president of the The Howard Group, released his company's plan after learning of the board's decision. The proposal calls for $2 billion of retail, office and residential construction over a 15-year period.

Carr also noted that Columbia, which is affiliated with BBL Construction Cos., has built nearly every project of consequence in Albany in recent years, charging that "political considerations" and ties to Jennings help BBL win work.

"If Columbia and BBL are going to get every project in the city, just let us all know so we don't have to waste the effort," Carr said, estimating that his firm spent $250,000 developing its Harriman proposal.

Jennings and Joe Nicolla, president of Columbia Development, could not be reached for comment Monday.

A Times Union report in July explored the relationship between Jennings and BBL/Columbia, disclosing that BBL President Don Led Duke had hosted Jennings in his VIP suite at Giants Stadium and that Nicolla had hosted a lavish fundraiser for Jennings at his Guilderland home.

BBL/Columbia projects include the office park at Patroon Creek -- across from the Harriman campus -- and the tower at 677 Broadway. The firm is now building the Wellington Row development on State Street; redeveloping the Park South neighborhood; and has been chosen to play a major role in the construction of the Albany Convention Center.

Jennings, in prior interviews, has insisted that his relationship with BBL and Columbia does not help either company, an opinion echoed by Led Duke.
"What we do, we earn," Led Duke said in July.

On Monday, Carr asked that Harriman officials release the Columbia plan so the public could assess both proposals. Noting that both plans were submitted more than a year ago, he also said he was "completely taken by surprise" by the timing of Monday's decision.

Carr said he has contributed to past Jennings election campaigns, but not the most recent one.

The Harriman campus consists of state office buildings set amid parking lots and large lawns. The state built the campus in the 1960s, but it is now considered underused and an example of outdated urban planning theories.

In 1998, the Office of General Services, the agency that oversees the state's real estate, suggested selling the campus and moving its 7,000 workers downtown.

In 2003, Gov. George Pataki proposed a $300 million plan to move workers, raze most of the campus' buildings and transform the site into a new neighborhood.

Four years later, Gov. Eliot Spitzer scrapped that plan, insisting the development occur with state workers and existing buildings in place.

Harriman officials said current plans for development, along with the Columbia proposal, are in line with Spitzer's model, and residential and retail construction has been de-emphasized in favor of office and high-tech development.

"There are no plans right now for any demolition," said Peter Wohl, who heads the Harriman Corp.

The board vote awarding development rights to Harriman was unanimous and came after a brief executive session. Board members did not discuss the Columbia plan in public.

Egan and Peter Wohl both said the state and Columbia will enter into negotiations designed to hammer out design and construction specifics.

Staff writer Jordan Carleo-Evangelist contributed to this story.

Monday, November 30, 2009

UAlbany Presentation to Harriman Research & Technology Development Corporation

President George Philip and Assistant Vice President John Giarusso made a presentation to the Harriman Research & Technology Development Corporation (HRTDC) at its board meeting today to explain its proposal to locate student housing on the Harriman Campus, instead of in the Southeast Corner woods adjacent to the west side of Tudor Road.

Mr. Giarrusso noted that dormitory utilization on the Uptown Campus is very high, with students making use of lounges as dormitory room space.  UAlbany is also in the process of renovating all four student quads, and needs additional space to be used as these quads are renovated.

According to Mr. Giarrusso, any student housing would have to be within walking distance of the uptown campus, and be accessible to other UAlbany services, such as Security and Residential Life.

UAlbany is looking at two options for the new dormitories:

1) Use the Southeast Corner

As this option last stood, an earthen berm would be placed on top of the rise between UAlbany and the neighbors.

University Drive would be relocated parallel to the berm.  This move would place the buildings further away from the neighbors, and eliminate a street crossing for the students.  The 3.3 acres acquired from the Harriman Campus would be used to route the relocated University Drive.  There would be no connection with the Harriman Campus.

Parking for 350 vehicles would be placed west of the relocated University Drive, and two five story buildings would be placed west of the parking lots and east of Iroquois Lake.

As designed, UAlbany intended to hide the new buildings from view of the neighbors.

This option is currently on hold, due to neighborhood opposition.

2) Move the site north onto the Harriman Campus.

In this option, access and parking for the dorms would be located in the 3.3 acre triangle of land acquired from the Harriman.

The buildings would be located in the space between the current ring roads on the corner of the campus.  Again, the intent is to move the buildings away from the neighbors.

The ring roads would be reconfigured to run east of the proposed buildings.

With this option, a corner of the proposed parking lot will adjoin Tudor Road, rather than having development along the entire edge of the property.

Also, by being placed further north, it would be easier to reach the Patroon Creek for storm water drainage, rather than the Krumkill, if needed.

UAlbany believes the timeline for the project is urgent, and will look for HRDTC action at its January 11, 2010 meeting.  It will develop more detailed information for the Harriman in this time.  They would still use Dormitory Authority funding to build the project, including the ring road relocation.  They will also have to use competitive bidding for the construction of the buildings.

UAlbany's presentation and request were clear, direct, and well received by the Board members.  However, Mayor Jennings expressed his opinion that if the need for housing is urgent, that the original Southeast corner plan was fine.

If you have an opportunity to talk to the Mayor's office, you should ask about his apparent lack of support for the residents of Eagle Hill.

Some Questions and Answers about Harriman Development

Who was selected as the preferred developer on the Harriman Campus?

The Albany Heights Team, consisting of BBL Construction Services, BBL Development Group, Columbia Development Companies, Clough Harbour & Associates LLP, Woodward Connor Gillies Seleman Architects all of Albany; M+W Zander, Watervliet; Toll Brothers, Horsham, Pa.; and Ocean Hospitalities, Portsmouth, N.H.

What will be developed?

The Harriman Research and Technology Development Corporation is interested in:
  • Development of office/R&D facilities
  • Administrative offices for technology focused industries
  • Hotel/conference facilities
  • Residential development
  • Associated convenience retail

How will the Albany Heights Team acquire the land?

Land will be declared as “Unappropriated”, and transferred from OGS to ESDC and then to the Albany Heights Team by means of a Land Disposition and Development Agreement/Contract of Sale or a long term ground leases. The conveyance of land will be subject to protective covenants and restrictions to protect the interests of NYS, ESDC and HRTDC.

What parcels may be developed?

There are three areas that are available for development

Section A – 62.6 acres of vacant land on the western end of the campus, which includes both the campus inner and outer ring road. ‘H’ Parking Lot (913 spaces). Adjacent to State Police Campus, UAlbany Campus, Tudor Road, Clarendon Road and west side of Cambridge Road.

UAlbany is proposing the use of 11 acres out of Section A – The 3.3 acres proposed by Mayor Jennings, and an additional 7 or so acres.

Section E-2 – Buildings 1 and 1A and a contiguous 28.2 acres of land in the southeast corner of the campus, across from Brevator Street. “B’ (334 spaces) and ‘C’ Parking Lots (604 spaces).

Section D-1 – 49.9 acres of land and three existing buildings. Buildings ‘3’ Cafeteria – Credit Union, ‘4’ Transportation and ‘5’ Transportation Administration. ‘D’ Parking Lot (193 spaces), ‘J’ Parking Lot (112 spaces). Strip between Washington Avenue and Building ‘17’ Heating and Refrigeration Building.

Here is a map:

Columbia Development tapped for massive Harriman project

Last updated: 2:53 p.m., Monday, November 30, 2009

Direct Link

ALBANY -- A team led by Columbia Development Cos. has been chosen to redevelop the Harriman State Office Campus in Albany.

The surprise decision today by the board of the Harriman Research and Technology Development Corp. came more than a year after Columbia and rival development companies submitted proposals for the 330-acre campus near the University at Albany.

The state has long wanted to turn the campus, now home to state office buildings and workers, into a hotbed of private development. But those plans, first proposed in 2003, had seemed stalled -- until today.

Columbia Development is associated with BBL Construction Services, the prominent and politically connected construction firm.

For its Harriman plans, Columbia has partnered with some high-powered firms: Toll Brothers, the nation's largest home builder; M+W Zander, a German engineering company involved in building the Albany NanoTech complex and the GlobalFoundries plant in Malta; and Ocean Hospitalities, the New Hampshire company that last year purchased The Sagamore resort in Bolton Landing.

The Columbia plan beat out one by The Howard Cos. of Colonie, which proposed a redevelopment that would have included Choice Hotels, one of the world's largest hotel franchisers, and Street-Works LLC, a White Plains company that says it focuses on "the creation of mixed-use projects around great public places throughout the United States."

The Galesi Group of Rotterdam submitted a plan but withdrew it last September.

The Harriman board vote awarding development rights to Harriman was unanimous and came after a brief executive session. Board members did not discuss the Columbia plan or unveil what the proposal contains.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Meeting with UAlbany - Report on Consideration of Other Dorm Locations

Today, Ray Moran, Michael Weisberg and I met with UAlbany officials concerning options for the location of their proposed dormitory buildings.

UAlbany was represented by:

George Philip, President
Vincent Delio, Chief of Staff
Miriam Trementozzi, Assistant Vice-President Communications Engagements
John Giarrusso, Assistant Vice-President for Physical Facilities
Thomas Gebhardt, Director, Personal Safety and Off-Campus Affairs

UAlbany also met with city officials yesterday.

UAlbany is examining construction of student housing on the Harriman Campus. The Harriman Research and Technology Development Corporation (HRTDC) Board will be holding meetings on this subject as follows:

Monday, November 30, 2009 at 12:00 PM and
Monday, January 11, 2010 at 12:00 PM

30 South Pearl Street
Albany, New York

Use of Harriman Campus lands will require the approval of the HRDTC Board. We'll be following these meetings with great interest!

Also, on November 17, 2009 the SUNY Board of Trustees approved a resolution which will allow SUNY to discuss the acquisition of a 3.3 acre parcel located north of the Southeast Corner site, and to the side of the Harriman ring roads. UAlbany does appear to be actively pursuing a Harriman Campus site.

UAlbany also reviewed the previously identified State Quad and Dutch Quad sites for the new dorms, which were considered in last year's Feasibility Study, but again rejected them as unsuitable.

The State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) draft report is scheduled to be released December 2, 2009, but may be delayed by a week. The study will discuss development of the Southeast Corner, but will note that other sites are being considered, and that further environmental review may be required.

Ray, Michael and I are guardedly hopeful that the Harriman option will work for UAlbany and the Eagle Hill neighbors.

Please let us know any information that you may have about the proposed dorms!

Happy Thanksgiving!
Steve Sokal

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

SUNY moves on Harriman, Herring says, ‘whoa’

November 18, 2009 at 10:11 am by Jordan Carleo-Evangelist

From today’s paper: SUNY trustees yesterday approved the acquisition of 3.3 acres from the Harriman State Office Campus — potentially the site of a controversial new dorm.

Less than 24 hours earlier, 13th Ward Councilman Daniel Herring, who represents parts of the nearby Eagle Hill neighborhood, introduced this resolution calling for UAlbany not to build on the 12 wooded acres adjacent to Tudor Road.

Councilman Michael O’Brien also supports the measure, which was sent to the planning committee, which Herring chairs.

Herring said he believes there were enough votes to pass it but that he wanted to use the committee as a venue to engage UAlbany officials about their plans.

In response to neighborhood resistance, UAlbany said last month it would look at other options — but hasn’t yet said what those might be.

Eagle Hill residents have started this blog to fight the plan.

Click here to see the comments on the TU blog or to post your own.

SUNY moves on plan for land

Trustees OK acquisition of 3.3-acre tract from Harriman campus

First published in print: Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Direct Link

ALBANY -- The trustees of the state university system on Tuesday approved the acquisition of 3.3 acres from the Harriman State Office Campus, land that one day could help house as many as 500 students.

The vote came less than 24 hours after Councilman Daniel Herring, who represents residents near the University at Albany's uptown campus, introduced a resolution calling on the university not to build a controversial new dorm there.

SUNY's move to acquire the land from the Office of General Services, however, did little to clarify UAlbany's intentions for those in the city who have battled the development.

Last month, the university, responding to resistance from residents and elected officials, said it would consider alternatives to building the two five-story dorms on about 12 wooded acres of the campus' southeast corner near Tudor Road.

But the Harriman land transfer was first suggested as a way to soften opposition to that original proposal, leaving some to wonder how seriously UAlbany is considering other options.

On Monday, a UAlbany spokesman said the university plans to meet soon with residents and local officials to discuss alternatives, but the school has not discussed them publicly and continues to eye the southeast corner as a "viable" site.

The land transfer is significant because it also touches on the long-debated plans to redevelop the 330-acre state office campus into a private technology park that would put the land back on the city tax rolls.

While some view UAlbany's expansion into Harriman as preferable to encroaching on neighborhoods like Eagle Hill, others -- like Councilman Michael O'Brien, who also supports Herring's resolution -- fear a land-grab by the university will keep much of that prized land tax-exempt.

Still others suggest UAlbany should construct a dorm farther downtown.

The Harriman Research and Technology Development Corporation, the subsidiary of the state's economic development arm charged with ushering Harriman's public-private transition, met last month for the first time in over a year.

UAlbany is exempt from city zoning laws, and Herring's resolution would not be binding on the university.

Among other things, it cites concerns about traffic, flooding, sewer capacity and the fact that UAlbany already uses city fire and EMS services without paying taxes for them.

Herring is chairman of the Common Council's planning committee, which will review the measure. He said he hopes to use it as a venue to engage UAlbany officials about their plans, even if city lawmakers hold no official sway over them.

Jordan Carleo-Evangelist can be reached at 454-5445 or by e-mail at

Monday, November 16, 2009

SUNY trustees weigh Harriman land deal for dorm

Last updated: 3:17 p.m., Monday, November 16, 2009

Direct Link

ALBANY -- Even as the University at Albany has publicly tabled plans to build a new uptown dorm amid outcry from neighbors, the state university system is moving to secure land from the Harriman State Office Campus to accommodate the facility.

At a meeting Tuesday, the SUNY Board of Trustees will consider a resolution approving the transfer of 3.3 acres from the state Office of General Services, which controls the sprawling Harriman campus, to the state university system.

The parcel was first proposed as a way to lessen the impact of the proposed 500-bed apartment-style dorms on neighbors, who forcefully opposed construction on about 12 wooded acres on the uptown UAlbany campus' southeast corner, near Tudor Road.

Mayor Jerry Jennings proposed the transfer in September as a way to ease neighbors concerns, which include noise, traffic, sewer capacity and storm-water runoff from the site.

That was before UAlbany, confronted with solid opposition from residents and elected officials, agreed last month to consider other options.

UAlbany has still not said publicly what options it will consider. The university plans to meet privately with residents and local officials in the "near future" to discuss alternatives, said Karl Luntta, a school spokesman.

Luntta stressed, however, that UAlbany has not ruled out building in the southeast corner, which remains "viable as an option."

"The transfer of that land from the Harriman Campus to the university would be consistent with our original plan," Luntta said. David Henahan, a spokesman for the SUNY system, said the trustees finance committee gave the transfer a positive recommendation on Friday.

"It's just transfer of jurisdiction" from one state entity to another, Henahan said, noting and there would be no money exchanged.

Henahan said the resolution would permit Chancellor Nancy Zimpher to reach out to OGS to transfer the land.

The deal is significant not only because of the friction between the UAlbany and its neighbors about the dorm but also because it touches on the larger issue of the future of the state office campus, a 330-acre swath of tax-exempt land that the city covets as a way to generate revenue.

Plans backed by the state to redevelop the land as a private technology park, stalled for more than a year, have recently begun to show signs of life. In the meantime, the city has pushed for millions in state money as compensation in lieu of property taxes on the land.

While residents -- including Assemblyman Jack McEneny -- have encouraged UAlbany to expand into Harriman instead of toward their homes, some city officials fear that, contrary to the comprehensive redevelopment plans, the office campus will be carved up piecemeal and without focus.

The SUNY vote also comes as the statewide system experienced its largest enrollment increase ever this year, while UAlbany was one of a handful of schools whose enrollment declined. UAlbany saw a decrease of about 1 percent -- or about 186 students -- to 18,018.

Jordan Carleo-Evangelist can be reached at 454-5445 or by e-mail at

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Agenda Item for November 16, 2009 City Council Meeting

TO:         John Marsolais, City Clerk

FROM:   Daniel Herring and Michael O'Brien, Council Members

RE:         Request for Common Council Legislation
                Supporting Memorandum

DATE:   November 12, 2009



  To officially express the position of the Common Council





WHEREAS, the University at Albany has a large student population and many of the students come to the Unversity from outside of the Capital Region therefore requiring local student housing, and

WHEREAS, the University has a capital plan which calls for the building of a campus dorm to house five hundred students, and

WHEREAS, one of the primary locations proposed for this large student dorm is an approximately eleven acre plot of land located adjacent to Tudor Road in the City of Albany, and

WHEREAS, the City of Albany is impacted in many ways by the University, providing to it fire and safety services, EMS services, streets and traffic services, water and sewer services, and other necessary services.  Despite the impact and service provided, the University is largely autonomous. It does not pay real property taxes and is not requred to comply with local zoning and planning laws, and

WHEREAS, the resident neighbors of the University have expressed serious concerns regarding the impact of such large proposed student dorm on their neighborhood, and

WHEREAS, there are many genuine concerns over locating such a large facility at this site including the section of Western Avenue in proximity to the proposed site for this student dorm, has been the location of numerous accidents in recent years, including three fatalities, the development of this currently wooded approximately eleven acre area would cause additional storm water runoff into an area of Western Avenue which is already prone to flooding, the closest sanitary sewer line to the proposed site is only a twelve inch diameter pipe, the combined downstream storm water capacity is already inadequate to handle the current overflow, causing sewer back ups even in down stream areas remote from the University Campus, the existing conditions already necessitate a SPEDES permit for the overflow discharge of sanitary sewerage into the Krumkill Creek at the City of Albany's Woodville Pumping Station, and the additional sewer use from the project would potentially violate the consent order between the City of Albany and the Department of Environmental Conservation regarding combined sewer overflow levels, and

WHEREAS, the University has already been designated as its own lead agency in determining whether or not to conduct a full SEQRA environmental review regarding the proposed construction project, and

WHEREAS, the ideal of a University is to foster cooperation and understanding between academia and its host community, and

WHEREAS, the Common Council appreciates the recent efforts of the University to consider alternatives to this location and to take a closer look at the impacts of the proposal

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Common Council of the City of Albany calls upon the State University of New York at Albany, the University of the State of New York, the New York State Dormitory Authority, and all other involved governmental agencies, to refrain from building the proposed student dorm on the approximately eleven acre site adjacent to Tudor Road in the City of Albany, and to consider other sites which will have less negative impact on the City of Albany and its neighborhoods.

UAlbany Dormitory Project and City Council – Where are we now?

In the October 31, 2009 Times Union, we read that President George Philip was willing to reconsider the proposed dormitory project on the southeast corner of the campus, that UAlbany will be reaching out to elected and community leaders to explore viable options, and that the process will be slowed down. There has been nothing further to report on this front.

In order to give the City Council an opportunity to express its position on the proposed project, Councilman Dan Herring has placed a proposed resolution on the agenda for City Council's meeting on Monday, November 16, 2009 at 7:00 PM.

Based on the discussion at the Common Council Caucus on Friday night, Dan intends to introduce the resolution and ask that it be referred to the Planning Committee, which he chairs. After review, the committee will report back the resolution to the full Council for its vote.

(The discussion about the resolution was recorded by and occurs at 36 minutes through 40 minutes into the meeting).

It is important that this draft resolution move forward. As UAlbany looks at all of the options for providing student housing, we hope that City Council will be on record against the construction of dormitories next to our neighborhood. Please express your support for this resolution by contacting:

Daniel Herring – Councilman, 13th Ward
(, 438-7527)

Michael O'Brien – Councilman, 12th Ward
( 482-1160)

Sandra Fox, Councilman, 15th Ward
(, 438-8085 or 489-1675)

Frank Commisso Jr., Councilman Elect, 15th Ward
(, 429-8089)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Jennings elected to fifth term as mayor

Albany mayor defeats foes after withstanding primary challenge


Direct Link

First published: Wednesday, November 4, 2009

ALBANY -- If Mayor Jerry Jennings is to forge his legacy in the coming four years, he will do it surrounded by new faces in City Hall.
Jennings, 60, rolled to re-election Tuesday night, two months after having survived his most serious Democratic primary challenge from Councilman Corey Ellis, who continued in the general election on the Working Families Party line.

With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Jennings had 63 percent of the vote to Ellis' 29 percent and Republican Nathan Lebron's 7 percent.

Jennings won his fifth term as voters tapped two political newcomers and fellow Democrats to serve alongside him in citywide office: Kathy Sheehan as treasurer and Leif Engstrom as chief city auditor.

Sheehan will assume broad control of city finances after trouncing Treasurer Betty Barnette -- a Jennings ally -- in the Democratic primary, and Republican Mary Ann McGinn on Tuesday night.

Barnette, in her own estimation, became a victim of the controversy surrounding the revelations that some in the city were allowed to dodge parking fines -- the so-called "ghost ticket" scandal -- which despite Ellis' efforts never stuck to Jennings.

Engstrom -- who will shape the new office of audit and control charged with critiquing the efficiency of city government -- was all but assured of election, having won the Democratic primary and having no general election opponent.

Jennings' re-election comes as the Common Council is parsing his proposed 2010 budget, which administration officials describe as having walked a fine line to avoid layoffs in the nation and state's still-struggling economies.

Jennings' fiscal nimbleness will be tested as the state's payments in lieu of taxes on the South Mall are due to plummet some $7.8 million in 2011, even as Jennings contends the state should be paying more for its tax-exempt land inside city limits.

Jennings also has pledged to seek a similar PILOT payment for the Harriman State Office Campus, as well as to continue to lobby the state to release that prime land for private development that would put it back on the tax rolls.

The next four years will also figure largely in the future of the city's expanding Rapp Road landfill -- a fiscal and environmental flash point -- and the much-debated downtown convention center, of which Jennings has been a strong supporter.

Last week, Jennings convened a committee to help him pick his sixth police chief in his 16 years as mayor.

"We've had a lot of successes here, and there are challenges no doubt about it," Jennings told reporters.

With the current economy impacting municipal finances throughout the country, "we have to start getting real creative," Jennings said.

Asked how he would get along with Sheehan, he replied: "This has to be a team effort. I'm looking forward to it."

He later told supporters: "Shame on us if we don't work together for the benefit of the people of the city of Albany."

Jennings is poised to become the city's second-longest tenured mayor in its history, behind only Erastus Corning 2nd, who died in 1983 after 41 years in office.

Jennings defeated Ellis in September's the Democratic primary with 56 percent of the vote. But even in falling about 1,800 votes short on primary night, Ellis forced Jennings into the closest mayoral race since he first won in 1993, winning seven of the city's 15 wards as he assailed Jennings' record on blight and crime.

Ellis, 38, was elected to represent Arbor Hill's 3rd Ward in 2005. In January, he will leave public office.

Ellis' primary victories strayed beyond his home territory of the city's lower inner-city wards, spreading into Center Square and two midtown wards that make up Pine Hills.

Jennings spent more than $500,000 on his re-election, which according to a recent snapshot from the state Board of Elections accounted for 86 percent of all spending in the race.

Sheehan, backed by the some of the same forces that backed Ellis, said she plans to work "cooperatively and collaboratively" with Jennings.

Jennings, in an interview, also stressed a message of unity. "I've had discussions with Leif and Kathy, and I'm very confident that they want to do what's best for the people of the city of Albany," he said. These are no times for us to play petty politics and divide this city."

Councilwoman Carolyn McLaughlin was elected Common Council president.

McLaughlin, who for 12 years has represented the South End's 2nd Ward, handily won her Democratic primary over Leonard Ricchiuti in September.

McLaughlin, a veteran of Albany politics, has talked to Jennings about improving communication with the council -- a sore point with some members who complain Jennings' office does not share information.

"That's something he committed to next year," McLaughlin said. "It's really important we have direct communication with the mayor and the council works together to face some of the challenges."

Reach Carleo-Evangelist at 454-5445 or

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Get on our Blog Update List

Many of the neighbors in Eagle Hill currently exchange e-mails, and I use this list to send out blog update notices.

If you want to receive blog update notices, drop me a note at

GE, UAlbany share $14M in stimulus funding for geothermal

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Business Review (Albany)

Direct Link

GE Global Research and the University at Albany will share about $13.7 million in federal stimulus money for geothermal energy technologies.

UAlbany will get $2.77 million to install a large geothermal heat pump system that will serve campus facilities.

GE’s grants are:

•$2.4 million to develop high-temperature components for a pumping system that can access deeper geothermal wells •$3 million to develop new technologies that would enable recovery of geothermal energy from lower temperature heat sources using alternative fluids

•$3.4 million to develop a high-tech sensor that can operate at the high temperatures and pressures needed for enhanced geothermal systems. The technology could lead to more cost-effective ways to drill new wells.

$2.08 million to develop an enhanced geothermal system-specific cable capable of accurate, real-time temperature, pressure, strain and vibration sensing in high temperature geothermal environments.

The grants will be matched with a $353 million in private and non-federal cost-share funds.

The Department of Energy describes this project as "The University at Albany will install a large GHPsystem serving 200,000 sq. ft. of dorm and apartment housing, and will leverage additional incentives from the State of NY."

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Thanks all for your support

Your calls, letters, and petitions in support of our neighborhood produced results!

We had Councilmen Herring and O'Brien, County Legislator Commisso, Assemblyman Jack McEneny, a representative from Senator Breslin and Michael Yevoli of the Mayor's Office in attendance.

In addition, Jordan Carleo-Evangelist of the Times Union mentioned, before the announcement placing the project on hold, that the paper would publish a report of the meeting due to the high interest, as evidenced by your letters.

Thank you for all of your efforts!

Steve Sokal

Leter to Peter Wohl from Frank Commisso

Frank J. Commisso, Majority Leader
Albany County Legislature
130 Cottage Avenue
Albany, New York 122203

October 30, 2009

Peter Wohl, President
Harriman Research and Technology Development Corporation
7A Harriman Campus Road
Albany, NY 12206

Dear Mr. Wohl:

I represent the 12th Legislative District in the City of Albany also known as the Eagle Hill area and in particular those residing on Tudor, Clarendon, Cambridge and Oxford Roads.

In the past few months there have been meetings between UAlbany Officials and the residents of the Eagle Hill community concerning UAlbany's Dormitory Project. There has been a growing alarm among the residents about the site that UAlbany has chosen for this project, which is directly behind the houses on the west side of Tudor Road.

Numerous issues have been brought up by these residents such as: water runoff, noise pollution, visual impact and the additional traffic that these extra 500 students will have in the area. Notwithstanding the quality of life issues associated with a project of this magnitude.

Since the Harriman Campus is located directly adjacent to the UAlbany Campus many residents in attendance of the abovementioned meetings believe one of the solutions for this project may be to modify UAlbany's plan and to relocate this project to somewhere on the Harriman Campus.

At this point since this project is still in its conceptual stages, I feel that there needs to be a meeting scheduled between Harriman Research and Technology Development Corporation Team, Ualbany Officials and those in the City of Albany elected to represent these citizens. I believe that we can address the concerns of the residents of Eagle Hill, the current and future needs of Ualbany and come up with solutions that can benefit the City of Albany, Ualbany and the development of the Harriman Campus.

Given that time is of the essence please get back to me as soon as possible with possible dates for a meeting so we can work together to find solutions to rectify these issues. Thank you in advance for your cooperation in this matter.

Sincerely yours,
Frank J. Commisso
Majority Leader
Albany County Legislature

cc: Mayor Gerald Jennings, City of Albany
Senator Neil Breslin, 46th Senate District
Assemblyman Jack McEneny, 104th Assembly District
Commissioner John Egan, NYS OGS
Daniel Herring, Common Council Member 13th Ward
Michael O'Brien, Common Council Member 12th Ward

Why not tone down second guessing?

First published in print: Saturday, October 31, 2009

Direct Link

The Times Union's recent critique of the Harriman state office campus development plan "(With no vision, Harriman lags," editorial, Oct. 26) ignores its ill-conceived origin.

At the beginning, Gov. George Pataki wanted something for nothing. Faced with aging buildings that had not kept pace with electrical and communications demands of an increasingly computerized work force, Pataki sought to sell off the land -- to generate one-shot revenues, then wash his hands of responsibility for maintaining the existing structures and move all state workers to rented space.

Pataki also hoped to reduce the state's payment in lieu of taxes to Albany, once the Harriman land was returned to the tax rolls. Great minds like perennial commissioner John Egan have struggled to make Pataki's pipe dream work.

Now it seems that only the University at Albany covets this land, wanting to erect monstrosities that would loom over the sedate Eagle Hill neighborhood.

Kudos to the Times Union for writing about UAlbany's dorm plan, but it's time to tone down the second-guessing, especially at a time when there are no deep pockets – private or public – to make Pataki's delusion a reality.

Tim O'Toole

UAlbany puts dorms on hold

Site of $55M project gets review after uproar from neighbors, officials

First published in print: Saturday, October 31, 2009

Direct Link

ALBANY -- The University at Albany has agreed to re-examine alternate locations for a new 500-bed dorm proposed for 12 wooded acres on the school's uptown campus.

UAlbany and Mayor Jerry Jennings revealed the development Friday, less than 24 hours after university officials unveiled a tentative layout for the site near Indian Pond, which featured two 55-foot buildings and was designed to make the proposal more palatable to neighbors on nearby Tudor Road and beyond.

The plans included moving the university's ring road several hundred feet closer to the homes in the Eagle Hill neighborhood, in order to move the dorm buildings further away. The move would also include flanking the ring road with an earthen barrier that would deaden noise and impede storm water runoff.

Despite efforts to answer residents' concerns, the university found itself facing a wall of opposition from citizens and elected officials who contend the university has failed to justify why the complex can't be built somewhere else.

"We're spending a lot of time here trying to make a bad decision good -- and it's a frustrating process," Assemblyman Jack McEneny told UAlbany officials at crowded community meeting Thursday night.

On Friday, UAlbany President George Philip said he was willing to reconsider, according to the to the mayor and a university spokesman.

"Based on numerous conversations with Mayor Jennings and on discussions with Senator (Neil) Breslin and Assemblyman McEneny regarding the concerns expressed by our Albany neighbors and others, President Philip will be reaching out to elected and community leaders to explore viable options, which we hope will be in the best interests of all concerned," said university spokesman Karl Luntta.

Minutes earlier, Jennings had told the Times Union that he discussed the matter with Philip and both agreed it was best to slow the process down.

"I appreciate the president for taking a step back and saying, 'OK, let's look at some other options,'" Jennings said.

While there is no commitment not to build to the dorm on the land just southeast of the Boor Sculpture Studio, the agreement would appear to give critics some breathing room.

Chief among their grievances is their belief that the UAlbany has yet to adequately explain why it chose that site over six others included in a feasibility study it commissioned -- and only involved the public after that key choice had been made.

"I don't understand why the university waited so long to reach out to us," Michael Weisberg, who has lived on Tudor Road for more than 12 years, told UAlbany officials Thursday. "Why are you alienating people who want to work with you?"

Luntta said he could not speculate what options the university would explore or whether they would include revisiting those already examined in the feasibility study. The university rejected other on-campus options, in part, because they would have meant a loss of parking spaces -- an excuse that neighbors and others said was unacceptable.

Residents have beseeched university officials to look at alternatives, including the possibility of building a privately run dorm on the adjacent Harriman State Office Campus, which would help meet the university's housing needs while also putting some of that coveted public land back on the city's tax rolls.

Tudor Road resident Steve Sokal, who helped organize neighborhood resistance to the estimated $60 million project, praised the university's decision. "It's more than breathing room, it's just what we asked for," said Sokal, who started a blog at to chronicle the fight.

Given the neighbors' detailed arguments against the proposal, 13th Ward Councilman Daniel Herring, who represents Tudor Road, said he wasn't surprised the university chose to stand down but was surprised it happened so quickly.

The neighbors had "some very strong arguments based on some pretty good research," Herring said. "It gave it a greater dimension than just anger."

Councilman Michael O'Brien, who represents the 12th Ward and also opposes the project, had another take on the sudden reversal.

"Isn't it amazing," O'Brien said, "what can happen in private discussions when an angry mob is standing outside."

Jordan Carleo-Evangelist can be reached at 454-5445 or by e-mail at

UAlbany Press Release on Project

UAlbany issued a press release dated October 23, 2009 that describes their intended project.

Most notably, UAlbany intended that project would be constructed to be environmentally sustainable, with a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver rating, at a minimum, and that an additional 3.3 acres from the Harriman State Office Campus would be used to help address neighborhood concerns about visual impacts, noise, and storm water.

The press release concludes: "We are your neighbors and we want to be good neighbors," said Philip at a public hearing in September.

Video of UAlbany Eagle Hill October 29, 2009 Meeting

Elise Van Allen of Albany Community Television (The Unblinking Eye of Public Access Television by and for Citizens) was kind enough to send Joseph Cunniff, Volunteer Videographer to video our meeting.

Here is the link.

You can also view other important meetings at

Letter from Senator Breslin to President George Philip

New York State Senate
Albany, New York 12247

Neil D. Breslin. Senator 46th District
Room 502
State Capitol
Albany, New York 12247

October 14, 2009

Dear President Philip: George

I have been contacted by several constituents who reside in the Eagle Hill neighborhood. As I'm sure you are aware, residents of this area are opposed to the construction of a 500 student dormitory in such close proximity to their homes.

On September 17th, residents met with representatives of the University and local legislators to discuss concerns which included:

  • Water drainage and soil erosion
  • The possibility of a buffer
  • Property values and tax implications
  • Increases in noise, traffic and pollution
  • Dormitory location alternatives

Residents expressed disappointment concerning the University's lack of openness and short attendance at the meeting. They did not feel their concerns and questions were heard. It is my hope that additional meetings to discuss construction plans can be scheduled.

I'd appreciate your taking the time to review this important issue, so that I may determine how to further assist the residents of the Eagle Hill neighborhood. Thank you for your time, and if you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me directly.

Neil D. Breslin
Member of Senate


Friday, October 30, 2009

Lincoln Park UAlbany Dorm Connection

Dan Van Riper recently wrote a post about Lincoln Park in autumn. He describes a fleeting moment on a warm sunny day in the South End at the end of October and has some beautiful photos.

He also observed that all was not quite right with the day -

"It had rained a few days ago so I could hear the Beaverkill roaring underground at the exposed grate and at the manhole cover in the middle of MLK Boulevard. As usual, it stank of sewage. As I wrote earlier this year, the Beaverkill is used today to transport raw untreated sewage from Albany Med and Park South directly into the Hudson River.

The other night I learned that the Beaverkill is effectively used as a sewage overflow as far uptown as the SUNY Albany campus, via a pumping station. SUNY is building several sprawl-style expansion projects that will probably dump all their toilets into this line. If that happens, SUNY's sewage will come up in Washington Park Lake before it arrives in Lincoln Park and overflows into the ravine."

This is a reminder that a major project in town, like the proposed dormitories, affects us all.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

With no vision, Harriman lags

First published in print: Monday, October 26, 2009
Direct Link

Back in the late 1990s, after years of delays, the modernization of Albany International Airport finally took off under the slogan, "getting it done." And done it got.

What, we wonder, might the slogan be for the long-stalled redevelopment of the Harriman State Office Campus, which we're now told is full of new energy, even if no one knows what to do next.

"Ready to figure out how to get it done"?

"All revved up, not sure where to go"?

Or perhaps simply, "This space available."

That last one's as true now as it was seven years ago. The Harriman campus remains 330 acres of unrealized potential.

And 330 acres of what one would think would be some of the most prime acreage in upstate New York -- utilities all in place, direct interstate access, a major university next door, state government a quick drive down the street, and a choice of urban, suburban and rural housing and lifestyles within less than an hour's drive.

Yes, we know the economy hasn't been particularly hot lately. But what about the last seven years?

Admittedly, the airport and Harriman are two different kinds of projects. The airport was a straightforward undertaking­ -- a site with a single use, a project with a clear design. Harriman, an aging office campus occupied by about 7,400 state workers, at this point has no blueprint.

Nor, it seems, a strong, clear vision. First there was Governor Pataki's idea to demolish all the state buildings and turn the campus into a high-tech hub. Four years later, a master plan emerged, for a mixed-used urban neighborhood of high-tech companies, stores, restaurants, residences, grand boulevards and a large park.

Then came Governor Spitzer and an entirely new plan -- keep state workers there and build four new office buildings. Now there's another governor in place and the possibility that, with the next gubernatorial election a little more than a year away, there could be yet another with a whole new opinion on the matter.

Last year, two developers submitted plans for the campus. The Harriman Research and Technology Corp., which was charged with overseeing the Harriman redevelopment, never responded. Its board didn't even meet for 15 months before gathering this week, only to adjourn for another month and a half.

A project on the fast track this isn't.

As for a vision, that appears to be gone. Harriman now seems to be consigned to piecemeal development -- a new state food lab here, a new SUNY dorm there. Over the last seven years, several dozen developers took a look at Harriman, and walked away.

Here then, perhaps, is what the Harriman planners should do next: Find out why. The answers seem all too apparent.

The issue:

Seven years after it was announced, the Harriman Campus redevelopment remains stalled.

The stakes:

The waste of time rivals the waste of prime land.

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