Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Neighborhood Buzz

Kim Baker has prepared a petition, has gotten helpers, and is circulating it throughout Eagle Hill and adjacent neighborhoods. Please sign on to show your support!

Greg Dahlman from All over Albany sent me a report-

Hi Steve:
Thanks for reaching out to us. We'll definitely follow the blog.
I was driving through that part of campus today and there were
surveyors out working...
Thanks again...

Leslie Knauf says -
As a 12-year alumna of NYS government (former press officer and director of business development for the NYS Thruway Authority), I would add that it's vitally important that neighbors also contact Assemblyman John McEneny and State Senator Neil Breslin, respectively, whether via phone, online (web contact info below) or snail mail.

SUNY is an entity of NYS government and our neighborhood is in their respective legislative districts. The more constituents who contact them to express opposition to SUNY's siting of this project at this stage in its development, the better. These two elected representatives need to be made aware that there is little, if any, support for the siting of this project in the vicinity of this neighborhood, and that the consideration of options has been less than ideal.

At the very least, we should keep them in the loop, especially if other elected officials at the local level are not adequately responsive to our concerns.

Assemblyman John J. McEneny
LOB 648
Albany, NY 12248

Senator Neil D. Breslin
502 Capitol
Albany, NY 12247

JoEllen Gardner and Margaret Roberts have been putting together draft letters for this purpose.

Please! Do support your neighbors and write these officials!

We are now covered by All Over Albany!

All Over Albany is a wonderful blog that covers all of the really local news in town.

They said the following:

Jerry Jennings has proposed using land from the Harriman State Office Campus to allow a buffer zone between the dorm UAlbany wants to build on the east side of its campus and the residential neighborhood next door. Many of the residents of the neighborhood are not happy about the proposed dorm and have been posting developments about the project to a blog. [TU]

They also take comments, and some of the discussion are interesting. Check them out!

Can a buffer zone appease neighbors?

Jennings floats land deal to ease concerns about UAlbany dorm site plan

Click byline for more stories by writer.
First published: Monday, September 28, 2009

ALBANY -- Mayor Jerry Jennings is trying to broker a land transfer from the Harriman State Office Campus to the University at Albany in a bid to ease neighbors' concerns about a proposal for a new 500-bed dorm off Tudor Road.

If approved by the state Office of General Services, which runs the sprawling office campus, and SUNY trustees, the 3.3-acre exchange might help put the proposed student housing farther from nearby homes near the southeastern corner of UAlbany's campus.

OGS has just begun reviewing the proposal, agency spokesman Brad Maione said.

The idea was floated by Jennings in a Sept. 17 meeting at the SEFCU Arena with at least 85 local neighbors, many of whom were hostile to the project because they fear it will increase noise, traffic and flooding problems around their homes.

UAlbany President George Philip told community members the university hopes to get the acreage to soften the project's impact.

"We are your neighbors, and we want to be good neighbors," Philip said.

But homeowners countered that any mass cutting of trees in the area, which is almost entirely wooded, will send more storm runoff their way, and they accused the university of choosing the site -- one of seven considered -- before conducting a proper environmental review.

UAlbany only recently hired architecture firm PS&S to design the project -- so much of the details about how it will look and sit on the site just southeast of the university's Boor Sculpture Studio remain unknown.

Steve Sokal, who lives on Tudor Road and has started a blog to keep neighbors informed about the project, questioned why the university has hired an architect before determining that the site is environmentally appropriate.

John Giarrusso, the university's associate vice president for facilities management, said the project could require 300 to 350 parking spaces but stressed it is still "basically a blank slate."

Site maps shown to the crowd showed a 100-foot buffer for the nearest homes on Tudor Road -- but Giarrusso said the university cannot commit to keeping the buffer at 100 feet in all areas until it knows how the buildings will be oriented on the site.

County Legislator Frank Commisso said the buffer should be at least twice that. He also called on the university to study potential flooding and sewer overflow impacts about a mile downstream in the city's sewer system around Wellington, Woodville and Fountain avenues, near the Bethlehem town line.

On Friday, Commisso, like several others, said the prospect of the land deal was news to him.

Common Councilman Michael O'Brien, who represents to the 12th Ward to the north of the Harriman campus, questioned whether the proposal signals the fraying of a detailed plan to redevelop the office campus.

Jennings has publicly expressed frustration that the plan seems to have stalled. The board of the Harriman Research and Technology Development Corp., a state entity that is redeveloping the 330-acre campus into a technology park, has not met since July 2008.

Peter Wohl, president of the corporation, said the board was to have met Sept, 21 and likely would have discussed the land proposal, but that meeting was postponed until next month because of President Barack Obama's visit.

He said it's too soon to tell what position the board might take on the proposal. But Jennings, a member of the board, supports it and said he thinks OGS also will.

OGS Commissioner John Egan and Philip are also on the board.

The goal, O'Brien noted, is to get much of the campus land back on the tax rolls, which becomes more difficult if UAlbany begins to encroach.

"They let a good plan drop into oblivion, and it's SUNY just constantly chipping away at this prize," O'Brien said. "Albany deserves the prize."

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

Who will build the dormitories?

UAlbany will be using Paulus, Sokolowski & Sartor Engineering as the architect for the dormitory project. Information about the company can be found here.

The Dormitory Authority expects to issue a request for bids from construction companies in around Christmas, 2010! (The DASNY schedule can be found here. A legal notice will appear in the Times Union when the request is ready. Keep you eyes open! The contract award is expected in February, 2010.

Any qualified construction company that is interested in the project can bid for the project. One of Mayor Jennings favorite contractors, BBL, could be in line for this job. Is this why the Mayor is not defending our Eagle Hill neighborhood? Share your views here.

Important Review and Construction Dates!

State Environmental Quality Review

New York's State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) requires all state and local government agencies to consider environmental impacts equally with social and economic factors during discretionary decision-making. More information about SEQR can be found here and here

UAlbany is currently preparing a Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement. It will describe the twenty construction projects that are being planned, including the construction 500 bed dormitories. It will also describe the impacts from this project. The University has stated that it will address the following impacts:
Impact on Land
• Impact on Water
• Impact of Drainage
• Impact on Air
• Impact on Climate Change
• Impact on Plants and Animals
• Impact on Aesthetic Resources
• Impact on Historical and Archeological Resources
• Impact on Open Space and Recreation
• Impact on Transportation
• Impact on Energy
• Impact on Noise and Odors
• Impact on Public Health and Safety
• Impact on Community Character and Land Use

The public release of the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement was scheduled for the end of September 2009. (The full schedule of the environmental review can be found here. As we know all too well, the University had not heard our views on these impacts until the September 17, 2009 meeting. I have asked John Giarrusso for a copy of any notes taken at that meeting. He said that he had none, and that none were taken. Perhaps you would like to remind him of the issues in writing!

After the Environmental Impact Statement is released, a public hearing has to be held. This was scheduled for the end of October 2009.

The preparation of a Final GEIS Completion notice is to be issued within 45 days of hearing.

Finally a Complete Findings Statement should be publicly available approximately 30 days after the issuance of FGEIS.

At the end of this process, the project can start if UAlbany makes a Negative Declaration, or a document that shows, in writing,the reasons why the identified environmental impacts will not be significant. If the University makes this decision, construction could start next February!

Let UAlbany know that Eagle Hill residents feel that construction of dormitories next to our homes will certainly have environmental impacts!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

From Metroland - Volume 32 - Number 39 - September 24, 2009

The School on the Hill

Eagle Hill residents say there are alternatives to the proposed construction of student housing in their neighborhood

Last Thursday, more than 100 residents of the Eagle Hill neighborhood bordering the University at Albany uptown campus gathered at a public hearing to voice their concerns over the proposed construction of student housing for 500 college students. Although university President George Phillips and Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings left minutes into the meeting, the residents spent the next hour and a half expressing their concerns to John Giarrusso, the university’s vice president of physical facilities.

“We felt that we fairly represented ourselves to the University,” said Steven Sokal of 36 Tudor Street and a seven-year resident of Eagle Hill.

In addition to concerns over the environmental, financial and quality-of-life impact of the proposed construction, the residents also take issue with what they feel is a lack of honest communication between the university and the residents of Eagle Hill.

The proposed project would be constructed on the southeast end of the campus and would include two five-story dormitory buildings in addition to a 250-space parking lot. The construction would take place on a 13-acre piece of land that remains the only natural untouched environment on the uptown campus.

“On the plus side, the university will be allowed to take steps to enhance their position as a world-leading educational institution,” Sokal said. “There will be, for the duration of the project, some activity on Wall Street issuing bonds in order to fund the project, and there’ll be some construction jobs as the project is being done, but that’s about it for positives.”

Sokal and his neighbors are concerned with the quality-of-life issues that 500 additional college students will bring to the residential neighborhood, as well as the environmental impact regarding flooding in the area.

“There have been a number of underground streams that have been paved over in the immediate neighborhood,” Sokal said. “It’s a preexisting condition. On our property itself, we do have water lying on the back of the property, and the reason for that is the university’s property is about 15 feet higher in elevation than us, so it drains into our backyard. The university, in examining the water issue, took a look at their own property but they failed to acknowledge that if you start paving over 13 acres of land, which they probably will do in putting down 250 parking spaces, the water will have to go somewhere.”

In addition, Sokal expressed concern over the increased cost to the city with the construction of the student housing.

“The dormitories are going to be located in the city, so the fire and police departments will have to respond to emergency situations,” Sokal said. “The city will have to deal with the downstream storm-water sewage from the proposed project, and it seems as though the university has said that there will be absolutely no increase in their PILOT payments to the city nor will there be any taxes coming to the city for all the additional costs inflicted on the city.”

According to Sokal, the city may also lose tax revenue were the assessed property values of the homes in Eagle Hill to drop due to the proposed project.

In November 2008, S/L/A/M Architects P.C. prepared a “Feasibility Study and Options Analysis for New Student Housing,” in which they identified the three potential sites for new student-housing construction. While the southeast corner was designated as the ideal site, two other locations—Dutch Quad West and State Quad East—were classified as optimal sites.

There may also be a private alternative to new construction of student housing.

“We have heard from an attorney representing an owner of a very large building in the city of Albany,” Sokal said. “He said that he heard about our situation, and that he had a building space to offer that would be a very good alternative to the university constructing.” According to Sokal, the space would have twice the capacity, is currently available, has previously been used as dormitory space, and would be available for a fraction of the cost. He said that he does not know where this building is located, and that the attorney would not name his client. Sokal declined to name the attorney, saying that he did not want to jeopardize what he considers to be the best way out for the neighborhood and the university.

Communication between the residents and the university had been limited prior to the public hearing last Thursday. Thirteenth Ward Common Councilman Dan Herring sent a letter to the university president on behalf of the Eagle Hill neighborhood outlining concerns over the proposed project. Phillips responded with a letter saying that the university does intend to communicate with the residents of Eagle Hill, but that “at this point into the project, we are still evaluating site conditions and have not yet hired the architects to start the design process.”

“The draft generic environmental impact statement is due out at the end of October,” Sokal said, “and at that time the university would state their position concerning the proposed construction. It’s critical that any action that does occur takes place before that report is issued.”

A call to John Giarrusso was directed to Media Relations, who did not return a call as of press time.

—Cecelia Martinez

Sunday, September 20, 2009

UAlbany Dorm Timeline

April 2008 Facilities News, a newsletter issued by the Office of Facilities Management at UAlbany describes $123 million in new capital support for the uptown and downtown campuses from the 2008-2009 State Budget. Among the projects the University University was "New Bed Construction - the University is exploring the construction of perhaps 500 to 1,000 new residence hall beds. Partial funding is earmarked to initiate planning and design of apartment style beds on or near campus."
July 14, 2008 Kick-off of the Capital Plan Generic Environmental Impact Statement project with its consultant O'Brien and Gere.
September 4, 2008 UAlbany and O'Brien and Gere send a notification letter to officials. The letter states that UAlbany was proposing 17 projects, including "1. Student Housing Project - Construction of new student housing facilities with approximately 500 apartment-style beds. They also indicated that, unless they heard an objection, that they would assume responsibility for the preparation of the Impact Statement required by the State Environment Quality Review law.
Government officials that received this letter included:
Hon. Gerald Jennings, Mayor
Hon. Michael Breslin, County Executive
Robert Cross, Commissioner, Water Department
Michael Yevoli, Commissioner, Department of Development and Planning
Hon. Sandra Fox, Common Council 15th Ward
Hon. Shawn Morris, Common Council President
Frank J. Commisso, County Legislature – District 12
William M. Clay, County Legislature – District 13
Mary Lou B. Connolly, County Legislature – District 32

No objection from these officials were apparently received.

November 13, 2008 Meeting with the McKownville Improvement Association about the Capital Construction Plan. No other similar meetings were held.
November 28, 2008 Feasibility Study and Options Analysis for New Student Housing report prepared by S/L/A/M Architects P.C. For UAlbany
January 23, 2009 Legal announcement in the Times Union. It described a scoping meeting for development of the Environmental Impact Statement. The notice referred to "a listing of capital projects" as the topic of the meeting. There was no community outreach beyond this notice, and no mention of dormitories.
March 10, 2009 Public meeting held with four attendees, three of which were McKownville residents and the fourth was a student. There was no contact whatsoever with Eagle Hill residents - those most affected by the dormitory project.
May 2009 Appearance of surveyors from C. T. Male on Tudor Road properties in May, 2009. When asked who they were working for, they said “The University”. When we contacted Facilities Management, we were told that there were no plans for development of the parcel.
In viewing the UAlbany and Dormitory Authority websites, we found that UAlbany had already conducted a feasibility study for student housing, started its Generic Environmental Impact Statement Process, held public hearings without attendance from our neighborhood, and through the Dormitory Authority, was procuring architectural services for the construction of 2 five-story towers with 500 beds and 250 parking spaces.
We contacted Councilman Dan Herring about this appalling lack of communication from the University about a construction project that seriously harms the quiet, residential character of this neighborhood. He sent a letter to President Philip, and the response was that there were no firm plans, and that the neighbors would have an opportunity to comment in the fall.
September, 17, 2009 We are here at this public meeting today, after two days notice.

Press Release on Dormitories

Albany Residents Oppose UAlbany’s Plans to Construct Large Dorms Near Their Neighborhood

UAlbany Plans Will Destroy Only Natural “Green Space” Environment on Campus

ALBANY, NY – Residents of Eagle Hill will meet on September 17th, with the President of the University at Albany, Mayor Jennings and other officials at a Public Hearing to discuss plans to construct large 5-story dormitories and a 350 space parking lot on 13 acres of land which remains the only natural untouched environment on the uptown campus. This environment of woods and wetlands slopes down into the backyards of Tudor Road homeowners and is currently used by students, nearby residents and the general public for recreational purposes and to provide a natural buffer between the campus and the quiet residential neighborhood.

At the meeting Eagle Hill residents will share their concerns about the adverse environmental impacts of the construction project, as well as voice their disappointment concerning UAlbany’s lack of communication about their plans. Tudor Road residents discovered the University’s plans only through questioning surveyors who were working in their backyards and on their street during several weeks this past spring. As Steve Sokal, homeowner on Tudor Road points out, “We have had to spread the news ourselves, without assistance from the University or city officials. Many of us have contacted elected officials, and gotten little or no satisfactory response.”

At tonight’s hearing, neighborhood residents expect to learn more about the process by which UAlbany selected the Southeast Corner of the campus to be the construction site, over other proposed alternative sites, and about UAlbany’s preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which is required by New York’s Environmental Conservation Law. Neighbors at the hearing also plan to submit their comments about the adverse environmental impacts to UAlbany so they can be added to the EIS. Ira Bloom, another Tudor Road resident explains that he thought “SUNY was involved in the green and sustainable movement, so in the face of New York State's strict Environmental Conservation Law and regulations how can SUNY justify destroying 13 acres of the natural environment and degrading a residential neighborhood to build new dormitories when other reasonable alternative sites are available? It’s worse than paving paradise to put up a parking lot, because they’re also going to add dorms the size of a mid-sized hotel or hospital.”

Other residents are also concerned about the displacement of wildlife, wetland issues and the loss of vegetation that will result in soil erosion and a reduced natural buffer which acts as a visual and noise screen for the neighbors. Another Tudor Road homeowner states, “We occasionally hear fireworks, loud music and DJs’ voices, and sounds from athletic competitions. We are also used to cars zipping up and down our streets, looking for entrance to the University and the Harriman campus. Occasionally we find empty beer bottles thrown on our lawns. We fully realize that we do not live in the country, but adding another 500 students will magnify these disturbances.” Other neighbors are concerned about reduced property values which will result in reduced tax receipts, and the increase in the "service demand" from the City of Albany for Fire and Police, utilities, water, storm water and seasonal drainage, and sanitary sewage. Will city taxes have to be raised to provide for these services?

In the original Master Plan for the University, the intent was to have the Edward Durrell Stone architecture surrounded by University Drive, and bordered on the outside of the drive with green space that would set off the dramatic design of the buildings, and provide a balance of natural and man-made environments. That originally designed balance may now be in jeopardy, as are harmonious relationships with UAlbany’s surrounding neighbors.

Voices for Eagle Hill

University At Albany (UAlbany) held its first public meeting concerning the construction of two dormitories with 500 beds and 350 parking spaces.

This project began in 2008, but wasn't was discovered by our neighbors until May, 2009 when surveyors from C.T. Male were mapping Tudor Road properties

UAlbany was not ready to talk with us then. After letters from Councilman Herring and the neighbors, they were not ready to talk. They said that they would have a meeting in September.

Well, we've had our meeting. UAlbany President George Phillip and Mayor Jennings left the room of over one hundred residents after expressing their support for the project, and did not listen to our concerns.

An hour and a half later, the audience had finished blasting Assistant Vice President John Giarrusso, who seemed overwhelmed with our opposition. The meeting was covered by a reporter from the Albany Times Union - but no article appeared.

This blog is intended to give us a voice, and to share information about this terrible project. Please share your thoughts here! We will know that we can count on each other!

Steve Sokal