Jennings floats land deal to ease concerns about UAlbany dorm site plan
By JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST, Staff writer
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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 email@example.com.