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.

To comment:

No dorms please - Times Union

By SCOTT WALDMAN, Staff writer

Direct Link

Residents around the proposed new dorms at the University at Albany are not happy that a towering mass of students will be their new neighbors. The school has long been looking to increase the number of dorms it offers.

College students don't always make for the cheeriest neighbors. They tend to view their stay as temporary and leave trails of red Solo keg cups in their wake. In the case of the Eagle Hill neighborhood, near where construction of the new dormitory is proposed, that means they'll have less of buffer between the nearby woods and the school.

Enter state Assemblyman Jack McEneny.

He recently sent a letter to University at Albany President George Philip asking him to scrap the plan because it would intrude upon those who live near the school, some whose families have lived in the same homes for generations.

"I fear the University is about to plunge into a quagmire of Town-Gown hostility by encroaching on its nearby residential neighbors," McEneny wrote.

In the letter, McEneny -- longtime Albany politician and unofficial city historian -- warned Philip that the destruction of the "ecologically sensitive" pine forest during the construction of some buildings is still a painful memory.

"I urge you to get your tenure off on the correct foot by putting an end to this second plan to intrude on the neighbors," McEneny wrote.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Public Meeting at the University At Albany

The planned construction of student housing is the subject of a meeting this Thursday, October 29, 2009, 7:00 PM in the Hall of Fame Room, SEFCU Arena on the University at Albany campus.

The University will show renderings of their planned development of the Southeast Corner site and collect comments on their designes.

As neighbors, we should show UAlbany our interest and concern! Please make every effort to attend!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Eagle Hill Neighborhood Association Meeting Tuesday at 7PM

I've received the following announcement from Ray Moran -

There will be a meeting of the Eagle Hill Neighborhood Association on Tuesday night at 7pm at the Eagle Point Elementary School at Western Ave and Russsell Rd. We will have the monthly reports from Rick Romand, APD, on police matters and from Chris Kollias, AFD, on safety and code issues.

There is also the matter of the proposed dormitories on the southeast corner of the UAlbany campus. The resolution below is being prepared for the city's Common Council. As you will see, the proposed dorms should be a concern for all city tax payers. One has to wonder where all the conservationists are when SUNY proposes to build on an area that their own consultants have labelled as wetlands.

Please join us to offer your comments and your support for the resolution and the council persons presenting it.



Whereas, the University at Albany has a large student population and

Whereas, many of the students come to the University 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 of 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 and

Whereas, the University is largely an autonomous operation, independent of the City of Albany regarding planning functions and tax support 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, 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 and

Whereas, 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 and

Whereas, the closest sanitary sewer line to the proposed site is only a twelve inch diameter pipe and

Whereas, 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 and

Whereas, 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

Whereas, the City of Albany must through property taxes bear an unfair burden of supporting the infrastructure and services to the disproportionate number of public and private institutions which pay no taxes and

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

Whereas, the University is exempt from obtaining City of Albany permits for this development which will impact the City’s infrastructure and services and

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

NOW, therefore we call 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.

Ray Moran, President
Eagle Hill Neighborhood Association
12 Glynn St
Albany, NY 12203

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Support from Jack McEneny

Jack O'Connor and Leslie Knauf passed along Jack McEneny's letter to George Philip.

Many of you responded to JoEllen Gardner's call for letters to both Assemblyman McEneny and Senator Breslin - either by passing along her suggested letter or by offering your own.

Thanks to everyone who spoke up! Thanks to Jack McEneny for listening to us and offering his support!

Jack's letter appears below -

The Assembly - State of New York

JOHN J. MC ENENY- Member of Assembly

Oct. 21, 2009

George M. Philip
University at Albany
1400 Washington Ave. UNH #302
Albany, NY 12220

Dear President Philip: George

Once again, let me congratulate you on your selection as president of the University at Albany, one of the economic engines in this area and a jewel among the SUNY system.

There are many challenges and opportunities ahead of you, and I am certain you will be very successful. Unfortunately, I fear the University is about to plunge into a quagmire of Town-Gown hostility by encroaching on its nearby residential neighbors. The campus is extensively scarred by surface-level parking lots, with proper environmental planning any one of which could be site for new dormitories. In the process, the parking-lot water runoff problem could be dealt with. Dormitories over parking lots would provide 'covered' parking, and something much appreciated when it snows and something students and faculty might be willing to subsidize with higher parking fees.

The Eagle Hill residents are mostly long-time supporters and backers of the University at Albany, especially since the academic podium plan promised wide barriers between university buildings and their homes. This is an area of substantial one-family homes, some occupied by the same family for two or three generations. These neighbors should be treated with respect and left alone on their quiet residential streets.

I urge you to get your tenure off on the correct foot by putting an end to this second plan to intrude on the neighbors. The destruction of the ecologically valuable pine forest is still a painful memory for many people. I strongly urge you to change direction on this very sensitive issue.

John J. McEneny
Member of Assembly
cc: Neighborhood Associations

Friday, October 23, 2009

Comments from Ray Moran and Housing Options

I also received today some messages from Ray Moran concerning today's news about the Harriman developments.

"As you know, I've been talking with a number of city officials lately about the campus development. Coincidentally, I have also spoken with old friends who are in the commercial real estate and/or construction fields.

Leslie Knauf, among others, points out that the two sites mentioned for the proposed dorms are too near the Clarendon Rd/Tudor Rd area. Most people would agree with that.

One alternative suggestion is to build over the parking lot/s on the campus. I believe it is the State Quad at the northeast corner of the campus. That land is far more stable than the area along Tudor Rd. It is also closer to the academic podium. From just about every perspective, it makes more sense to have a high-rise dorm with parking below. If they wanted to get fancier they could have parking in the center like The Alexander Apartments on Washington Ave.

As taxpayers, we should all urge Mayor Jennings to continue his plan to get more of the Harriman Campus back onto the tax rolls."

Ray and Don's suggestions are good. It shows that at least the neighbors are thinking about options for student housing. We would only ask that whoever ends up providing student housing on either the UAlbany or Harriman Campuses consider any reasonable option and chose an option that enhances the quality of life for students and neighbors.

Private Dormitories for UAlbany

I received the following e-mails from Don Reeb. He proposes that private dormitories be considered as an option in meeting the housing needs of UAlbany students.

"I am a great fan of building private dorms along the Washington Avenue side of the Harriman campus--this yields taxes, more security, fewer cars on the university campus (assuming that shuttles are provided from the dorms to the classroom buildings), will look like the motels already built along Washington Avenue, and no increased demand for City services like schools, which other uses of the Harriman campus might create. Since the private dorms would house students presently living elsewhere in the City, traffic on Washington Avenue would be less, again assuming shuttle service.

If you want to see what we could have on the Harriman campus--google "private dormitories" and look at the sites--especially the one for "Austin Private Dormitory Association".

It's pretty awesome in comparison to anything we have in the Capital District.

The Austin Texas state university (University of Texas) is a lot bigger than the University at Albany but still........"

Don Reeb, president, McKownville Improvement Association.

Here are the links that Don had recommended:

Members of the Austin Private Dormitory Association

Harriman board says developer may be picked within 6 weeks

The Business Review (Albany) - by Adam Sichko

The board overseeing the state’s Harriman office campus in Albany, N.Y., said it could select a developer for the campus within the next six weeks.

The board for the W. Averell Harriman State Office Campus met Oct. 20, for the first time in 15 months. The board is attempting to revive dormant plans to redevelop almost half of the 330-acre campus—an initiative that stalled amid the recession, changing leadership and the state’s problems with record-high deficits.

Throughout this decade, the state has pursued an ambitious plan to renovate the campus to lure high-tech companies to the site, and build retail shops and residential units. Three developers submitted bids to redevelop the campus in 2006, but former Gov. Eliot Spitzer decided to start over. The ongoing credit crunch and the state’s dire fiscal condition have further stalled progress.

Two developers submitted plans in September 2008. One team is led by Howard Carr, president of The Howard Group, in Colonie. The second team is headed by Columbia Development Cos. of Albany.

Board members now say they could pick a winning plan as early as the next board meeting, which will occur no more than six weeks from now.

“We want a resolution on it. We must act one way or the other,” said Peter Wohl, the president of the Harriman Research and Technology Corp. “They [developers] deserve to know.”

Wohl said the meeting should be viewed as a positive step toward “reinvigorating” the Harriman plans. The previous board meeting was held July 2008, under different leadership at both the Harriman board and Empire State Development Corp., the state’s economic agency.

“We will not go another 13, 14, 15 months without a board meeting,” vowed Dennis Mullen, the chairman, president and CEO of Empire State Development. The Harriman board and campus development falls under the state agency’s jurisdiction.

Mullen said credit markets will largely dictate the pace of development at Harriman. He said the tight credit markets, a by-product of the recession, have hit developers and small businesses the hardest.

“When the markets turn, there will be a flood of interest in developing this property at this value,” Mullen said. “The challenge is simple: Get this back on track, understand we’re in a challenging market, and prepare a go-to-market strategy for when cash starts flowing again in the development community.”

Little action occurred at the meeting. The board voted to confirm Wohl as the board’s president, following his appointment to the post in late May. Wohl also oversees the Capital Region and the North Country for Empire State Development.

The board went into closed session to discuss what a meeting agenda referred to as “campus development strategy.” The closed session was legal under a provision of state law allowing such sessions for boards to discuss “proposed acquisition, sale or lease of real property,” according to attorneys with Empire State Development.

No votes were taken during the closed session, said John Egan, a Harriman board member and commissioner of the state Office of General Services. He and others would not say what was discussed during the executive session.

“This is still viable. Harriman still has tremendous value,” Egan said of Harriman. “We’re just waiting for the economy to turn around.”

Harriman state office campus back on track

Energy is there, says chief of planned redevelopment, but next step remains unclear

By CHRIS CHURCHILL, Business writer
First published in print: Friday, October 23, 2009

ALBANY -- The new head of the Harriman Research and Technology Corp. says the planned redevelopment of the state office campus in Albany is back on track, with a renewed energy and focus.

But Peter Wohl also indicated the next step in the long-stalled redevelopment effort is unclear.

The board overseeing the Harriman redevelopment might decide to award development rights to either of the local firms vying to build on the 330-acre campus near the University at Albany, he said.

But the board might also scrap those plans and issue yet another request for development proposals.

"The next big hurdle here is deciding on the development approach," said Wohl, who in June was selected for the Harriman post.

Last year, two development teams, one led by Columbia Development of Albany and the other by The Howard Cos. of Colonie, submitted detailed plans for campus development -- but the Harriman board never responded.

The board, in fact, this week met for the first time in 15 months, a long delay that again stalled the plan, first announced in 2003, to turn the Harriman State Office Campus into a hub for private and high-technology development.

Wohl conceded the delay was not productive, adding the board will meet again in about six weeks.

A subject likely to be discussed at that meeting is a proposal, unpopular with some Albany neighbors, to build a 500-bed University at Albany dormitory on the property.

Wohl said the project might fit into plans to turn the campus into a "live, work, play" area with round-the-clock activity. It might also provide a long hoped-for link between the two campuses.

"It's an interesting proposal," Wohl said, adding that "it's something the board is now discussing."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

UAlbany must consider impact

First published in print: Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Paul Bray's Oct. 11 article, "UAlbany needs to turn its vision outward," underestimates the University at Albany's failure to consider the environmental consequences of its actions.

The 500-bed dormitory UAlbany is planning to build will not consume a mere three acres as Mr. Bray reports, but rather will be a 15-acre project.

Even if 3.3 acres are obtained from the Harriman Office Campus, the bulk of the project will consist of five-story buildings on a site that could come within as little as 100 feet of the adjoining neighborhood of one- and two-story houses. Since the houses are at a lower elevation than the dormitory site, the 15 acres with impervious surfaces (buildings, parking lots and sidewalks) will displace rainwater into a neighborhood that already struggles with inadequate drainage.

UAlbany has given no consideration to the aesthetic and physical impacts that this project will have on the neighborhood. If the university had reached out to its neighbors before it began work on this project, they would have told the university that a dormitory is the wrong project for this site.

As Mr. Bray correctly points out, however, the university's inward focus disrespects the surrounding community and ultimately undermines its own stated goals.

Michael Weisberg

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

UAlbany needs to turn its vision outward

Here is an editorial by Paul Bray, as published in the Times Union on Sunday, October 11, 2009 -

I was surprised and delighted to learn about the University at Albany going green.

About a month after the late UAlbany President Kermit Hall arrived in Albany in 2005, I had an opportunity to talk with him. He told me the last major effort he made as president of Utah State University was a environmental sustainability audit.

When Hall proposed doing this in Albany, the response from leaders on and off campus was not positive. He didn't find much interest in environmental matters, but he told me that UAlbany was going to have a strong environmental program.

Taking a quick look at what other colleges and universities are doing, I see UAlbany is riding an environmental wave. As Auden Schendler, an environmental writer and executive director of sustainability at Aspen Skiing Co., declared, "Colleges without rocking enviro programs are failed businesses."

On the Sierra Club's Cool Schools survey of top green colleges, UAlbany ranked 55th with a B-. There is room for improvement, but at least UAlbany is in the middle of more than 100 schools considered.

Congress, in continuing to support dirty coal and industrial agriculture, seems unable to find the overall benefits to our economy and welfare in the interface between climate and business. But students realize their future success will depend on how they take advantage of emerging climate- and green-focused economies.

In the early 1970s, UAlbany had an environmental studies program under Lou Ismay. He and his enthusiastic students were among the earliest advocates for protecting the Albany Pine Bush. Their advocacy helped lead to the creation of the now more than 3,000-acre Pine Bush Preserve.

UAlbany's new era of environmental engagement was the subject of a recent press event with State University Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and UAlbany President George Philip. They announced sustainability initiatives "that aim to reduce harmful carbon emissions on the nation's roadways and across the campus."

One initiative will aim to cut wait-time at intersections "to reduce automobile engine idling time and greenhouse gas emissions." The other project will increase transportation options for commuting students, faculty and staff -- including hybrid buses, improved transit and bike and ride-share programs.

This is great but for one thing: the same old problem of UAlbany looking inward in its development.

While Syracuse University moved its architecture school downtown, UAlbany plans to build its new business school on campus. While other universities leverage their student residence development to support mixed-use development in their city centers, UAlbany is planning 500 dorm units either isolated on the northeast wooded corner of the campus or on 3.3 acres of the adjacent Harriman Office Campus, if a land transfer can be made. Goodbye trees, hello parking lots. UAlbany remains campus-bound and suburban.

The project includes 300 to 350 parking spaces for a university seeking to reduce its carbon foot print. Racks for 500 bicycles and walkways would be good; more parking is not good.

The key to sustainability is walkable communities for work, study, home, shopping and recreation. Universities should be the leaders in fostering these communities by their example and participation.

The State University's mission is to encourage and support local economies. Isolated dorms and new facilities on campus do not serve this mission.

I believe in Chancellor Zimpher's good intentions when she said with President Philips, "One of the highest priorities throughout the SUNY system is emphasis on sustainability research and practice." But the chancellor needs to keep in mind that the real practice of sustainability will require universities and colleges to be fully connected to their communities.

Paul M. Bray is founding president of the Albany Roundtable civic lunch forum. His e-mail address is

Saturday, October 10, 2009

UAlbany Dormitory Meeting Announcement

We received the following letter yesterday -

University At Albany
State University of New York

October 6, 2009

Dear Neighbor:

We are writing to invite you to a follow-up meeting with the University regarding the planned new construction of apartment style, student housing on the southeast portion of the University campus.

The meeting is scheduled for Thursday, October 29, at 7 pm in the Hall of Fame Room in the SEFCU Arena, located just off the Western Avenue entrance to the Campus. This is the same location as the September 17 forum. Parking will be available in the SEFCU lot at no charge.

As discussed at the September 17 forum, the purpose of this follow-up meeting is to share a concept rendering(s) of the planned development, incorporating your collective comments in the design of the site and buildings, as best we can.

This letter is coming to you based on information provided in the sign-in sheet at the September 17 forum. We also plan to advertise once again in the Times Union community events pages (print and on-line) and in the University's on-line events calendar.

Should you have any comments or questions prior to the meeting, please register them at the following website: or by calling 956-8090.

We look forward to meeting with you on the 29th.

Stephen J. Beditz
Interim Vice President
for Finance and Business