Monday, November 16, 2009

SUNY trustees weigh Harriman land deal for dorm

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

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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

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