Thursday, January 14, 2010

UAlbany dorm options limited

Harriman development unlikely site, giving Eagle Hill area more weight

First published in print: Thursday, January 14, 2010

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ALBANY -- The board charged with overseeing the redevelopment of the Harriman State Office Campus is unlikely to support an 11-acre land transfer to the University at Albany, the only option that school officials said will allow them to move a proposed new dorm farther from nearby homes.

The move means the 500-bed, apartment-style dorm will probably be located on wooded land in the southeast corner of UAlbany's uptown campus, a proposal that has angered neighbors in nearby Eagle Hill who fear increased noise, traffic, flooding and sewer problems.

While stopping short of a formal decision until the university's environmental review process is complete, the board of the Harriman Research and Technology Development Corp. earlier this week indicated it favors a smaller 3.3-acre land transfer that would encroach less on the 330-acre office campus.

The news comes as UAlbany is to host a hearing tonight on the environmental impact of the dorm, along with 12 other projects.

In response to opposition from neighbors and elected officials, the university pitched an alternative to the Harriman board in November that would require about 7.7 more acres of state office campus to allow UAlbany to pull the dorm further from nearby homes. That plan would have also required rerouting a section of the Harriman campus' distinctive ring road.

UAlbany's 11-acre option "less significantly impacts on Tudor Road," said HRTDC Executive Director Peter Wohl, referring to the closest residents, "but it impacts the Harriman campus in a much more severe way ... including the loss of prime developable lands."

The dorm controversy is taking place as HRTDC, a subsidiary of Empire State Development, the state's economic development arm, is pushing ahead with redevelopment of about 140-acres of the Harriman campus as a private high-tech hub.

At the same November meeting where UAlbany made its pitch for the additional 7.7 acres, the board -- which includes UAlbany President George Philip and Mayor Jerry Jennings -- tapped Columbia Development as the preferred developer. The state is negotiating contract details with Columbia.

City officials back redevelopment as a way to get a large chunk of the land, currently tax-exempt, producing revenue for Albany.

Jennings said he understands neighbors' concerns, but he noted that state law requires that UAlbany address them in the environmental review process. He urged residents to take a more holistic view of how the development will benefit Albany.

"The neighbors should think about ... a bigger tax base," said Jennings, who initially proposed the 3.3-acre land transfer as an early way to mitigate their concerns.

He said that while he believes the campus' ring roads should be eliminated to free up more land for development, he doesn't believe it should be done piecemeal.

In a statement, UAlbany said it was "disappointed that our amended proposal ... was not approved" but hailed the board's "conceptual" support for the dorm project using the smaller parcel.

Ultimately, the state Office of General Services, which controls the land, has final say over the transfer. But that is not likely to be an obstacle because OGS Commissioner John Egan is also chairman of the Harriman board.

Meeting today

A public hearing on UAlbany's draft environmental impact statement for the dorm and other projects is scheduled for 7 tonight at the SEFCU Arena.

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

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