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April 14, 2014

Student housing stirred unrest in 1970s

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The Daily Star

---- — Oneonta has certainly been no stranger to controversial college student housing projects in recent years. The proposed dormitory just south of the State University College at Oneonta campus on Clinton Street in 2011, and the more recent Hillside Commons project, which is under construction at the top of Blodgett Drive, both ruffled feathers.

During most of the 1970s, there were several on-again, off-again efforts to build a student housing complex in an area near Cedar Street and Monroe Avenue.

In 1973, the Cleveland, Ohio-based Ferris Construction Co. had made plans to build a housing complex in this part of the city, with 52 apartments and 75 parking spaces, to house about 200 students on just over acres of land on a wooded tract south of the SUNY Oneonta campus.

The plan was not welcomed by residents of the nearby neighborhoods or a majority of the members of Common Council. At a meeting of Common Council on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 1973, members voted not to issue a building permit to Ferris Construction.

At that meeting, The Oneonta Star reported, “The crowd booed and hissed at positions defending the issuance of a permit were explained, and cheered when the aldermen took a stand against the project.

“Although granting building permits falls within the jurisdiction of the city engineer department the Common Council had instructed that office to withhold any permit unless the Common Council authorizes otherwise.”

Ferris Construction claimed it had lived up to city ordinance provisions and felt the city’s position was arbitrary. The result was a date in State Supreme Court for a non-jury trial, which began on Monday, Dec. 17, 1973. It was adjourned on Dec. 21 and resumed on Jan. 29, 1974.

The Supreme Court decision was made public on Thursday, April 25, upholding the city’s decision not to grant the building permit. Judge David Lee also ruled against Ferris’ $85,000 claim of damages as a result of the city’s actions.

Undeterred, Daniel Ferris re-applied for a building permit, but under a different company name, Off-Campus Housing Corp. This revised $322,000 complex called for 43 units, it was reported on May 24. Immediate opposition resumed by the neighbors of that area.

This time around Ferris was somewhat more successful, as he was issued half a building permit to construct the water, sewer, storm sewer, streets and parking lots on the site. Actual work on this part of the project began in the middle of December.

Some trees were cut down, but some were replanted, City Engineer John Buck said on Dec. 27. “It’s going to be quite a view from up there when it is completed,” he added.

That’s about as far as the project got, as the Star reported on June 27, 1975 that the apartments wouldn’t be constructed for at least another year. Daniel Ferris explained that the “general economic conditions were to blame for the delay, not the opposition of the neighbors.”

While this delay was on, Oneonta’s Capital Budget and Planning Commission worked to amend a zoning ordinance that could prohibit construction of the apartments.

By September 1975, plans to build the complex had been reportedly dropped. However the plans were on again by June 1976. Ferris’ building permit was renewed and work could begin at any time. Work never resumed and the permit expired in December, but was renewed under a new, tougher zoning ordinance.

The on-again, off-again status of the project finally came to a close, as the Star reported on Sept. 10, 1979, “Inflated construction costs and high interest rates have put an end to plans … the developer said Thursday.”

This weekend: Spring finally arrived in Oneonta in 1889.

Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.