By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star
---- — A group of property owners, merchants and residents is circulating petitions opposing a 325-bed apartment complex proposed for Blodgett Drive in the city of Oneonta.
The group, Save Oneonta, calls for the mayor, Common Council and city Planning Commission to oppose Newman Development Group’s proposal to build a complex near the State University College at Oneonta campus. Petitioners cite possible “severe adverse economic impact on Oneonta merchants’’ and on owners of downtown Main Street properties, among other possible negative consequences of project.
Mayor Dick Miller said he doesn’t accept the premise that the Newman Development project would be detrimental because there are too many unknowns. Aggrieved residents have spoken against the proposal at Common Council meetings, he said, but it’s too early to say if the project would be good or bad for Oneonta.
Miller said he is aware of the petitions but is taking a “hands off’’ position regarding them and the proposal.
“The ball is completely in the hands of the Planning Commission,’’ Miller said.
At its March 20 meeting, the Planning Commission will conduct an initial survey of the Newman Development project under the required State Environmental Quality Review Act.
The apartment complex is proposed to be on parcels of which three are owned by Janet Izzo and two are owned by Richard Woods, according to documents from the Oneonta Code Enforcement Office, and the complex proposal is a permitted use in that High Density Residential District.
Planners are to meet in Common Council Chambers at 7 p.m. March 20, and an initial SEQRA survey for a separate proposed apartment complex on River Street is the first agenda item.
Residents in the Blodgett Drive neighborhood have expressed concerns at Common Council meetings about water runoff and environmental impacts of the project.
Robert Chiappisi, Oneonta city code enforcement officer, said Newman Development’s preliminary site plans have been submitted and are under review by the code and engineering offices and by Delaware Engineering, which has been contracted to review materials and plans.
Keith Wilber, general manager at student housing Rental Company One in Oneonta, said Save Oneonta formed about two months ago. The group includes residents, property owners and merchants, real estate brokers and others, and he said meeting attendance rose from 10 at the first session to about 90 at a more-recent gathering.
By last week, more than 80 percent of Main Street building owners downtown and more than 75 percent of Main Street had signed the petitions, which still are circulating, Wilber said.
Opponents question the need for additional student housing, among a “laundry list’’ of other issues, he said Monday.
The five points in the petition say that Main Street property owners rely heavily upon rents from students living in apartments; there is an oversupply of apartments in the city; millions of dollars earned by the complex would leave Oneonta; and an over-supply of rental units would result in more vacant houses and thus reduce property values.
Save Oneonta isn’t opposed to development in general, Wilber said, but objects to an outside housing developer coming to Oneonta and possibly receiving a tax-abatement plan.
More than 35 downtown business owners or representatives signed the petition, according to a copy mailed to The Daily Star, and more than 20 property owners signed on.
James Tomaino, owner of 222 Main St., a downtown property that has student rentals, said he signed the petition at his friends’ request but isn’t completely against the Newman Development project.
“It’s complicated,’’ Tomaino said. On the plus side that is a developer wishes to invest in Oneonta, he said, but questions remain about the impact on already-taxed city services as well as the economic impact on downtown businesses and rental property owners.
“I have concerns on how it’s going to affect the community,’’ he said. “We need to have some open forums.’’
Tomaino said he has issues with the prospect of Newman Development applying for a tax abatement plan from the Otsego County Industrial Development Agency. The city needs not only to support development but also to protect property owners, who need a level playing field, he said.
Jeffrey Smetana, vice president of student housing Development at Newman Development, said opposition isn’t uncommon when projects are proposed whether plans are for apartments, pharmacies or big-box retailers.
The Oneonta project would have 320 to 325 bedrooms, mostly in a three bed-room configuration, Smetana said previously. Each apartment would have a kitchen, living room, washer and dryer, and each bedroom would have a bathroom, and plans propose opening for the 2014 academic year.
Newman Development, a private company in Vestal, has worked to match its Oneonta project with local housing needs, Smetana said Monday. The proposed complex reflects “the new standard’’ in college housing and would enhance SUNY Oneonta’s attractiveness to prospective students.
The proposed apartment complex is replacing a townhouse project proposed by SUNY Oneonta, Smetana said, and city, college and individuals in the private sector have offered encouraging feedback about the Blodgett Drive proposal.
“We’re hopeful to get information out so that people understand the project,’’ said Smetana, who expressed confidence the proposal will be supported.
Wilber said Save Oneonta members are concerned about an estimated $3 million in rental income that Newman Development would generate, which would then leave the community. Save Oneonta members plan to attend city meetings about the project and post information on the group’s website at saveoneonta.com, Wilber said.
In the meantime, opponents will continue gathering information and challenging premises of the proposal, he said, and will post signs discouraging the project.
“We will create our demise if we allow this to happened,’’ Wilber said.