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April 11, 2013

Water at issue in Blodgett project

Locals question city, project leaders

By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star

---- — Residents’ questions and comments about the impact of storm water runoff, water supply and sanitary sewer services will help in assessing environmental impacts of a proposed student apartment complex, the Planning Commission chairman said Wednesday night.

Newman Development Group of Vestal has proposed building Hillside Commons, a four-story, 330-bed student apartment complex on Blodgett Drive in the city. The proposal has drawn opposition and concerns from some residents, landlords and business owners.

On Wednesday night, officials representing the development firm and the city of Oneonta reviewed project details during a meeting of the Planning Commission, which is reviewing the environmental impact of the proposed complex.

About 65 people, not including city planners, engineers and other officials, attended the meeting at Oneonta High School that planners called to focus on water-related issues of the proposed building, which is to be constructed on a hillside. 

Some speakers raised other concerns, including about road accessibility to the neighborhood by emergency vehicles and personnel, meeting infrastructure costs and a requested tax abatement. But most questions and comments remained on topic, with city officials redirecting speakers a few times.

Residents were concerned about the flow of storm water, whether the city water supply was sufficient to meet development needs and about geological factors on the hillside.

Development plans propose building a storm water retention pond to control drainage, engineers said, and diverting some flow from going up College Park Drive, historically a problem area, to a new 15-inch line on Bugbee Road that connects into the existing storm sewer system on Bugbee.

The existing 6-inch/8-inch water main line along Blodgett Drive isn’t sufficient, engineers said, and the recommendation is to install a new 12-inch water main, which would also serve current users. The existing sewer line on Blodgett and Bugbee can handle the flows from the proposed development, they said.

Officials from Keystone Associates, engineering firm for Newman Development, and from Delaware Engineering, hired by the city of Oneonta to conduct an independent review of the plans, spoke during the first hour of the meeting and answered planners’ questions. Jeffrey Smetana, a vice president with Newman Development, and Michael Long, city manager, also fielded questions.

Planning Commission Chairman Dennis Finn said details reviewed Wednesday night, along with residents’ comments, will give perspective to data that planners will consider in the weeks ahead. 

Newman Development seeks site plan approval from the commission, which has declared itself lead agency in the mandated State Environmental Quality Review.

Planners’ regular monthly meeting will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, at Oneonta High School. The meeting will include time for public comment, Finn said, and planners will consider if the developer’s application is compete. 

After the application is deemed complete, planners have 62 days to decide whether to make a “negative declaration’’ that the proposed project won’t result in any significant adverse environmental impacts, city officials said.

A public hearing on the SEQR application has been tentatively set for May 1 if the application is deemed complete, Long said. 

The site of the proposed project is about 14 acres, Smetana said, and a little less then half of the lot will remain undeveloped and “forever wild.’’ Engineers studied drainage and geology of about 65 acres in the vicinity of the project area, he said, and the proposed development will improve storm water drainage for about 20 acres.