By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star
---- — Opponents of a proposed student-housing project told the Common Council on Tuesday that they are concerned about not only the project but also about speaking limitations at public meetings.
Some council members and city officials responding disagreed about the appropriateness of speaking at some meetings, including tonight’s Planning Commission meeting.
Planners will meet at 7 tonight about the Newman Development Group’s proposal, but the commission won’t entertain comments about the project, according to the agenda.
Planning Chairman Dennis Finn said the purpose of the meeting will be for the commission to declare itself lead agency in the required State Environmental Quality Review and to prepare needed notifications to other agencies, such as Otsego County. Planners will meet in the council chambers in City Hall.
Newman Development Group of Vestal proposes building a four-story, 325-bed apartment complex for college students on Blodgett Drive near the State University College at Oneonta campus. The project, also known as Hillside Commons, is a private venture, and SUNY Oneonta officials said the college is neutral regarding the proposal.
For about 20 minutes at the council meeting Tuesday, several residents who live near Blodgett Drive expressed concern about the impact of the project, and a petition was presented to the city clerk.
Keith Wilber, of Save Our Oneonta Neighborhoods, said Newman Development representatives have been meeting with city and community officials and have garnered support for the project. He said residents and SOON members, who oppose the Newman Development project, should have as much access to counter the subtle favoritism that has evolved.
Mayor Dick Miller said the Planning Commission will have meetings designated for public comment about the project.
David Merzig, city attorney, said the regular Planning Commission meetings don’t have designated time for public comments, which would be appropriate after the developer has submitted a complete application. Newman Development has submitted materials in a pre-application process, he said.
Finn said he has encouraged anyone with views on the project to put their comments in writing and send them to the city clerk. Finn said he receives such letters daily.
Larry Malone, Common Council member from the Second Ward, said he welcome comments generally at meetings to glean reactions and ideas that will help in decision-making.
The state defines “lead agency’’ as an involved agency principally responsible for undertaking, funding or approving an action, and therefore responsible for determining whether an environmental impact statement is required.
Finn said a separate proposal to build apartments on River Street wasn’t ready for further discussion and isn’t on tonight’s agenda as previously indicated.