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March 21, 2013

Early steps taken on Blodgett complex

By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star

---- — The Oneonta Planning Commission declared itself the lead agency for the Newman Development Group student housing project during a meeting Wednesday night.

About 25 people, including opponents of the project, were at City Hall for the meeting, which lasted about 20 minutes.

The commission has received a preliminary application, an environmental assessment form and related materials from Newman Development Group of Vestal. The private developer proposes building a four-story apartment complex to accommodate about 325 students.

The proposed complex would be on about 15 acres of land, the resolution said.

The apartment complex, also known as Hillside Commons, is an allowed use in the R3 High Density Residential District at Blodgett Drive.

The proposed site is near the campus of the State University College at Oneonta. SUNY Oneonta officials said the college is neutral regarding the project.

On Wednesday night, planners passed a resolution regarding lead-agency status and other steps in the early stages of considering the project.

The commission determined that Newman Development Group’s application to build an apartment complex constitutes an action subject to the State Environmental Quality Review Act with an “unlisted’’ designation, which pertains to the review of potential impacts.

The resolution also said “at minimum a full environmental assessment form is necessary to determine the significance’’ of the project.

Other agencies that might wish to be the lead agency for the project or that have comments will be notified about the Planning Commission’s designation as lead agency. Commission Chairman Dennis Finn has said he doesn’t expect any other agency would want the leading role, which city attorney David Merzig said is logical for the city’s Planning Commission because it is the permitting agency.

The agencies to be notified, as listed in the resolution, are the state Health Department, the state Department of Environmental Conservation; the state Historic Preservation Office; the Otsego County Planning Office; the State University College of Oneonta; and the town of Oneonta.

The agencies will have 30 days to respond to the Planning Commission.

The meeting didn’t include time for public comments on the project. But Finn said meetings in the future will include such opportunities. He urged anyone with comments, however, to put views in writing and submit them to the city clerk.

The city has set a tentative schedule for review of the proposed Hillside Commons project. The preliminary site plan application is on the agenda for the April 17 meeting. A public meeting with engineers and code enforcement officials is planned, but no date has been penciled in.

The May 15 agenda items include a public hearing and preliminary site plan approval, according to the initial schedule, and consideration of final site plan approval will be at the June 19 meeting.

Planning Commission members are Finn, Gary Herzig, Becky Thomas, Anna Tomaino, Barry Holden, Edmond Overbey and Michelle Eastman. Planners voted for the resolution, except Eastman, who was absent.

Maureen Hennessy, First Ward representative on the Common Council, is council liaison to the commission.

Newman Development vice president Jeffrey Smetana, who reviewed initial plans at a Planning Commission meeting in January, has said if all goes well, construction could begin this summer, with a projected opening for occupancy in the 2014 academic year.