Hillside Commons causes controversy

By Erika Mahoney

Hillside Commons causes controversy

April 11, 2013 Updated Apr 11, 2013 at 1:17 AM EDT

Oneonta, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Local residents are concerned about a wooded area that could soon become the site for a development housing more than 300 SUNY Oneonta students.

Although the project has yet to be approved by city leaders, the site's developer hopes to break ground on Blodgett Drive this summer, and open doors in time for the new school year.

The vice president of Newman Development Group says his company has been looking to develop student housing in the area for a few years.

If approved, the apartment-style, inclusive housing would be called Hillside Commons.

Nearby landlords, business owners and residents are expressing concerns with construction possibly just a few months away.

"I know that they're [Newman Development] getting a lot of pressure," Oneonta Planning Commission Chairman Dennis Finn said. "There's pressure from the landlord group, there's pressure from the people who live up on the hill, who see us, catch us and tell us how they feel."

Finn says landlords are worried the playing field will become unfair.

State law allows the property in question to receive a tax break. In addition, Newman Development officials say they will apply for a PILOT -- or payment in lieu of taxes -- through the Otsego County Industrial Development Agency.

Meanwhile, residents living nearby the proposed development say negative environmental impacts are their No. 1 concern.

"We've seen over the past few years that we've been prone to flooding," resident Lee Sperling said. "We are very concerned with a structure up there and what would happen with water flowing down the hill. And they are going to be on the highest part of the city, and the highest part of the neighborhood, so the concerns are justified."

On Wednesday, project leaders presented their engineering plans to the planning commission and the public.

"We've worked hard with our own engineers, and with city engineers, engineering consultants, and the New York (Department of Environmental Conservation) to come up with a plan," said Jeff Smetana, of Newman, "A design that does not cause any additional problems with their storm water management in that neighborhood."

Project engineers outlined a specific plan.

"By capturing the storm water and sending it to a detention pond, we've actually designed to over-detain the water," Keystone Associates designer Paul Woodward said. "We slow it down and then release it in the controlled manner that we want."

Still, Sperling says the concern is there because the plan hasn't been tested.

A second public planning commission meeting is scheduled for April 17.

During that meeting, the planning commission could determine whether they have enough information to make a decision.

If they approve the plan, the commission has 62 days to provide a final say. A public hearing would follow the approval.

The public hearing is currently scheduled for May 1, but could change depending on the commission's actions.