Oneonta student housing causing controversy

By Kelly McCarthy

March 28, 2013 Updated Mar 28, 2013 at 7:17 PM EDT

Oneonta, NY (WBNG Binghamton) A new private student housing project near SUNY Oneonta is brings landlords and business owners together in opposition. A group called Save Oneonta is now calling for the development planning to stop.

Imagine 14 acres of wooded area transformed into a private student housing complex that could hold more than 300 SUNY Oneonta students.

For some established landlords, the thought is their worst nightmare.

"All of that is going to remove income, shoppers, and everything else that goes along with that from our downtown market," said Keith Wilbur, General Manager of Rental Company One. "That can't be a positive."

Newman Development Group, LLC is working with the City of Oneonta to bring student housing to Blodgett Drive.

"They don't have a purpose-built, apartment style or townhouse-style project on campus," said Jeff Smetana, Newman Development Group, LLC. "So we saw that opening there, we saw that need."

As Newman Development Group moves forward with their plans, local landlords and downtown business owners are circulating a petition for the project to stop.

"We listened to presentations, we started gathering information, and that's when it started to be come a little scary," said Lisabeth Rose, General Manager of Peter Clark Student Rentals.

"Save Oneonta" is a group dedicated to ending this construction. They formed a website with information and pictures relating to their theory that a new student housing complex will take away from downtown traffic and hurt the current landlords

"Even though it's a free enterprise system and they're more than welcome to come here an do any project they qualify for, it doesn't mean our home town merchants have to like it, and give up our tax money to support it," Wilbur said.

By state law, the property is entitled to a certain tax-abatement plan. Newman Development Group is also applying for a PILOT program through Otsego County IDA.

"Save Oneonta" is also worried about the project will worsen water run-off problems in the neighborhood.

"It's not going to seep in the ground there," Rose said. "It's going to run down. It's going to create more run off. They're taking away a lot of the natural surface for it to seep in the ground."

Newman Development Group plans to break ground this summer, despite the criticism.

"Nothing we're doing will make the situation that the people have in the neighborhood worse," Smetana said. "In many respects we're improving the situation."

Oneonta City Manager Michael Long said the planning commission is currently reviewing the environmental site plan for the project. Long said he does not expect to find anything that will keep the project from moving forward.

In a statement, SUNY Oneonta said it was not taking any position on the Blodgett Drive project, saying it's a private venture, independent of the college and out of its hands.