On Tuesday, July 15 there was a public information meeting in the courthouse concerning the proposed construction of a structure on the downtown property at the intersection of Eaton and Lebanon Streets (11-13 Eaton Street.) This is the property across from the “Hamilton Eatery,” kitty-cornered across from “New York Pizzeria,” and across Eaton Street from “Rusch’s.”
This property, as has been known for some time, has been purchased by a corporation based in Cleveland, Ohio, “Fairmont Properties (FP).” Rumors of what the planned new construction entailed have been rampant, with varying degrees of accuracy, and the meeting was meant to make plain what is planned for the property.
The primary reason for the meeting was that FP’s plan requires a considerable alteration of its original plan, as (rounded figures) the 45,000-48,000 square feet that have been approved do not meet their needs in terms of parking for the “Boarding House” residence they wish to build. That would require an additional allotment, beyond the approved amount, of approximately another 20,000 square feet. At this point, that appears to be the only sticking point.
During the meeting, which was civilized but at times briskly debated, certain facts became apparent that many of us had not realized. To wit:
1) There has been a vaguely expressed agreement between Colgate University and FP concerning a guarantee of Colgate student residents for the structure;
2) This includes a residential plan for eighty-one (81) Colgate students living in the residence, with seventy-one (71) parking spaces reserved for those residents (the question was raised at the July 15 meeting about a “boarding house” as defined by the village that only allows Colgate student residents);
3) There has apparently been no study of the broader effects of this arrangement on the downtown congestion and traffic patterns, and in the village more generally, either by Colgate University or FP (there has apparently been some communication with selected sources in the Village, but not with the general population);
4) There has been little or no communication or consultation with the residents of Lebanon and Montgomery Streets until now, when the project was presented at the meeting by FP as more or less a “done deal,” (these residents being the most directly affected by the construction);
5) There has been, until now, an unfortunate lack of transparency on the project for the general public by Colgate University and FP;
6) Many people I have talked to have real reservations about the project as planned, and all (including those in favor of the project) have been dismayed at the lack of consultation and transparency with the public. Many have expressed the opinion that, “Well, there is nothing we can do.”
Yes there is. On July 30, at 7 p.m. at the courthouse there will be a public meeting discussing these matters in which residents will have a greater freedom to express their opinions than during the information meeting of July 15. We all want a civilized and spirited debate. We are all doing what we think is right. Everyone should be given the benefit of the doubt.
I retired from Colgate just this month after twenty-seven years as a professor. I like students, I have attended the weddings of former students and now feel joy as they build their families and careers (naturally, there are some I would like to forget.) Hamilton has been my home for all that time, and has taught me, a Boston boy, the attractions of rural, small town life. The town provided my late mother with a nurturing and safe environment for her later life. I owe much.
In my view, this town is now facing a “tipping point” in terms of its identity, that is, how we see our own community and our places in it. Perhaps we as a community want to follow the “vision” and “master plan” (FP’s phrases at the July 15 meeting) of Colgate and its corporate allies. Perhaps we want to retain some sense of our own control over the community not based in the “vision” or “master plan” of people who are here relatively temporarily (the Colgate Administration) or those who are temporary renters (students.) As usual, there are short and long term issues and values in play here.
Regardless of how you see it, please come to the meeting on July 30 and make your voice heard. It may not carry the day. But it is important that it be heard.