Thursday, July 31, 2014

Open Letter on Fairmount Properties Proposal for Hamilton New York

by Peter Balakian
Professor of English; Director of Creative Writing

There has been substantial and serious criticism of the Fairmount Properties proposal for the development of an 81 bed student facility to be built on the site of the former Wayne’s Market.

I don’t want to reiterate all of the issues and problems that have been raised by many residents of our town, but would like to highlight some central ones made by Bob McVaugh and Norman von Wettberg, and put some of these issues in an additional perspective.

1) McVaugh (NSH 7/28) has noted that Fairmount’s efforts to evade zoning requirements by calling itself a boardinghouse is a false claim and it falls outside the concept of both boarding house regulations and zoning requirements. Furthermore, the third party commitment (Colgate University) to underwrite an individual user undermines the boarding house claims further.

2) McVaugh also notes that the proposed 81-bed student facility with its large parking space necessity will disrupt the delicate balance of the downtown business zone and contiguous residential zone, and he refers us to the Village Code (174-24). McVaugh also notes that the concept and reach of the 81- bed facility will have an “egregious impact” on the complex, mixed environment of the business/ residential neighborhood in what many of us would call a crucial nexus of the town.

3) von Wettberg has underscored how negatively the Fairmount project will impact the community in an 11 point list (letter to Hamilton Zoning Board of Appeals 7/22); even if only half of the points on that list are indisputable, the impact is of major proportions: the increase in empty apartments; the impact on local landlords; the reduction of taxes paid by owners on student rental properties; the increase in rental rates for downtown landlords; the increase in empty storefronts in downtown, and more.

4) von Wettberg notes that the variance needed to avert Hamilton zoning requirements is so extreme that this alone embodies the problem with the entire project.

5) Both vonWettberg and McVaugh offer perspectives on Fairmount that others in the community have also expressed: Fairmount has not presented itself in a scrupulous way—shifting and changing its identity to evade legal parameters; it has positioned itself in relation to the community in a negative if not offensive manner with its rhetoric and assumptions. Many feel that Fairmount has been less than transparent in its general approach to Hamilton community.

6) It is clear that Colgate’s support of the project is essential for the project to go forward. President Herbst’s memo to the community of July 24 portrays this project in glowing terms
as a wonderful fit with town and the community. Yet, given the serious and thoughtful concerns and admonitions from many places in the community (I use McVaugh and von Wettberg as representative voices here), it strikes me that this is not a time for Colgate to embrace this project without serious listening and reflection to the many seasoned voices of assessment and critique.

In my 34 years at Colgate, I’ve seen Colgate engage in superb building and restoration projects that have contributed greatly to the village, town, community and region. The Colgate Bookstore, the Movie Theater, and the Barge among them. But, I’ve also seen Colgate rethink and retract what were fast and furious plans, for example, in 1990, when the university was going to build 2 dorms and a dining hall on the Merrill House Lawn. In rethinking that project the university made a wise and creative decision to add 2 grand dorms adjacent to Frank Dining Hall.

In short, Colgate’s leadership in this moment is crucial and I among many— both on the faculty and in the town— are counting on Colgate to rethink its support of this project.

It seems clear from the McVaugh/von Wettberg representative perspectives that the Fairmount projected projects—both at the Wayne’s Market site and the lots adjacent to Oneida Savings Bank
are not well-suited to our village, town, and community. The projects disrupt the delicate social/economic/geographic eco-system of our community and town. McVaugh has aptly used the term “blight” and many people in the community concur—this would be a blight on our small,
cohesive, complex community.

I urge the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals and Colgate to consider the problems with this proposed project with a sense of the long term impact on our community.


Peter Balakian 


Barbara Regenspan said...

A reality I have not yet found explicitly stated in these eloquent remarks by fellow faculty members is the poor quality of the presentations by the developers and their representatives at the July 30 meeting. All but their lawyer presented as reluctant speakers, and he substituted forced chumminess for necessary information. The developers themselves mumbled almost inaudibly, raising the likelihood that they have no idea how to relate to citizens asking perfectly reasonable, even basic questions about their plans. Under such circumstances, why would we trust their "potential" provisions for attention to the safety needs of our students? Also, I don't think I imagined the collective shudder when the modification of sealed-shut windows and non-transparent glass was offered by FP. Sounded like a proposal to house our students in a prison.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree the plans were hasty, and perhaps not the best suited for the community in regards to bringing more students to the center of town. However, housing for your professionals who work at the University is sorely needed. Landlords like Von Wettberg operate as slumlords charging outrageous rent for the spaces they provide and disregarding the car, upkeep, and quality of their spaces. It does no good for the economy, and quality of life in Hamilton when landlords are mistreating their tenants.

Anonymous said...

Interesting note from neighboring Morrisville. Please do not consider Mr. Von Wettberg to be a selfless crusader working to protect the integrity of quaint Hamilton from out of state village destroying corporate profit seekers. Mr. Von Wettberg should be seen for what he is: someone trying to protect his very profitable tenement housing empire. In truth there is some irony in Mr. Von Wettberg’s opposition to this project. He is currently building student housing in an established residential neighborhood just outside the village of Morrisville despite vehement opposition from the surrounding community. It would seem to this observer that apparently what is good for the goose is not also good for the gander. It is very reassuring to know that hypocrisy is alive and doing quite well in the beautiful village of Hamilton, NY. Be aware! Mr. Von Wettberg cares nothing about the people or community of Hamilton unless there’s money to be made!