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The School on the Hill

Eagle Hill residents say there are alternatives to the proposed construction of student housing in their neighborhood

Last Thursday, more than 100 residents of the Eagle Hill neighborhood bordering the University at Albany uptown campus gathered at a public hearing to voice their concerns over the proposed construction of student housing for 500 college students. Although university President George Phillips and Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings left minutes into the meeting, the residents spent the next hour and a half expressing their concerns to John Giarrusso, the university’s vice president of physical facilities.

“We felt that we fairly represented ourselves to the University,” said Steven Sokal of 36 Tudor Street and a seven-year resident of Eagle Hill.

In addition to concerns over the environmental, financial and quality-of-life impact of the proposed construction, the residents also take issue with what they feel is a lack of honest communication between the university and the residents of Eagle Hill.

The proposed project would be constructed on the southeast end of the campus and would include two five-story dormitory buildings in addition to a 250-space parking lot. The construction would take place on a 13-acre piece of land that remains the only natural untouched environment on the uptown campus.

“On the plus side, the university will be allowed to take steps to enhance their position as a world-leading educational institution,” Sokal said. “There will be, for the duration of the project, some activity on Wall Street issuing bonds in order to fund the project, and there’ll be some construction jobs as the project is being done, but that’s about it for positives.”

Sokal and his neighbors are concerned with the quality-of-life issues that 500 additional college students will bring to the residential neighborhood, as well as the environmental impact regarding flooding in the area.

“There have been a number of underground streams that have been paved over in the immediate neighborhood,” Sokal said. “It’s a preexisting condition. On our property itself, we do have water lying on the back of the property, and the reason for that is the university’s property is about 15 feet higher in elevation than us, so it drains into our backyard. The university, in examining the water issue, took a look at their own property but they failed to acknowledge that if you start paving over 13 acres of land, which they probably will do in putting down 250 parking spaces, the water will have to go somewhere.”

In addition, Sokal expressed concern over the increased cost to the city with the construction of the student housing.

“The dormitories are going to be located in the city, so the fire and police departments will have to respond to emergency situations,” Sokal said. “The city will have to deal with the downstream storm-water sewage from the proposed project, and it seems as though the university has said that there will be absolutely no increase in their PILOT payments to the city nor will there be any taxes coming to the city for all the additional costs inflicted on the city.”

According to Sokal, the city may also lose tax revenue were the assessed property values of the homes in Eagle Hill to drop due to the proposed project.

In November 2008, S/L/A/M Architects P.C. prepared a “Feasibility Study and Options Analysis for New Student Housing,” in which they identified the three potential sites for new student-housing construction. While the southeast corner was designated as the ideal site, two other locations—Dutch Quad West and State Quad East—were classified as optimal sites.

There may also be a private alternative to new construction of student housing.

“We have heard from an attorney representing an owner of a very large building in the city of Albany,” Sokal said. “He said that he heard about our situation, and that he had a building space to offer that would be a very good alternative to the university constructing.” According to Sokal, the space would have twice the capacity, is currently available, has previously been used as dormitory space, and would be available for a fraction of the cost. He said that he does not know where this building is located, and that the attorney would not name his client. Sokal declined to name the attorney, saying that he did not want to jeopardize what he considers to be the best way out for the neighborhood and the university.

Communication between the residents and the university had been limited prior to the public hearing last Thursday. Thirteenth Ward Common Councilman Dan Herring sent a letter to the university president on behalf of the Eagle Hill neighborhood outlining concerns over the proposed project. Phillips responded with a letter saying that the university does intend to communicate with the residents of Eagle Hill, but that “at this point into the project, we are still evaluating site conditions and have not yet hired the architects to start the design process.”

“The draft generic environmental impact statement is due out at the end of October,” Sokal said, “and at that time the university would state their position concerning the proposed construction. It’s critical that any action that does occur takes place before that report is issued.”

A call to John Giarrusso was directed to Media Relations, who did not return a call as of press time.

—Cecelia Martinez

Panic in Downtown

After a series of unsolved muggings, residents in Troy form a new neighborhood group

Armando Di Cianno was hanging out in front of his downtown office on State Street in Troy, talking with three of his coworkers shortly after midnight two weeks ago when the four were mugged at gunpoint by two young men. The assailants stole wallets and telephones and pistol whipped two of their victims, but no one was seriously hurt.

On Tuesday, Di Cianno opened his office to more than two dozen downtown residents as they came together to meet with TPD Officer William Wade for an introductory meeting about forming a neighborhood group.

“We’ve had four armed robberies in two weeks,” a woman from Little Italy began the meeting. “What is going on?”

Wade sidestepped answering this question directly, instead pointing out that this was only the first in what could be a long-term series of monthly meetings. The basics for community interactions with the police were covered. Many of the people at the meeting said that in their years as Troy residents they had never experienced this level of violence.

“I have lived downtown almost 20 years, and there are always isolated incidents,” said Councilman Bill Dunne (D-District 4). “But I don’t ever recall a gun ever being involved. And for four young, healthy guys to get attacked, there is a frightening arrogance to that.”

John Chupka, a resident of Liberty Street for the past seven years, called the recent spate of muggings “unusual.”

The most recent mugging occurred on Liberty Street. A man was on the sidewalk, feigning illness. He and another man attacked their victim when he stopped to help.

“This is a different kind of crime. It’s provocative,” Chupka said, pointing out that the attack occurred during the day. “I am more careful when I walk down the street; I look around a lot more. We never did that. We didn’t have that fear.”

According to Troy Police Chief Nick Kaiser, “This is not a huge trend. Of course, one incident is more than we want and it is more than downtown might have experienced in the past, but this is just a few individuals responsible for this series. And this series is not as extensive as you would think from the sound of things.”

“They are predators who watch for people who are easy targets,” he continued, “so until we make an arrest in this, I would hope that people would take precautions, walk with other people, walk in lighted areas.”

Anyone interested in taking part in this new neighborhood group can visit the next Troy Neighborhood Association Council meeting on Wednesday (Sept. 30) from 5:30 to 7 PM at the Sanctuary for Independent Media.

—Chet Hardin

Streets of Sorrow

Subject of a 2007 Metroland cover story charged in brutal slaying

Three teenagers were charged Monday in the slaying of University at Albany student Richard Bailey, almost a year after the incident took place. Bailey was shot in the head during a robbery attempt while walking along Albany’s South Lake Avenue on Oct. 20, 2008. Bailey, who hailed from Wantagh, Long Island, was returning home after watching Monday Night Football. He had wanted to become a New York City police officer.

Eighteen-year-old Devon Callicutt of Rensselaer is accused of shooting Bailey and has been charged with first degree murder. Seventeen-year-old King Modest of Albany and 18-year-old Ricardo Caldwell of Schenectady have been charged with murder in the second degree and attempted robbery. All three pleaded not guilty. Bailey’s murder heightened concerns about gun violence and shook the relatively quiet Pine Hills neighborhood.

In October 2007, Metroland was invited by Albany Common Councilman Corey Ellis to meet with young men in the West Hill neighborhood to discuss an effort they were undertaking to spotlight the needs of kids and young adults in the neighborhood in an effort to reduce street violence and gang involvement.

One of those young men was Modest. Metroland’s first meeting with Modest and his friends took place on the corner of Second and Quail streets. Ellis was there as well. Modest was in the process of interviewing local kids about what would improve their lives and get them off the streets after school.

Modest immediately made an impression. He was bright, knowledgeable and charismatic, but only moments after the conversation with Modest began, a brawl broke out just a few feet away. Modest and his friends were drawn toward it, despite being in the middle of a conversation with a reporter and despite Ellis’ presence. Ellis did his best to restrain the teens, but they were compelled toward the chaos.

Things calmed down after one teen was beaten over the head with a chair and left twitching on the sidewalk. The police eventually arrived, and Modest returned to Ellis’ side. Modest insisted that despite the incident, he wanted “positive” things reported. He was interested in making sure that readers understood what his and other teens’ lives were like. Much had been made in the media about after-school violence, and Modest felt teens were not getting their say.

Metroland returned multiple times to the corner in Arbor Hill. Sometimes Modest was there. One day he spent time interviewing kids for his project, but was quickly distracted. Later he took Metroland on a tour of local hangouts. He warned that people in the neighborhood regularly got jumped for things as simple as sneakers and jewelry.

But as the print date neared, Modest became harder to find. Ellis worried about him and searched for him at his regular hangouts. At the time, Ellis openly worried that Modest could not separate himself from friends who were headed down the wrong path. He said Modest knew what he needed to do to escape a life on the streets, but wanted to make sure he brought his friends with him. Ellis said Modest was constantly asking him to get his friends and relatives jobs to help them out.

Ellis said it has been about a year and a half since he last saw Modest, but that he had spoken to his aunt during that time. She assured Ellis that Modest was doing well in school. Ellis declined to comment further, noting that the case was ongoing. But Ellis did say he was not going to stop mentoring young people. “If there are young men and women that need mentoring, I will be there,” said Ellis. “I’m not going to stop.”

—David King

Photo: Joe Putrock

Obama in the House

In case you didn’t hear, President Barack Obama stopped in the Capital Region on Monday to visit Hudson Valley Community College. Before a crowded room of guests, media and the state’s political elite, the president stumped in support of his administration’s $100 billion investment in education and technology research. HVCC has received $2 million in funds from the Federal Recovery Act to expand the college’s training in green and energy-efficient jobs.




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