Empire State College Reaches Out To Neighbors Regarding New Moore Hall Project

In early April, Mary Caroline Powers, Vice President for Communications and Government Relations at Empire College, telephoned one of the leaders of the neighborhood association that defeated Sonny Bonacio’s original proposal for Moore Hall.

Ms. Powers explained that the College was very concerned about the new variances being sought by Mr. Bonacio for his revised plans for the Moore Hall property.  Specifically, the College was concerned about the side set-back variance (for 10 feet versus the required 20 feet) impact on the back side portico door of the historic building owned by the College at the corner of Regent and Union.

She asked whether the neighbor had attended the ZBA meeting on April 11.  She was informed that he had.  He described what had occurred to date regarding the project in terms of SEQR and other issues.

He then shared with her that it was unlikely that the College could expect much support from the neighbors in light of the College’s unwillingness to support the concerns of the neighborhood regarding the original project.

Ms. Powers explained that they had met with Mr. Bonacio and had agreed not to publicly oppose the original project.  She advised the neighbor that they had privately expressed concerns regarding parking and pedestrian safety.

He told Ms. Powers that he would pass her concerns on to the neighbors but expressed skepticism that in light of the College’s previous lack of support, that there would be much interest in working with the College.

She welcomed any feedback from the neighbors, and said she would be glad to explain the College’s position with regards to the previous  Moore Hall proposal for 53 micro units in the existing building.

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Empire State College Reaches Out To Neighbors Regarding New Moore Hall Project”

  1. Johnny , Johnny , academic double talk ” not to publicly oppose the initial project” ” privately had concerns” …..I feel like I’m back in prep school trying to translate Cicero. You either help the neighbors or you don’t ….reaching out later doesn’t cut it . Stay safe.

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  2. John,

    Empire State College is governed by a “College Council” whose members are appointed by the governor and entrusted by the trustees of the State University with certain responsibilities noted following.

    The College Council:

    provides advice to the president and college administration
    represents the State of New York and its taxpayers in affirming that the college is fulfilling its public mission
    receives information about college programs, budgets, enrollments, facilities and student learning.

    Council members are appointed by the governor and serve seven year terms. One member is a student at Empire State College and is recommended by deans of our regional centers and programs on a rotating basis.

    The statutory areas of responsibility entrusted by the trustees of the State University of New York to college councils are:

    oversight of student housing
    development of recommendations for the college presidency should that position become vacant
    review and approval of the proposed college budget plan.

    It seems extraordinarily inappropriate for a high ranking official of the College to contact a citizen representative of a neighborhood group to inquire about the status of a local ZBA application even if, as in this case, the college (the State University system) is the owner of adjacent property. This would be even more inappropriate if the contact was made to solicit support for or against the project outside the public view.

    The college sits on state owned land within 500 feet of the project site. As such, the ZBA would be required under NYS General Municipal Law to refer the application for variances to the County Planning Board for review and recommendation. It is in the County Planning Board’s role to access potential impacts on the college.

    If the College is so concerned it has the option – once authorized by its governing body – of sharing its concerns in open public hearing with the ZBA and County Planning Board.

    Because, at least in the first instance, this is a quasi-judicial proceeding, all parties are entitled to know of any testimony or influences being made either for or against the application and any attempt to influence, or seek a surrogate to influence the outcome, is a potential problem. If the College is ‘very concerned’ it should address its concern publicly and through established procedure.

    The questions alleged to have been asked of the neighbor should have been addressed to the ZBA. No state agency or institution operates that way, nor should it. There is established law and process to address any legitimate and “official” concerns the school may have. A state institution – and certainly not an employee of that institution – cannot meet with an applicant and “agree not to publicly oppose” as you note the College did originally.

    Also, I find no record that the College Council has adopted or even discussed the application. Thus, assuming the accuracy of your post, the question becomes by whose authority would the College initiated this contact with a presumed neighborhood opposition member and for what purpose.

    Got to be more to this than meets the eye.

    Lew Benton

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