Criticism Sours $2M Grants For Downtown
By PATRICK WAGER
& JIM KEVLIN
ONEONTA – In his 2019 State of the State speech, Mayor Gary Herzig Tuesday, March 5, said everyone wants to get to “net zero,” but – “please” – don’t oppose a plan for the D&H railyards “to create much-needed jobs.”
Particularly, “while we go about enjoying our indoor tennis courts, gyms, swimming pools and theaters – all heated with gas. These are not the values of the people of the City of Oneonta,” he said.
The plea fell on 112 sets of deaf ears.
This was supposed to be a celebratory evening, with Herzig and former mayor Kim Muller, who chaired the DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) committee, announcing $2 million in grants for façade improvements, signage and redevelopment of upper floors for housing in the city’s downtown.
But as speaker after speaker – 30 in all, speaking for three minutes each – criticized the GEIS (generic environmental impact statement) on a multi-million-dollar plan to redevelop the 88-acre D&Y Railyards, time ran out and no announcement occurred.
The mood in the Foothills Performing Arts Center black-box theater – the Common Council meeting was held there to accommodate happy grant recipients – was polite, but intense. There were no outbursts of emotion.
For the next 90 minutes, though, the speakers peppered Council members with criticism about the keystone economic-development proposal that City Hall and Otsego Now have been working on for three years.
SUNY Oneonta chemistry professor Ron Bishop, a Middlefield resident, set the tone: “The railyards is a brownfield, not a good place for food processing and construction. Micro-particles will become airborne, and are easy to absorb into your lungs.”
Only Seth Clark, the Common Council candidate who operates a student-rental business, struck a contrary note: “We need hundreds and hundreds of jobs,” he said. “We not only owe our children the future, we owe them a couple of hot meals a day.”