By JENNIFER HILL • Special To AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Oneonta is the right place at the right time.
That was Hudson Valley developer Ken Kearney’s assessment to a packed Chambers in Tuesday’s Common Council meeting of the positive impact his proposed development, Lofts on Dietz Street, would have on Oneonta’s downtown.
With evidence of positive results from two recent developments with artist lofts and middle-income apartment in Peekskill and Poughkeepsie, Kearney’s prediction for a similar project in Oneonta carried weight.
“We built our Peekskill buildings in a blighted area with high poverty rate and crime,” he said. “No one walked there at any time of day. We were the first investment in about 50 years. When it opened last year, there were people walking up and down Main Street. A coffee shop and restaurant have opened up.”
Mayor Gary Herzig announced in Tuesday’s meeting that, should the space be built, Hartwick College intends to use space in the building for their new “grains innovation program,” in which they test out hops, barley, and other beer brewing grains.
“Hartwick College wants to be at the forefront in grain innovation,” he said. “And it wants to provide a program and services to students downtown.”
Kearney, a developer with over 30 years of experience, was at the Common Council meeting Tuesday night to inform Council members and the public on his vision, plan, and funding for the Oneonta project. His presentation came two weeks after the Common Council unanimously approved make Parkview Development & Construction, Inc., which Kearney and his son, Sean, co-own, the “preferred developer” of a 64-unit, mixed-used building on Dietz Street. Forty units will be designated for artists and 24 for “middle-income” renters.
“The middle-income units would be from Governor Cuomo’s program that gives tenants with middle-incomes a rent advantage,” Kearney said. “Our buildings in Peekskill and Poughkeepsie were the first to be part of the governor’s program.”
He explained that the middle-income tenants in those apartments have a “25 percent rent advantage,” meaning they spend 25 percent less than the median rent of middle-income earners in those areas. Those tenants then have more disposable income to spend in local businesses, which then boosts other people’s incomes and improves the municipality’s economy.
For the artists’ lofts, Kearney said an “artist certification committee” is set up to review applications of people who want to live in them to ensure they meet the committee’s criteria.
In designating apartments to these two specific groups, Parkview receives funding from the state to use for building the developments.
“We are responsible for the whole development,” Kearney said. “We do our own construction, development, and management. And we structure it with investors so that they leave after 15 years and Parkview is the long-term owners.”
“I do it this way so my grandkids and great-grandkids will think I’m smart,” he added.
Kearney also envisions Dietz Street having space for businesses on the first floor, possibly with a gallery for the artists to exhibit their work, as the Peekskill buildings have.
People in the audience at the Council meeting raised concerns about available parking spaces as they had in the last Council meeting. “Lofts on Dietz Street” will be built partly on the Dietz Street parking lot, which will eliminate 50 of the spaces. A study done on available parking spaces commissioned by the city reported Oneonta had “an abundance of parking spaces,” with an average of 600 of 1091 spaces taken. The mayor said the parking space study could be found at opportunities
“The spaces in the parking lot are filled every day and I drive around for a while trying to find one,” said Debra Marcus, CEO of Family Planning, which is located on Dietz Street. “Losing those parking spaces will devastate us.”
Future renters of the building will lease parking spots in the municipal parking garage, but several people expressed skepticism renters would want to use it, describing the garage as “unsafe, dingy, and dark.”
But Kearney said, “Not all places are right for this kind of development. Oneonta is.”
Kearney will present his “Lofts on Dietz Street” proposal at the city’s Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday, July 18 at 7 p.m. in Common Council Chambers.