Lofts On Dietz Suit
Amended In Light
Of Geo. Wilber Will
Century-Old Bequests Limits Use
To Municipal Purposes, Filing Says
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – George I. Wilber, who left what is now the Dietz Street parking lot to the City of Oneonta on his death in 1922, limited its use to municipal purposes only, according to a court filing this afternoon.
As a result, City Hall was in violation of the Public Trust Doctrine by selling part of the property to Kearney Development Inc. for the Lofts on Dietz, Attorney Douglas Zamelis, representing five plaintiffs, said in the filing.
Kearney is expecting to break ground next spring on the four-story Loftz on Dietz, a development of 40 artists’ lofts and 24 middle-income apartments.
“This devise to the City of Oneonta is limited, however, for Public Buildings and for Park and Municipal purposes only,” according to an excerpt in the will contained in the complaint.
“We’re familiar with the will, and we believe the proposed use complies,” said Mayor Gary Herzig in response to the filing.
George I. Wilber, originally from Milford, made a fortune in the hops trade and founded Wilber National Bank, now part of Community Bank. He was the father of a local congressman.
The plaintiffs filed an Article 78 complaint Dec. 6 seeking to block the project, which Herzig and others have hailed as a jumpstart to the city’s downtown revitalization efforts, fueled by a $10 million state grant received in 2016. Nonetheless, the issue of lost parking was hotly debated at public meetings.
The plaintiffs are accountant Johna Peachin, whose Peachin Associates is at Dietz and Main; John and Kathleen Pietrobono, whose Lewis, Hurley & Pietrobono Funeral Home is at 51 Dietz St., and dentists Robert B. Jr. and Gerald Pondolfino of Pondolfino Dental Associates, 39 Dietz.
The first court hearing on the matter is scheduled for 9 a.m. Jan. 23 before state Supreme Court Judge Michael Coccoma in Cooperstown.
In the original complaint, the five alleged the city Planning Commission violated the city’s municipal code and zoning laws by improperly waiving site plan details and off-street parking and 50-foot setback requirements for multi-family residential facilities in the MU-1 district, according to a press release issued at the time. The Planning Commission deferred the parking issue to the city for future unspecified resolution, the complaint.
The business owners assert that code compliance would have resulted in the loss of more than 200 of the 255 parking spaces in the Dietz Street parking lot. City Hall has said the project will use 80 of the spaces.