Herzig Pleads: Work Together
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.”
The site contains “a ton of brownfields,” he continued. Development will cause “a ton of transportation issues. What to do about the all the traffic? What about the bomb trucks.”
A half-dozen speakers who followed picked up on similar themes. And other complaints arose.
“We have 25 employees,” said Al Cleinman of Cleinman Performance Partners, a national optical consultancy. “We consume the energy of about two homes. I question why we don’t push toward knowledge-based businesses like mine.”
“The 5,000 students who go to the two colleges aren’t going to stay to make stuff. They will stay for knowledge-based businesses,” he said.
Said Adrian Kuzminski, Fly Creek, Sustainable Otsego moderator, “There is a lot of opposition to the plan as it is now. The rational step is to step back and table the plan, and reevaluate it.”
Only Seth Clark, the Ward 2 Common Council candidate who operates a student-rental business, struck a contrary note: With 38 percent of Oneontans under the poverty line, and 50 percent of children living in those homes, “I want to encourage Council to keep their eyes on the prize.”
“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.”
Lost in the criticism was a State of the City call to redevelop the railyards as a sustainable “Eco-Park,” the first of its kind in the state.
Herzig said, “Let’s roll up our sleeves and work together. I challenge all to volunteer your time and your experience to help us make this location a model of energy efficiency with a plan to eventually get to net zero.
“Let’s not just talk about an Eco-Park – work with us to figure out just what that means and just how to make it happen,” he said.
That call was left for another day.