A day after Common Council, 7-1, authorized the sale of part of the Dietz Street parking lot to Kearney & Son Development for the 64-unit Lofts on Dietz, the city Planning Commission Wednesday evening unanimously approved the site plan application, clearing the way for the project to go forward.
Prior to discussion the plan’s particulars, the commission reviewed the SEQRA application, and authorized chairman Anna Tomaino to sign a “negative declaration.” Under the state Environmental Quality Review Act, such a declaration finds the project will have minimal impact.
Editor’s Note: Following a sometimes heated Oneonta Planning Commission public hearing Wednesday, Oct. 16, which focused on whether the Lofts on Dietz, 66 proposed units of artists’ lofts and housing, will use too much of the Dietz Street parking lot, this exchange appeared on Facebook earlier this week:
►from ALAN CLEINMAN, president, Cleinman Performance Partners, Oneonta
Fellow citizens of Oneonta:
I feel compelled to challenge the notion that the need for parking on Dietz Street should be the reason to stop the progressive Art Space project.
Oneonta needs these types of projects to provide economic anchoring in an era of retail disruption. We cannot hope to compete by attracting retail without developments that encourage residing in our downtown. It’s that simple.
We are blessed to have acres of parking adjacent to our downtown. Having spent my life traveling, I know first-hand that the majority of communities are not so blessed.
But to fail to develop our downtown for fear of the loss of parking is, in a word, ludicrous.
Parking is not now a problem nor will it likely be if the Art Space project is built. That said, if parking does become a problem, we have the land (remaining Dietz Street lot) to build another downtown garage. Four or more stories of new downtown parking is not only possible, but is the antidote to all parking concerns. In the same space that currently houses 100 spaces, we could have 400-600.
Let’s support this important project and not stand in the way of progress, especially when the solution to the loss of parking can so readily be resolved.
►From JODY SHULER
In my town I hear this all the time. We can’t attract new businesses without parking spaces. They want street parking for people who are too lazy to walk. Yet we currently have business owners and employees taking the street parking now. Parking is always an issue in a metropolitan area. Just build the retail and residential spaces. The parking will sort itself out. Make the area so desirable that people will want to come and do what’s necessary to get there!!
►From MARK DRNEK
With all respect, I agree that this is potentially an important project – and one for which I could normally be counted upon to champion – but I disagree that the issue of its impact on parking is less important.
The positive effect of the building and its projected tenancy on downtown is one that can be argued, but the stress of its imposition on the shopping district and the surrounding neighborhood is inarguable.
Hundreds of spaces removed from the city’s most easily accessible, and most strategically located lot will drive shoppers to other options, and overnight parking to the already overcrowded side streets.
Add the expectation that second and third floors on Main Street will have new occupancy – and with it, increased demand for parking – to the planned decrease in the parking availabilities in the reimagined parking garage, and we court disaster for our retail district and the quality of life in the side street neighborhoods of the City, especially in the Eighth Ward.
With proper planning, and creative mitigation of the impact that comes with any construction, we can build new and upgrade old, to address the needs of our community as we work together for the best possible future.
Progress cannot result from stopping investment in our community. Such investors and investments are few and far between. Here we have investors willing to take on huge risk and invest $million$ to deliver a very worthy project that brings both residents and visitors to our challenged downtown while helping to build our arts community, a very logical lynchpin of our economic future.
The majority of resistance to this worthy project stems from the potential loss of single-level parking. This potential expense could readily be resolved by adding parking levels, moving cars up but not out!
This further investment can be made IF the perceived (not proven) loss of parking spaces actually results in a parking challenge. Further, the investment can be supported by the new, sorely needed, tax dollars that the Art Space project will deliver.
Every project has its benefits and costs. In this case, it doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to identify a rather simple solution to a perceived resulting “expense.”
Please focus on removing obstacles to progress, not on creating them.
Each dollar a community invests in the arts generates approximately $9 for the local community according to Americans for the Arts economic impact calculator. Parking is a matter the can be remedied by planning but before planning there needs to be a vision.
Al, as someone with an almost-masters in urban affairs and a lot of years writing about it, I can say you hit the nail on the head.
Downtowns, in a city of any size, thrive when people find reasons to live in or near them or remain in them after traditional work hours. The idea that people will not walk a couple of blocks to something they want is false. Most people who go to a mall or a Walmart actually park further from the store than they would downtown. They do not realize it because of “line of sight.”
As for me, never have I driven through a town and said, “What a cool parking lot! Let’s stop!” I hope you prevail.
ONEONTA – Before there was parking on Dietz Street, there used to be homes.
“I spent a lot of time looking at maps of old Oneonta,” said Bob Brzozowski, executive director, Greater Oneonta Historical Society. “I think we forget that space used to be houses and buildings.”
The City of Oneonta Planning Commission held a public hearing this evening on the proposed Lofts on Dietz, which will include low-cost living and studio spaces for artists, drawing comments from supporters and detractors alike.
“I offer my enthusiastic support,” SUNY Oneonta President Barbara Jean Morris wrote in a letter read by City Clerk Nancy Powell. “Creation of the Dietz Street Lofts would help alleviate the shortage of middle income in the city to which so many young college professionals have been subject.”
ONEONTA – Two citizens raised concerns about parking – a third called for “net zero” energy efficiency – when developer Ken Kearney outlined plans for a 64-unit art colony, The Lofts on Dietz, to the city Planning Commission last evening.
“As an artist, the building is an excellent concept, one we should embrace,” said Michael Stolzer, who lives in the Town of Oneonta but owns rental properties in the city. “But parking spaces are valuable. It seems kind of on the absurd side to build it on the parking lot.”
Mayor Gary Herzig saw it another way: “I truly hope we have a real parking problem, because it will mean we’re thriving and our businesses are successful,” he said as the meeting wrapped up.
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.”
By JENNIFER HILL & JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – By next summer, Oneonta could see the first major fruits of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative as a 64-unit, four-story Artspace-like complex breaks ground on Dietz Street.
“I’m very excited about this,” Mayor Gary Herzig said of what’s being called the Lofts On Dietz. “If all goes as planned, it could start transforming downtown Oneonta.”
Meeting Tuesday, July 2, Common Council voted to make Parkview Development & Construction, Inc. the “preferred developer” of the mixed-used building – 44 artists’ lofts and 24 middle-income apartments – to be built on part of the Dietz Parking Lot.
The developer, a father and son team from the Hudson Valley, Ken and Sean Kearney, will go into more detail at Council’s July 16. The next day, they will go before the Planning Commission.
If the Dietz Street project is ultimately approved and implemented, it would become the first development to use Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) funds, which Herzig said would “partially” pay for it.
The city’s Comprehensive Master Plan envisions downtown as an arts’ hub and sees a need for more housing. The Dietz Street project, Herzig said, “checks all the boxes.”
Herzig said he began talking with the Kearneys a year ago when he learned of their development projects they had done in Poughkeepsie and Peekskill.
“Both projects are thriving [and] became fully occupied as soon as they opened,” he added. Both have had an immediate impact on the surrounding downtown neighborhood – more people on the street, more businesses opening.”
Last September, the mayor sent a ten-person delegation of Oneonta developers, Council members, and business owners to tour the Kearneys’ $28 million development, Lofts on Main, in Peekskill and came back raving about it.
“We looked at three apartments there,” said Bob Brzozowski, a member of the group. “They had 14-16-foot ceilings, with one all-glass wall looking over Main Street. It was a breathtaking view.”
Brzozowski said they also looked at one building’s commercial space, with some of it designated for an art gallery specially for exhibiting the works of the artists renting the apartments.
Herzig said the Dietz Street building will likely be a mixed use building as well, with commercial space on the first floor “to bring downtown development to retail.” One possible occupant of the commercial space would be “academic programming” from either SUNY or Hartwick or both to occupy some of the space.
“We’re in conversations about it,” said Herzig. “The city has wanted the colleges to have a downtown presence for years and years.” He said would connect the colleges more closely to the city.
Oneonta residents will have a clearer idea in two weeks of what the Kearneys have in mind. They are scheduled to brief Common Council July 16 on their plans and will appear before the Planning Commission to begin site plan review the next day
Herzig cautioned that the Common Council’s vote, which authorizes the mayor to enter a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the developer is “a preliminary step.”
“There are still many steps ahead of us,” Mayor Gary Herzig said. “But the MOU starts the process.”
Plus, the Minneapolis-based Artspace national non-profit did a feasibility study and found its concept would work here. However, City Hall decided to seek a private developer, which means the building will be on the tax rolls.
The project, to be located across Dietz from the Lizard Lick, will use 50 existing parking space. The developer will also have the opportunity to lease spaces in the downtown parking deck, which would free up further spaces in the Dietz lot.
This had some residents concerned. “When there’s snow and the city calls for people to not be on the street, where will they park?” asked Stanley Mariece.
But Herzig said that on multiple tours of the lot, he has rarely seen it full, counting only 80 cars on the single busiest day.
“This development will bring in so many benefits,” said Council member Melissa Nicosia. “We just keep hearing people complain that there’s no housing, then they complain about parking.”
ONEONTA – Attention, Oneonta: The Lofts on Dietz are coming.
Common Council will vote Tuesday on making Parkview Development & Construction, Inc., a father and son development team from the Hudson Valley, Ken and Sean Kearney, the “preferred developer” on a local version of Artspace – 40 lofts for artists and another 26 middle-income apartments – planned for the Dietz Street parking lot.
All 66 units in the four-story building are “affordable,” Mayor Gary Herzig emphasized a few minutes ago, adding, “I’m very excited about this.” If all goes as planned, a ground-breaking could occur next summer.
“This really kick-starts transforming downtown Oneonta,” he said.