BUNN HILL ZONING - OVERVIEW

WHAT IS AT STAKE:  Landmark Development and the Kradjian family are seeking to develop high density housing (approx. 161 2-5 bedroom units on a 43 acre parcel at 833 Bunn Hill Road that is currently zoned “Rural Residential” (single family homes that have 240 feet of road frontage.)  In addition there is approximately 10 acres of vacant land adjacent to this (going south or up the hill,) that is either owned by the Kradjian family or available for sale.  In order to do this the Town Board must change the zoning of this property.

We would like to take this opportunity to update you on recent activities and initiatives as Landmark Development and the Kradjian family seek to build a cottage style complex of over 50 buildings at 833 Bunn Hill Road.  In addition, we would like to share our thoughts with you and continue to ask for your thoughts, opinions and support in the effort stop this development from happening.

 

For some background;

Our group and mailing list was created in the spring of 2008 when the Kradjian family first sought to bring student housing (through a developer called CampusCrest, who has since gone out of business) to this site.  This effort generated great public opposition evidenced by attendance at Vestal Town Board meetings, Town Planning Board meetings, and Town Zoning Board of Appeals meetings.  Due to this opposition, the Kradjian family withdrew its request.  In the spring of 2019, once again an initiative to develop was begun.  This initiative was with a different developer, Landmark, a self-described leader in the development of off-campus student housing.  The proposal listed their request to seek to build 161 units of 2-5 bedrooms each of university and professional housing.  This was a change from the student housing request and it was most likely based upon information stated in a report sponsored by Broome County (Agency Report-September 2017) to study housing needs in our County.  This report clearly stated that there was no need to develop additional off-campus student housing, but that there was need to develop single family homes and rental units for middle to upper class housing (generally associated with the university and allied health fields.)  We believe the Kradjian family altered their request to reflect the Agency’s report.  Once again, this effort met with great public opposition and was abruptly withdrawn by the developers. 

Being as Bunn Hill Road is a Broome County road, the county has the opportunity to weigh in on the feasibility of this development and potential change in zoning.  This process is referred to as a “239 review.”  The 239 review in last spring was highly critical of developing such a project on this site due to lack of need and an inappropriate location.  It was right about the time that the 239 review was released that the request for development was withdrawn.

In January of 2020, Landmark and the Kradjian family, once again put forth another plan for development to the Town Board.  This initiative was backed by a significant public relations campaign to express the virtues of such a development.  Their campaign clearly addresses shortcomings noted in the 2019 239 Review.  They have not changed any of their design, despite what their advertising states.  The advertising is professional and well done, and is their opinion, not fact. 

 

Recent Events and Activities:

Members of our group met with Vestal Supervisor John Schaffer in February to find out the specific procedure for Landmark to proceed.  They must submit a request to the Town Planning Board and receive Planning Board Approval in order to proceed.  If the Planning Board does not approve, they may appeal to the Town Board.  The Zoning Board of Appeals for the town considers the request to change the zoning.  The Town Board has final say.  In the past, the Town Board has brought suit against the Town Zoning Board of Appeals questioning their decisions. There are five Town Board members.  A majority is needed to pass.  If Broome County opposes this plan (as they have once again done,) a super majority, 4 of the 5 members, are needed to pass.

On March 3rd, a Planning Board meeting was held.  Landmark’s attorney, Sarah Campbell presented their case.  The Town meeting room holds 62 people.  The room was filled 15 minutes prior to the meeting with approx. 50 spectators.  Presenters, Planning Board members and the media representatives made up the rest of the attendees.  Two Vestal policemen and the Town engineer prohibited any more people from entering the room.  Approximately 50 people tried to listen from the hallway and lobby.  The sound system had not been turned on so they could not hear the presentation.  Broome County had yet to submit their 239 review, so a decision could not be rendered.  Planning Board members asked questions after the Landmark presentation, and calmly exposed some of the shortcomings of the Landmark presentation, which is very similar to their public relations advertising (kind of showy and not truly realistic.)  The matter was adjourned until the next Planning Board meeting on April 7, 2020.  There was no public comment permitted.  Public comments can take place at a Town Board hearing that is yet to be determined or scheduled.  The County 239 Review has now been completed and once again is not supportive of this development.  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Town of Vestal has closed its offices for the time being and suspended committee meetings.

At this time:

  • We have retained the services of zoning specialist attorney, Maeve Touhey.  She successfully represented the residents of Fenton two years ago when a gas company sought to develop a compressor station close to residential neighborhoods.

  • We have retained the services of a public relations firm for a short term to guide us in our efforts to counteract the professional advertising effort of Landmark. 

  • We have had three meetings with the County Executive, Jason Garner to familiarize him with the specifics of this situation.

  • We have met with NYS Senator Fred Akshar in order to inform him of the circumstances of this proposed development.

  • We have sought to update our contact list and expand it.

 

We believe:

  • The Kradjian family is in this for the long term now.  They have invested a significant amount and put forth a much greater effort than on the previous occasions.

  • Their effort is focused on bringing tax revenue to the Town of Vestal, directly by the potential assessment of the property, and indirectly by bringing people to this development and supporting local business.     

  •     

The developer’s claims of for the Town of Vestal is dubious at best.The potential tax impact for the town may well be less than 1% of the total town budget.This does not even factor in the increase demand upon town services such as police and fire that will be required.If you look at your tax bill, you will see that greater percentages of your tax bill go to the Vestal Central School District and Broome County than the Town of Vestal.Our taxes have never been reduced and this development will not reduce them.

  • They are appealing to the expressed need for upscale rental housing.  (The reality is that in time, any mix of rental residents will live there such as the case with the University Plaza housing.)

  • They are stating that their development fits in with the surrounding neighborhood, which we recognize as their opinion. Landmark in their proposal, states that they wish to be a good neighbor.  They have allowed for approximately 700 parking spots in a less than 300 yard road frontage site on a two lane rural road.  If you travel Bunn Hill Road regularly, this number of vehicles coming and going in such a condensed area hardly defines good neighbor.

  • If this development goes through the estimates of revenue for the owners/developers is extreme.  They are using this to tempt the Town Board to change the zoning of the rural areas of Vestal in order that the Town can bring in more tax dollars.

 

What is needed:

  • We must continue to grow our contact list.  This produces a file of letters of LOCAL opposition that we feel greatly influences elected officials.  At this time, we believe one board member has already stated his support for this development; prior to Planning Board decision or Public hearing.

  • We need to develop volunteer local neighborhood representatives that can visit with their neighbors to grow this contact list.  A result of this can be the production and display of additional signs advertising our cause.

  • Additional thoughts and opinions as we seek to overcome this most recent initiative.

  • Funding donations for attorney fees, road signs, etc.