Vestal residents filled both the meeting room and lobby of Vestal Town Hall on March 3 to oppose a proposed 161-unit student housing complex on the hilltop of Bunn Hill Road, a rural community located southwest of Binghamton University.
The Vestal Planning Board held the public meeting for the developer, Landmark Properties of Athens, Georgia, to present its housing proposal and enable the board to ask questions.
Although it was not a public hearing, and therefore the public was not given an opportunity to speak, more than 100 residents attended to distribute petitions, display signs in opposition to the plan and speak with the press outside the meeting room.
Frank Urban, 75, of Vestal, lives on Lauderdale Drive, which intersects Bunn Hill Road. He said he opposes the plan for an apartment complex for BU students because the area is zoned for one-family homes.
“It’s not right to put a multidevelopment building up there,” Urban said. “It’s right next to a lot of people who bought their house because they wanted it to be rural residential. That’s how it’s zoned. They don’t want a whole mass of people moving in.”
Urban said the type of development being proposed is inappropriate for the hilltop section of Bunn Hill Road and would be more appropriate downhill closer to Vestal Parkway, which has nearby access to transportation, sewer and water lines and other infrastructure to support it.
“This is high-density housing, 161 units with two to five bedrooms each and more than 500 parking spaces they want to put up on the hill,” Urban said. “But all the infrastructure is in the valley.”
Ted Wolf, 68, of Vestal, said he supports land development as long as it is done in compliance with the existing zoning.
“I don’t have a problem with someone who owns land and wants to develop it, as long as they follow the guidelines set forth by the town at this time,” Wolf said.
However, the proposed development cannot be built under the existing rural residential (RR) zoning, so the developer is asking the Town of Vestal to grant spot zoning which, if approved, would exclusively rezone 43 acres within the RR district as a Planned Development District (PDD). If the PDD zoning designation is granted, the change would pave the way for construction of the proposed student apartment complex.
Residents opposed to the change organized a group called Friends for Responsible Vestal Zoning, which has a Facebook group by the same name.
Victor Lamoureux, 49, of Vestal, is a member of the group and lives on Bunn Hill Road adjacent to the proposed student housing development. He attended Tuesday’s meeting carrying and distributing signs protesting the plan. He said he wanted to make clear that his opposition to the construction should not be misconstrued as being anti-student.
“We love BU students — we’re both out of BU,” Lamoureux said, referring to himself and his wife, Sheri Lamoureux. “I got three degrees out of BU. It’s not about students — it’s about the type of development.”
Another concern from the residents is the proximity of construction to Nuthatch Hollow, a bird sanctuary and a 75-acre nature preserve that is within a quarter mile of the building site. BU’s environmental studies program gifted the site for both educational and research purposes. There is concern about the environmental impact the project could have on the sanctuary. Victor Lamoureux said he believes the project will be detrimental to the site.
“That property is going to be adjacent to the top of the Nuthatch Hollow Preserve,” Victor Lamoureux said. “It’s a bad precedent for the town.”
Sheri Lamoureux, 49, said she would like to see students join the effort to defeat the proposal. A previous proposal was made by a different developer for the same site, but, facing community opposition and financial difficulties, was ultimately withdrawn.
“We’re looking for students who are interested in helping us,” Sheri Lamoureux said. “We had students last time. They came last year. A number of students stood up and said, ‘We don’t want to be up on the hill. We want to be closer to where there’s more things going on.’”
Sheri Lamoureux said a development downhill, such as University Plaza, would be more appropriate and likely more successful in attracting students.
“This is just not the right place,” Sheri Lamoureux said. “I’m all for proper growth and proper development. I’m a big supporter of the University.”