To discuss the status of a Binghamton University-centered housing project, the Vestal Town Board held a public meeting with residents on Thursday.

The website for the Retreat at Bunn Hill project, which is operated by Landmark Properties, said the project will bring “significant tax revenue for the Vestal community” and aims to construct 161 residences — with buildings ranging from two to five bedrooms and hundreds of parking spots. Over 10 residents voiced concerns with the project’s continuation, emphasizing sewage and water logistics, as well as the potential for college students to endanger themselves and local residents while living on the narrow roads in the Bunn Hill area.

The previous town board — of which members Stephen Donnelly and Sue Messina still remain — voted unanimously in 2022 to change the area on Bunn Hill Road from a rural residential zoning area to a planned development district, allowing for the development’s construction to move forward. The recently elected town supervisor, Maria Sexton, and councilmen Robert Greene ‘09 and Glenn Miller ‘78 campaigned against the project.

“There are so many residents that sent us a petition and their own emails,” Sexton said. “We can see how many people were against the [Retreat at Bunn Hill] project, but we’re also going to put the facts forward on the legal opinion about what risk that is if we try to reverse the [planned development district]. We are going to consider it very carefully, but we want to hear [residents opinions]. I’m going to read every survey, every answer that people have […] We want [residents] to tell us what they really want. I encourage every resident of Vestal to participate in the survey.”

Vestal Town Attorney Dan Reynolds highlighted the possibility for the property developer to file a lawsuit if the Town Board attempts to overturn the 2022 zoning change, which would require a supermajority vote. A recent lawsuit attempting to halt the development was rejected in a unanimous decision from the New York State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division’s Third Judicial Department.

“Public opinion is always important, but at the same time, you look at the representation of people here [on Thursday] versus the number of people in Vestal,” Donnelly said. “We have 30,000 people in Vestal. To have about a hundred people that are voicing their opposition doesn’t represent a population size that’s good enough in terms of justifying the disadvantages of the [Bunn Hill] project […] It is a positive project for Vestal, not only for the development of tax revenue but because those students that are going there will be spending their money in Vestal.”

Donnelly presented an estimation from Mark Minoia, the town assessor, projecting expected tax revenue from the project at just over $180,000 annually. When residents were asked to share their concerns, one highlighted the 2011 flooding of Vestal — when 71 homes were bought out and 24,000 residents were evacuated — as another major reason for unease, given that large amounts of sewage and water are being used for the development.

Another resident who lives at the bottom of Bunn Hill Road voiced concerns over local developments causing rising water levels from a nearby creek.

“This would be a problem with basically 80,000 gallons of water a day coming from a housing development up the hill,” Vestal resident Victor Lamoureux said. “I think almost everything [supporters of the development] have produced is smoke and mirrors as far as the ‘betterment of the town.’ The only real argument they have as a pro are taxes, which [are] minimal. The town of Vestal has a 33 million dollar budget. They’re talking about $180,000 [annually]. They’re actually hiring a grant writer that could easily produce that money for the town, so [the development] is not a big revenue windfall by any means.”

Landmark Properties has began to receive permits for water and tree cutting for Burn Hill Retreat construction. Donnelly is not the only member of the board to support the project’s continuation, as Messina, the board’s longest-tenured member, also expressed her support for the project’s continuation.

“There should be an expectation at some point and time that some growth and development is going to happen up on [Bunn Hill Road],” Messina said. “Do I have the right to say that you’re taking away my view when I don’t own that land? Do I have the right to say you’re taking away where I go hiking when it’s not my land? [Debate over the Bunn Hill Retreat has] been to court five times and the last time was unanimous [in favor of the developers] so it can’t go any farther in the courts. They’re not trying to do anything bad. They’re adding residents and taxpayers to the town of Vestal.”