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Private dorms across from UAlbany under consideration

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By Kassie Parisi

Managing editor

production.asp@gmail.com

   Two new for-profit student-housing buildings are under consideration of the Albany Board of Zoning Appeals to be built on a vacant acre across from the University at Albany and on the Fuller Road site. The proposed dorms are set to go before the Board later this month, but they will not be affiliated with UAlbany in any way.

   The Washington Avenue structure would be a five-story building that contains 292 beds. It would be located next to Exit 2 of Interstate 90. The other building would contain 500 beds. Both projects are being handled by Grant Ventures, a branch of the Baltimore-based firm Grant Architects. Grant Architects have designed student housing at other large universities including University of Maryland and University of Connecticut, so this would not be the firm’s first attempt at building this type of structure. However, Grant Ventures must go before the Zoning Board to confirm that the existing commercial zoning would allow a dorm built by a private developer, and not a college. Both buildings will need that clarification.

   The dorms will be arranged in areas of four bedrooms, a bathroom and a kitchen. There will also be common rooms and community spaces.

      According to Zee, Washington Avenue dorm would have full-time security. The rooms would come completely furnished. Amenities such as valet parking, a clubhouse and fitness center, would be included as well. Tenants would not just be limited to students and might also include adjunct or visiting professors. However, all tenants would be required to have some formal affiliation with a higher-education institution.

   In a Times Union article, project engineer Daniel Hershberg claimed that, because the buildings would be for-profit if built, they would help generate income for the city of Albany by taxes or as opposed to structures like on-campus student housing, which is tax exempt. According to Zee since the buildings would be built by a private construction sector, the rent for the proposed apartments would be less than the rent students pay to live in campus apartments. The exact rent figures are not currently known since the Zoning Board has not approved the project yet.

   “Doing it as a private entity will make it taxable in some way, shape or form,” Hershberg said in the article. Donald Zee, the lawyer who is handling both developments, said in the article that private housing around schools is becoming more common in many locations as an alternative to campus housing. He said that building private, non-affiliated dorms was the same idea UAlbany had last year when students were housed in hotels nearby campus for lack of on campus housing. Private housing has also become more prevalent around larger SUNY campuses such as Buffalo and Binghamton.

   If the project does get the approval of the Zoning Board, UAlbany will not be involved. In an interview with the Times Union, Director of Media Relations at UAlbany Karl Luntta said that the university is aware of the project but that they are not necessarily in favor or against it.

   “We haven’t had talks with them. And we wouldn’t have a position on a private sector development project,” he said.

   Laurie Garafola, the director of residential life at UAlbany, is not sure who the target audience for the possible new buildings would be. She isn’t sure how the competition will affect UAlbany either.

   “As far as housing is concerned, depending on the price of housing, staffing, amenities it is hard to say whether the competition will be positive or not. There are many campuses throughout the nation including SUNY who have private developers who have built similar housing in a close proximity to campus,” Garafola said. She also said that there are multiple arrangements that can be made between off-campus builders and the campuses. “There are also many different arrangements between campuses and developers, which can include a “turn Key” arrangement where the private developer builds the housing and turns it over to the university to fully run, some have relationships where the developer hires a private management company and still has a financial relationship with the university, or it can be a totally separate enterprise and there are probably a dozen other types of relationships,”

   There were some initial concerns with building private dorms so close to campus. According to Zee, the project was initially proposed for Western Ave. but the developers backed out due to concerns about resistance from residents of the nearby Eagle Hill neighborhood. There are fewer concerns now because the Washington Avenue site is not adjacent to any residential neighborhoods. Currently there are concerns about students being able to cross Washington Avenue to get to campus from the apartments. Hershberg said that there are plans to build safety barriers if the buildings are approved by the board.

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