A proposal for student housing on Morris Street meets with opposition from some residents

Section: Business,  Page: C1

Date: Friday, March 4, 2011

ALBANY -- As one dormitory proposal brings opposition in Pine Hills, a second plan for student housing is sparking concern in the nearby Park South neighborhood.

The Morris Street project calls for two buildings and 34 apartments on what's now a vacant lot. The units would be marketed to students from nearby medical, pharmacy and law schools.

But some in the area south of Washington Park are saying the proposal would bring too many new residents to a neighborhood that's already tightly packed.

"Our biggest complaint is the size of the plan," said Anthony Belsito, who lives across Morris Street from the site.

The plan was initially submitted to the city by Columbia Development, the firm that is associated with BBL Construction and has invested millions in the ongoing redevelopment of New Scotland Avenue.

That road, the commercial spine for Park South, is lined with new office buildings that have transformed the look and feel of the street.

But Columbia Development now says that it will only provide financing for the 255 Morris St. project, with development and construction duties turned over to Dawn Homes Management.

Dawn Homes did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

The project is hardly the only student housing project planned or under way in the city. The University at Albany, for example, is building a massive, $60 million dorm on campus that will include 500 apartments.

In Pine Hills, meanwhile, The College of Saint Rose is proposing a 220-bed dorm for a site on Yates Street. Some neighbors there are objecting to a large parking lot associated with the project, as well as to demolitions required by the construction.

Student populations, of course, can be a touchy subject in Albany, where college kids bring vitality but are blamed for noise and blight.

But Park South neighbors say their concerns are mostly about the density of the proposal, as well as a design that some feel is inappropriate for an urban section of the city.

"It does not look like how the neighborhood looks," said Helen Dong, who lives near the site. "There is a certain look to the neighborhood that should be maintained."

The Columbia Development application with the city says the building will be used by students and employees of Albany Law School and Albany Medical College.

Students from each institution already live in the neighborhood, where city officials are aggressively targeting blight and pushing for redevelopment.

The schools, though, are not playing a role in the development of the project.

"But we welcome extra housing options for our medical students and graduate students," said Greg McGarry, an Albany Med spokesman.

Reach Chris Churchill at 454-5442 or