UB's Housing Bonanza - Part V
UB breaks ground this week on Skinnersville Road, near Sweet Home, to build its latest installment of on-campus apartments as part of its housing bonanza. Designed to house 232 graduate students, the plans for the Skinnersville townhouses were announced this May. However, local residents and environmentalists charge that the plans were sneaked by without their meaningful input, since notification did not come until after most students and staff left for the summer and plans were already underway when letters went out and presentations were made.
Residents complain that construction will create bothersome noise and possibly dangerous traffic problems. The UB Environmental Task Force, an administrative advisory board, contends the apartments will destroy a beautiful natural preserve and facilitate sprawl. However, the administration believes a great demand exists for on-campus graduate housing.
But if the demand exists, the Skinnersville apartments do not even serve that purpose. UB has to stop referring to them as "on-campus." The current plans situate them behind the Ellicott complex - quite a long haul from the academic spine. Undergraduates at Ellicott don't even like walking to UB, so you can bet the grad students will just end up driving to school, anyway.
And if the graduates are using their cars, they don't need new apartments. Adjacent to Skinnersville are a series of pre-existing apartment complexes. Sweet Home Road has the Colonie apartments, and Millersport and North Forest also have places for rent. Not to mention University Heights, which always has space to fill.
While the administration stresses the UB community, they are giving slight consideration to Amherst residents, members of the extended UB community. If you have ever been on Skinnersville Road, you can see why they are complaining. Skinnersville is a dead end strip by Sweet Home High School. During rush hour, traffic locks residents in, with Skinnersville as their only outlet to the main roads. There are already enough slow-downs along Sweet Home Road with rush hour motorists, school busses, and stop lights, and 232 new residents can only exacerbate the problem. Imagine the chaos that will ensue when construction vehicles reduce outgoing traffic to a painful crawl.
Skinnersville is isolated for a reason. The land around it was designated as an environmental preserve, featuring unique marshlands and wildlife. It is pointless and hypocritical for the university to create a preserve that's going to be bulldozed in the end. The ETF was denied proper input, mirroring the protest that occurred in the creation of the South Lake Village.
The ETF's concern for sprawl is legitimate. No matter what the administration calls it, building an apartment complex on a road to nowhere by paving over one of the remaining wildlife preserves on campus is a contribution to suburban sprawl.
The real point of making the apartments on Skinnersville is to market to graduate students that "on-campus" housing exists at UB. In the end, this amounts to an extra photo in a preview pamphlet. Instead of rushing to construct graduate housing on the first available site, the university should design a comprehensive housing plan that seriously considers environmental impact and the best interests of the community as a whole.
The university already has plans to construct an "Elmwood-like" commercial and residential strip connecting Ellicott with the Commons. Incorporating graduate housing into that design plan would be both more effective in building a central campus community and would limit sprawl by preserving existing natural areas on campus.
Vice President for Student Affairs Dennis Black, in defending the university's environmental review process stated, "Our UB projects have not been part of a designed master plan. No plan [no site, no design, no authority, no financing] has been developed for one next project during the previous project. We have approached the projects one by one."
A university of this size cannot afford such an ad hoc approach to housing. The university needs to develop a long-range plan and follow it - not jump on every construction bandwagon that happens to pass by.