No University Is an Island
This Monday, State Supreme Court Justice Peter Notaro denied a request for a preliminary injunction which would have halted the construction of UB's Skinnersville Road apartment complex. Filed by Skinnersville Road resident Rita Forman, the lawsuit contends UB failed to conduct an adequate environmental impact study and so bulldozed a campus wildlife preserve.
The State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) requires state governmental agencies to analyze all the negative impacts construction projects potentially have on the surrounding habitat. Notaro denied the injunction in part because the 116-unit Skinnersville complex does not exceed the 250 threshold above which the law requires an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to be prepared.
He also rejected Forman's allegation that the Skinnersville Road development is merely one step in UB's five-year on-campus housing blitz that, considered together, exceed the 250-unit threshold and, as such, necessitate an EIS. In other words, the Hadley, South Lake and Flint apartments do not constitute a single plan that collectively violate SEQRA.
UB should consider itself lucky that lawsuits can't be filed against bad ideas. Otherwise, the campus would be in danger of losing an apartment complex. In addition to the environmental problems, the Skinnersville apartments are unnecessary, contribute to suburban sprawl, and cause problems with traffic.
Forman's lawsuit is legally dubious. While all the apartment complexes are part of a larger university housing initiative, they do not constitute one action or one continuous project that necessitates an overriding assessment of environmental impact. Instead, the environmental impact of each complex is unique and is properly determined separately. Hadley and Flint Village do not represent a monolithic environmental threat any more than Red Jacket or Roosevelt Hall.
But SEQRA is much more than a simple provision that states 249 units are acceptable, but 250 demands an environmental study. The essential intention of SEQRA is for governmental agencies to exercise environmental responsibility and to be a good neighbor.
UB fails at both of these obligations. Although the on-campus apartments are not (officially) one grand project, UB has to stop breaking ground in every muddy field it can find. Long-term reviews are necessary to adequately determine any kind of adverse environmental impact construction projects may have.
UB's environmental advisory board, the Environmental Task Force, passed a resolution in June opposing the Skinnersville construction and urging the completion of an environmental impact statement. How many impact statements has the university conducted? Zero. From Flickinger to Flint, none of the apartment projects were substantively analyzed to evaluate environmental impact.
Last year, the university was criticized for its failure to recognize the land around South Lake Village as a preserve before they plowed over it. Making the mistake again says UB conducts its construction activities without regard to environmental concerns. Skinnersville received approval under hurried circumstances this past summer, when the majority of students and faculty had left for sunnier locations. Residents were hastily informed of the impending construction by a single letter. No public hearing was held on the matter.
One of the goals of all the on-campus housing projects is to develop a sense of community. Apparently, UB wants North Campus to exist as an island in the middle of Amherst, capable of making decisions for its own benefit. A lawsuit should hopefully serve as a wake-up call. UB has to be a good neighbor, and aggravating local residents and paving over wildlife is not the ticket.