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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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The Debate over Campus Hotel Heats Up

There was a common theme among participants at the Town Hall Meeting about the construction of a new Hilton Hotel at Stony Book University. Students, faculty, community residents, and even members of the Setauket Fire District demanded to be heard.

The peaceful debate between Barbara Chernow, Vice President of Facilities and Services and Distinguished Professor Malcolm Bowman, professor of Physical Oceanography at Stony Brook University was hosted by the Executive Committee of the University Senate and held Friday Dec. 4. While both Chernow and Bowman each delivered a few polite blows to one another, audience members landed a few knockout punches of their own.

The first venue, a small conference room in the Student Activities Center, was changed to the auditorium on the first floor, when the full capacity of 75 people was reached, before the debate could begin. Nearly 120 faculty, staff, students and community members attended.

At the start, University Senate President Michael Schwartz introduced the panel and delivered apologies on behalf of President Stanley, who could not attend because ‘he already had unbreakable appointments with key public officials’.

Chernow, in charge of the hotel project began by saying, ‘Everyone agrees we need a hotel.’ She then described some of the hotel’s features, like the brick exterior and cast stone. ‘It will look as beautiful as our Humanities Building,’ said Chernow. On a campus map, Chernow illustrated where the hotel would be constructed- on Circle Road near the entrance to Stony Brook University, where there is currently 11 acres of forest. According to Chernow, two thirds of the land would remain undisturbed.

Stony Brook Harbor Construction will fund the project, and according to Chernow, ‘The university is not spending a dime, and the funds generated will stay on campus.’ According to Chernow, there will be a 175 ft. buffer along Nichols Road.
Bowman, the opposition to the hotel, began his challenge by conceding that having a hotel on campus was a ‘good idea’, but added that the proposed hotel does not serve the needs of Stony Brook University, and was simply, a ‘bad location’. The environmentalist said although the new Hilton Hotel would have a conference room, there was still a need for a comprehensive conference center. According to Stanley’s campus wide email sent in October, the hotel will have a 5,000 square foot meeting room.

In response to the idea that the 175 foot buffer would somehow lessen the visual impact a Hilton Hotel would have on Nicholls Road, Bowman said ‘It’s really not a buffer. The hotel wouldn’t be hidden behind a buffer. The hotel would stick out above the tree line.’

Among Bowman’s problems with the location of the hotel is the deforestation it would cause. Bowman, a member of the New York City Panel on Climate Change, said, ‘It’s hypocritical that my own employer intends to clear forests.’

After the 135-guest room hotel is built, Stony Brook Harbor Construction has reserved the right to build an addition to the hotel, a point brought out by Bowman and later verified by Chernow. The addition could destroy more of the remaining ‘two thirds’ of the forest.

Chernow contended that the buffer would be a minimum of 175 feet, then reiterated her excitement that a committed developer had been found and doubted it would be easy to get another ground lease.

After the exchanges between Bowman and Chernow, members of the audience were invited to speak. Among the first was Michelle Pizer, president of the Campus Environmental Club. In a prepared statement, the senior encouraged SBU officials to ‘Stop just thinking green and act green.’ Pizer also said other locations should be considered before clearing the native forest, disturbing sensitive habitats and exacerbating other local and global environmental problems.

Caitlin Fisher-Reid, a PhD candidate at SBU, gave an impassioned plea against the proposed location of the hotel. According to Fisher-Reid,’The destruction of 11-acres would detract from the progress of beautification.’ The 11-acre forest is one of her field sites. Fisher ‘-Reid studies the ‘high quality salamanders’ located in the forest. She also works with 13 other students who volunteer to do research there. The crowd broke into loud applause after her remarks.

There were other moments of spontaneous applause from the audience. Professor Jeffrey S. Levinton, a Distinguished Professor from the Ecology and Evolution Department, was interrupted by applause as he addressed the crowd and the panel. In what became a theme by other audience members who spoke afterwards, Levinton chastised the administration for its lack of communication and inclusion. ‘The administration has ignored the basics’hellip; ask and listen.’ In his prepared statement, Levinton said the construction would destroy a living lab capable of educating thousands of students and one of the homes of red- tailed hawk. ‘It’s not the footprint [ecological footprint], it’s the spill over.’ He cited noise pollution as a spill over. According to National Geographic, the red-tailed hawk is the most common hawk in North America.

Both Bowman and Levinton offered suggestions for another location for the hotel. Bowman suggested the parking lot just north of the main entrance, but quickly backtracked, saying it would create a parking problem. Levinton proposed building the hotel near the train station to encourage visitors to use mass transit.

Bob Cavalieri, the Fire District Manager, and Larry Hall, the fire protection coordinator, spoke on behalf of the Setauket Fire District, responsible for answering the numerous fire alarms on campus. According to Cavalieri, hotels have more false alarms than other structures and taxpayers cannot cover the cost of responding to false alarms. ‘[Stony Brook University] exhausts resources already. Adding a hotel would be unjust.’ Hall agreed with Cavalieri. ‘The university needs its own full time fire department.’ Cavalieri encouraged SBU officials to communicate with the Setauket Fire District while Hall complained, ‘There is no communication between the administration and the offices that provide protection.’

Although the town hall meeting was the first public forum of this magnitude regarding the hotel, Chernow maintained the administration has communicated with the SBU community for 20 years. ‘People don’t remember,’

Of all the concerns shared during the town hall meeting, including the environmental impact, the cost and the necessity, perhaps none were as passionate as those from the Long Island State Veterans Home and the Stony Brook University Medical Center. Officials of the hotel asked the audience to remember their patient’s families who want to be close to their loved ones.

Through a statement read by Schwartz on behalf of the veteran’s home, a 350- bed skilled nursing facility, an official said a hotel would ‘provide comfort and convenience to the families of more than 200 veterans who die there each year.

An official from Stony Brook University Medical Center said there are pros and cons to every site, but added that the Circle Road location was close to the medical center. He encouraged opponents to ‘go to a hospital, see a child that has cancer and the mother and father trying to be there for the child. To not afford them the right to be local is not right.’

In response to the numerous concerns and calls from the audience for the administration to communicate more openly with the SBU community, Chernow said a Web site will be up this week to answer the most frequently asked questions and concerns.

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