Student Housing: Plans advance for student housing complex above downtown Binghamton bar

by Jon Campbell via Press Connects[

BINGHAMTON — The owner of a downtown bar that has seen its share of troubles received approval this week from the city planning board to move forward with a six-unit, 45-bedroom student housing complex.

Andrew Urso, who owns 92-98 State St., got the OK from the City of Binghamton Planning Commission for his plans to build the apartments in the second, third and fourth floors of the building that houses The Rathskeller, JT’s Tavern and Pasquale’s Pizza. Each floor would have one eight-bedroom unit and one seven-bedroom unit.

The new apartments would be the latest rental units geared toward students in the downtown area, Urso said. Renovations are underway for separate student housing projects on Hawley Street, Washington Street and in the Midtown Mall on Court and Chenango streets, though much of that project was derailed by a massive fire in December.

“It’s going to be loft-style apartments,” said Urso, who said his loose budget for the renovations currently sits at $450,000. “With the amount of bedrooms, it’s going to be more for students. It’s going to be pretty much bedrooms around the perimeter, with an open kitchen, a living room and three bathrooms in each unit.”

Before the project moves ahead, Urso must repair the north wall of the building, which was damaged by falling rubble from the former O’Neil Building in 2007, which has since been demolished. The commission also instructed him to clean up the alleyway on the building’s east side, closest to the entrance of The Rathskeller, city planner Patrick Day said.

After that, Urso has to submit official blueprints to the city’s Building Department and apply for permits.

Some members of the planning commission said they were concerned with the size of the bedrooms, with one calling on the city to revamp its building codes to reflect different types of housing.

“A dormitory-style building like this isn’t the same as a two-family unit,” said Thomas Pollak, who sits on the commission and voted in favor of the project. “The problem I had with it is there’s just so much density going on there and the rooms that are being offered are so small, but we can only say so much. The city really needs to take a hard look at its building codes.”

Urso said the sketch shown to the commission didn’t accurately reflect the size of the bedrooms, and will be corrected on the official blueprint. He said all of the bedrooms will be handicapped accessible, and the building contains a working elevator.

The Rathskeller, located in the basement of the building, has been at the center of negative attention in recent years. In 2008, Binghamton University senior Bryan Steinhauer was beaten into a coma by then-BU basketball player Miladin Kovacevic, who later fled the country for his native Serbia.

Last week, Urso was charged with second-degree reckless endangerment and obstructing governmental administration, both class A misdemeanors. Police allege he told a DJ to announce there was a fire in the bar after learning officers were on their way to check for underage drinkers.

While he declined to specifically address the criminal charges against him, Urso said he does not believe that should hold back his proposal.

“I really don’t think that’s affected anything,” he said. “It really has nothing to do with that part of the project. We already have the approval from the commission to move forward, and so as long as we keep everything up to code — which we definitely plan on doing — everything should move forward with the building permits.”

Both Binghamton Police Chief Joseph Zikuski and Mayor Matthew T. Ryan declined to comment on the housing plans.

Planning Commission member Barbara Furch, who was ill and missed Monday’s meeting, said there has been too much focus on student housing in Binghamton and not enough on places for seniors to live.

“We have pretty much saturated the student-housing market,” Furch said. “What I think is a real need is for the middle-income senior housing. That seems to be something that is really needed in this area, and I don’t see anyone addressing that.”

The Rathskeller and JT’s aren’t the only State Street bars with new plans for housing. A plan to renovate the second and third floors of Dillinger’s Celtic Pub & Eatery to include a banquet room and two penthouse apartments will go before the Planning Commission next month, Day said.

Dillinger’s co-owner Drew Peters declined comment because the plans “are still in their infancy,” he said.


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