Student Housing: Proposed for ECC

By Jay Rey for Buffalo News

Erie Community College is catching up to the student housing boom, thanks to a second apartment project catering to its students — this one in Amherst.

Zaepfel Development of Williamsville is proposing a 350-bed student housing project on Youngs Road, directly across the street from the North Campus.

Developers hope to open by fall of 2012.

“It’s still in the preliminary stages,” said Jeffery D. Palumbo, an attorney representing Zaepfel. “There are issues that have to be addressed, including conversations with the neighbors and modifications of some restrictions from the town.”

Company officials recently unveiled their plan to the college’s board of trustees, which gave its support for the project.

“From my perspective, it’s a perfect location,” said ECC President Jack F. Quinn Jr., “and the renderings they showed us are just beautiful.”

Once considered a novelty, student housing has become almost a necessity for community colleges.

“The community college life has changed in the last 20 years,” Quinn said. “When community colleges first started, students came to class, they went to work, they went home.

“Now, students are looking for the total college experience,” he said. “For many students, that means living away from home.”

ECC is behind the curve. Nearly two dozen of the state’s 30 community colleges already have student housing, Quinn said.

Moreover, Quinn believes the absence of housing for ECC students in Amherst is one of the reasons why the college is losing students from Erie County to Niagara County Community College, which opened student housing in 2008.

What makes the Zaepfel project particularly appealing to ECC is it would fulfill the college’s goal of offering housing for students at North — the most populated of the college’s three campuses — without having to foot the bill.

In fact, it would be the second privately funded student housing development catering to ECC students.

Downtown developer Jake Schneider last year opened 91 modern, loft-style dormitory apartments in the converted Alling & Cory warehouse at Elm and North Division streets, near the City Campus.

There also have been preliminary talks with a developer about student housing on or near the South Campus, Quinn said.

A site plan for the Zaepfel project shows a three-story, F-shaped building located on 10 acres between Lyndhurst Road and College Parkway, with an entrance off Youngs Road.

Units would be fully furnished and include common kitchen and living areas, one or two bathrooms and two to four bedrooms for a total of 350 to 400 beds.

The student housing would include around-the-clock security, as well as resident assistants and live-in management.

Plans show limited parking at the front of the building and next to Youngs Road, but there would be 295 spaces at the back of the site.

Condominiums were proposed for the locationyears ago, so the site is already properly zoned for student housing, Palumbo said.

But the project still needs various approvals from Amherst’s zoning, planning and town boards, Palumbo said. The town, for example, has a height restriction for building on the site, so developers want to modify that condition rather than make changes to the proposed three-story structure.

Zaepfel also wants to meet with neighbors on nearby Lyndhurst to address any concerns. A letter to the residents was supposed to go out in the mail this week, with a meeting set for June, Palumbo said.

Groundbreaking would follow the approval process, which could take four to five months, Palumbo said. The Amherst Planning Department has not received plans yet, but officials said they have talked to the developers about the project.

While the student housing would be a private venture, Zaepfel would work with ECC to advertise the apartments.

Quinn said he also spoke with company officials about linking the campus and student apartments with a pedestrian bridge over busy Youngs Road.

Since ECC has no immediate plans to build its own student housing on the North Campus, the college’s board of trustees has passed a resolution in support of the Zaepfel project., hoping it can boost enrollment.

“This is what I believe is a perfect public-private partnership,” Quinn said.


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