Oneonta Mayoral Candidates Debate Housing And Downtown Revitalization Projects

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ONEONTA, NY (WSKG) — Candidates in the mayoral race for the City of Oneonta participated in their only debate on Wednesday.

Two current members of the Oneonta Common Council are running for the position. Republican candidate Len Carson and Democratic candidate Mark Drnek discussed their visions for the city.

Both candidates agreed Oneonta has to address the lack of affordable single and multi-family rental homes within the city.

Drnek said the lack of housing is a barrier to Oneonta’s population growth.

“My goal is to bring a thousand new people into our community,” Drnek said. “People who are employed, people who have jobs. You need to have affordable housing to succeed in a goal like that.”

Carson said he wants to address housing needs by changing zoning laws to allow more private investments by developers.

“If we can create tax abatements and incentives for developers, whether local or [if] we’re recruiting them in here, then we can schedule them out for 8 years,” Carson said. “Then they can get a return on their investment and develop even more in the city of Oneonta.”

Carson pointed to The Lofts at Dietz, a former parking garage that downstate developer Sean Kearney wants to convert into a mixed use building. Carson said 400 applications have already been submitted for the development’s 64 rental housing units, some of which are affordable.

Screenshot of last week’s virtual debate between Oneonta mayoral candidates, Republican Len Carson (left) and Democrat Mark Drnek (right). (Courtesy of the League of Women Voters of Oneonta)

Development in the downtown area was another key topic during the debate, in particular Oneonta’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative, which includes the construction of a new public transit hub on Market Street.

The candidates both agreed the hub would be transformative for the area but differed on how it should be developed.

“By doing a public/private partnership, we take the debt load—which could have been over $15 million for the transit hub — we take the public money and public opportunity,” Carson said. “And we work in concert with a developer.”

Drnek said he believes it’s the city that needs to be responsible for the vision of the area.

“Public-private partnerships I am all for,” Drnek said. “But the idea that we let the market drive what the content and context of something as important as the backend of our Main Street — Market Street — might wind up ending being something that I wouldn’t leave to chance.”

Drnek said he envisions Market Street as an entertainment district, and floated the idea of turning the old train station into a children’s museum.

The virtual debate was sponsored by the Oneonta League of Women Voters. A full video recording of the debate is located on their website.

In February, current Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig announced he would not be seeking re-election and would retire at the end of his current term. He has held the position for six years.

* This story has been updated to correct a misspelling of the Democratic candidate’s surname. It’s Drnek, not Drenk.