Since the vote I have been contacted by 15 people in the Folwell neighborhood 7 in agreement with the decision, and 8 against. Only a couple people making personal attacks, but still disappointing. That kind of division lets me know this needs some more discussion. I would be lying if I said that every concern has been addressed, they haven’t. However infill projects seldom are perfect solutions. Community and neighborhood benefits and impacts certainly fall short of perfection, however I see them as being greater than both the status quo and other development in the area. In addition the project has the support of 3 neighborhood association presidents, Imagine Kutzky, CUDE, County Planning, City Engineering, and several (but admittedly a minority of) neighbors living in the neighborhood.
Approvals are (or should) always be based on whether evidence indicates the development meets the criteria for approval. Not everything was black & white but clearly the evidence in this case convinced the city council, staff, and long time neighborhood leaders that this project met all requirements.
- Architecture – All 3 streets have well designed, activated spaces. All 3 streets are going to be incredibly pedestrian friendly. 14th Ave and 2nd street will look and feel so much better than today. In terms of architecture I believe this is the finest building I have seen proposed in Rochester in my 8 years. The building is permeable (windows & doors) on the ground floor like any good building should be.
- Materials – Top notch materials throughout the building. When looking at these things on paper it is hard to envision just how much better these materials are than many others on 2nd street.
- Setbacks – The final setback creates great pedestrians spaces around the building, the boulevards are done in such a way to support healthy street trees.
- Neighborhood transition – This cleans up the tired Raymar & Brentwood buildings, many deteriorated properties or blank lots, as well as 5 homes in pretty good condition on 15th ave (3 of which have long been planned for redevelopment).
- Uses – As Don Nordine said, I am excited to have uses that contribute to the neighborhood, not another hotel. In this case the neighborhood is likely to get a great restaurant, additional retail, and high quality housing.
- Process – Never in 8 years have I seen so many meetings between developers, landowners, and neighbors. Some people are unhappy with the final product, but I can see how the neighborhood significantly shaped what is there.
- 2nd street – This project will help facilitate a safer, more attractive, more efficient 2nd street.
- Height – In a perfect world I would have loved to see the entire building look and feel like the 3 story portions. 2-4 story buildings are fantastic for pedestrians.
- Home demolition – 3 homes were planned for redevelopment, in the end 2 additional will be taken. The 5 homes are nice older homes. They are neither historic nor affordable.
- Official Map 19 – The building is well constructed to work with official map 19, but we don’t yet understand when and how we execute on that map. In the meantime, while the ramps is well hidden the Southern ingress & egress are near some existing homes.
- County Planning – Because of our poor ability to keep our existing codes current, there was a great deal of confusion in the application of plans and restricted criteria. In particular the draft DMC guidelines do allow tall buildings on this site, but do not provide any guidance on those tall buildings or where they are appropriate.
- Condos – I really wanted the town homes to be ownership properties, they are not. The cause probably has more to do with state law than developer decisions.
A complicating factor in this decision was the extent of neighborhood interaction and the differing opinions. Neighbors seldom get to have the kind of early discussion with developers that the Folwell neighborhood did. Initial invitations to meet with the development team were sent to the entire neighborhood distribution list, no one was excluded. Additional meetings were either with all neighbors or a self selecting group that worked more on details, no one was excluded.
Unfortunately this was both a strength and weakness as many of the neighbors that were most opposed to the project did not attend many of these meetings. They did not see the give and take. They didn’t see reactions to options thrown out. Neighbors in earlier meetings were excited about the prospects of residential instead of hotel or office. The neighbors very much wanted a great transition to the neighborhood, they wanted great materials, they wanted great architecture. Somewhere in the discussions the option of having a taller building on the corner of 2nd & 14th was suggested. I believe this was in late 2015. In early 2016 I checked in with the city attorney to see if a taller building was even possible given the 2nd street plan. It was allowed if a restricted development was submitted. At the time the suggestion was either 10 or 11 stories.
When the project came back it was 13 stories at 2nd & 14th, good architecture, an oversized parking garage, multiple garage entrances, and somewhat small setbacks. With the pictures out there many people that had not attended or been engaged in the process became more engaged. In general many loved the architecture, uses, transition, materials but didn’t like the height and feared the traffic impacts. I believe the problem is that the height was effectively paying for the other items that were liked. This is something I will verify before the final hearing.
The particularly disheartening part of this was the personal attacks directed towards long time neighborhood leaders.
The conditions in the first version of the project probably would not have gained staff or council support. Because of a surplus of parking that would likely be used as contract parking there would have been far more auto trips at the worst times. The developer based on feedback from staff and neighbors eliminated this and resized the parking to what was needed to serve the project.
An additional concern was business traffic using the neighborhood street (15th Ave.) would create traffic issues on the residential street. 14th Ave & 2nd St. are both higher level streets. The developer actually went so far as to split up the garage so only people living in the building would use the residential street. Business parking is only off 14th. Additionally the developer will be making the city street North bound only just to the South of the project.
This project evidence completely convinced city engineer that traffic criteria had been met.
In the big picture it is important that each automobile trip has both origination and destination. When both the two are close they can be replaced with walking. This means that if there are going to be thousands of jobs in the St. Marys Place area the only true ways to reduce traffic is through transit, bike, or walk. This probably takes several hundred future commuters off the road at peak times.
Building Height / Density:
The tower at 2nd & 14th is 13 stories. This height leaves it just a little bit shorter than the East & West towers across 14th Ave. This is tall, however to to say that this is a monstrosity when it is about the height as what is across the road is probably not fair. In reality the tower at the corner is similar to what is across the street, additionally the residences on 15th & 14th are similar in height to the rest of the neighborhood. Larger setbacks allowing large street trees and landscaping also work to enhance the neighborhood, especially from a pedestrian standpoint.
One factor that weighed heavily in my decision that general compatibility was met is the projects Floor Area Ratio (FAR). This is roughly the square footage in the building divided by the square footage of the site. I say roughly because the parking areas are not 1 to 1. The FAR for this project was about 3.5 meaning the actual average height of this project is about about 3.5 stories, probably closer to 4 when parking impacts are considered. The often cited 2nd street corridor study allows densities higher than this. While the building is tall, the density is actually very reasonable for the area and far lower than I would have guessed. Data is often counterintuitive when evaluating criteria.
The building height is scary but reasonable, the density is not an issue. One of the criteria references primary views from residences and was probably the one I struggled with the most.
What comes next:
Hopefully some folks will settle down and emotions will give way to focus on other challenges that we must meet together. There are many challenges ahead. There are also tremendous opportunities to improve the neighborhood, make it safer, and address long term concerns that were reference, but not related to this project.
As this project is likely to request TIF, the city will have the ability to independently review finances, evaluate if the projected returns are reasonable. The implication has always been that the size of the building is needed to make it work on the site. While I expect that this is true, I like to verify. I am also interested if the financing leaves any room for affordable units. Once the city passes an inclusionary housing ordinance this would become an expectation. I hope that this happens.
The community comprehensive plan is being updated, after that we also need the land use plan, zoning, and neighborhood level plans updated. Much of the consternation over this and other projects comes from a lack of definition going into the process. We need to set neighborhood level expectation for preservation and redevelopment. Certainly the 1 block off 2nd street will redevelop in Folwell, but the rest of the neighborhood should remain an urban residential area. Given the proximity of the residential structures to St. Marys property values are likely to continue to rise in the area.
Do I work for the developer:
Here is a statement I read before the hearing after an insinuation that that was made.
I am in the receipt of a call for my recusal because of an alleged bias or lack of impartiality on the merits of this project. I have not publicly or privately expressed an opinion on the merits of the proposal. I have however had meetings with every person that has requested such a meeting. I have no direct, indirect, or implied personal interest in this project. Since the letter was a suggestion and not a demand I will maintain the actual communication as private for now. I have great respect for the letter’s 2 authors and as such thoughtfully considered whether I can make a judgement on the basis of evidence. I have absolutely no reservations that this is the case.
I reviewed Ethical Practices Board Opinion #09-01 and am confident that my continued involvement in this matter is consistent with that opinion. In particular, I note that both “attending meetings at which the merits of a pending proposal are discussed” and “listening to constituents or interested parties to inform myself of an impending appeal” are explicitly allowed by the EPB guidance. And frankly they are just part of doing a decent job… Bottom line, I still place my integrity and that of the community before all else, and I owe it to every person that has expressed a view or concern to me to continue as part of this process.
And of course if anyone feels that there was anything done that was improper, they may utilize the Ethical Practices Board that I helped create to maintain #integrity