Long time Pittsford Village Mayor Robert Corby: "Present design doesn't meet the letter or spirit of the code."
Friday, March 8, 2013 Rochester, NY - I grew up in the Village of Pittsford, not far from the proposed site where Mark IV Enterprises (Corn Hill Landing, etc.) wants to build six apartment buildings, containing a total of 167 units, and a 125-seat restaurant.
Mark IV is a long time real estate developer in Greater Rochester, and has a reputation for building first class projects. No argument there. However, the site in question is wedged between--and along--an enormously busy stretch of Monroe Avenue (Rt. 31), bordered by the Erie Canal, and a CSX rail line, with 15-17 trains a day rambling by.
Already, the Pittsford portion of Monroe Avenue between French Road to the west, and the central Village to the east, handles 20,000 vehicles a day. Nothing like the Can of Worms, but for a NY State route (Rt. 31) that narrows from two lanes each way, to one, immediately next to a bridge over the Erie Canal, Westport Crossing is sure to increase traffic at a choke point, just on the edge of the Village of Pittsford.
David versus Goliath
Justin Vlietstra moved from St. Louis, MO, to our area nearly two decades ago to attend the University of Rochester. He never left. He and his wife Amy, a native of West Irondequoit, live in the Boughton Avenue area of the Village of Pittsford, very close to the Erie Canal. Together, they, with a handful of other neighbors and villagers, formed Friends of Pittsford Village, or FOPV.
"We got involved because the vote on Westport Crossing was coming up in November (2012), but nearly no one knew about it," said Justin, who works as an engineer. "We at FOPV then circulated a petition, claiming that Westport Crossing violated local zoning because it wasn't in keeping with the size, scale, and mass of the historic nature of Pittsford Village."
Neighbors certainly rallied to the cause. "Five volunteers in one week collected 207 signatures", said Amy Vlietstra. "Too many village residents thought that Westport Crossing was already a done deal, prior to the vote this past November."
For those unfamiliar, in New York State, it is legal to have separately incorporated villages inside separately incorporated towns. But they do not have to have the same name, as in the case of the Village of Fairport existing inside the Town of Perinton. Pittsford Village is quite a bit smaller than its eastern neighbor, Fairport, having just 1,400 residents. It is arguably one of the best preserved Erie Canal villages in all of New York State.
"Westport Crossing, in its present incarnation, doesn't meet the letter or spirit of village code", said Village Mayor Robert Corby, 50, first elected mayor in 1993. I remember Bob Corby from grade school, in the Pittsford School District. He was one year behind me, had a crew cut, and maintained a certain level of respect from other children because his father was (and still is) the owner and operator of the Pittsford Village Dairy, now a New England-style eatery and dairy store, with its famous thick glass milk bottles, which includes a first class French bakery. Bob was and is a logical choice to lead the village, not only because of his family legacy in Pittsford, but due to his intelligence, his attention to detail, and the fact that he has a degree in architecture from Syracuse University. His knowledge of the village is impressive.
Corby was initially in favor of Westport Crossing, but grew increasingly uneasy about the project, as months and years passed. This past November, he "voted first, so as not to throw any Trustees under the bus", and proceeded to reverse his earlier support for the Mark IV project. He lost, 3-2. Now, only two additional pro forma review board votes stand in the way of Mark IV's vision for the western edge of the Village of Pittsford. That, and a lawsuit: Friends of Pittsford Village, Inc. vs. Pittsford Village Board of Trustees & Pittsford Canalside Properties, LLC.
What Hath Say the Developer?
"The opposition to this project, and all the publicity they have garnered, gives the Village of Pittsford a bad reputation", said Don Riley, in senior management at Mark IV. "Just because some people do not like this project does not make it a bad project."
And Riley should know. As a young man, he was elected Supervisor of Greece, and served in that post for 17 years. Later, Riley was appointed to head the RGRTA, the local bus company. In Greece, Riley dealt with many developers, including the McCurdy family (Long Ridge Mall), and as a matter of disclosure, my family (Greece Town Mall, and later, the Mall at Greece Ridge Center).
When I asked Riley about the noise issue for apartment dwellers and restaurant patrons alike, regarding the very close proximity of a CSX freight rail line, Riley said he is "not concerned at all."
"We will use the latest materials in sound attenuation (sound deadening windows, and the like)", Riley said. As to the issue of a former oil company (Monoco) having occupied the site for many years, Riley claimed "Brown Field(s) remediation is well underway on the site, already."
The Good, the Bad, and the not-so-Ugly
If one visits the website for Mark IV Enterprises, one can hardly walk away unimpressed. Whether it is the company's construction of the Warner Lofts in Downtown Rochester, the Parklands of Chili, or perhaps especially Corn Hill Landing on the west bank of the Genesee River, Mark IV's reputation speaks for itself.
This development, formally known as "75 Monroe Avenue", will locate most of its needed 300 parking spaces in an underground garage (smart), and will include 167 apartment units, and host a 125-seat restaurant. However, at this precarious section of Monroe Avenue, Westport Crossing does seem to me a bit out of scale for the neighborhood.
But let's ignore for a moment design aesthetics, the height of the buildings (28% will be 4-stories), the number of potential residents, and the in-and-out nature of a bar-restaurant (with live entertainment): Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Westport Crossing is how close its entrance / exit will be to an 'at-grade' railroad crossing. Without a bridge that would send the CSX rail line under or over Monroe Avenue (Rt. 31), residents and restaurant patrons can expect long waits for the train crossing, 15-17 times day.
And then there is the additional traffic hazard of a short, crowned bridge, over the Erie Canal, which already causes blind spot issues for those pulling in and out of the gas station, Talbots women's fashions, and the existing office park, all immediately adjacent to Monroe Avenue and the at-grade CSX crossing.
The other day, I tried a little experiment of my own. I drove east bound on Monroe Avenue, past French Road, over a small hill, and approached the old Singer Sewing Machine factory (north side of Rt. 31), just before the Erie Canal Bridge. At 3:40pm, traffic was already backed up over the bridge with cars heading east toward the central village. To be fair, I was not sure if a train had just passed, or whether this was entirely early rush hour traffic.
But that's just the point: Either way, whether cars were stopped for the train or not, this is simply a dangerous, troublesome, overcrowded intersection that probably doesn't need a development of this size and scale, no matter the merits of the development, nor the solid reputation of the developer.
They say there are only three things, three tests one needs to worry about when starting a retail business or residential endeavor: Location, location, location. Unfortunately, Westport Crossing, as interesting and thoughtful as this proposal might be, perhaps fails all three.
Christopher J. Wilmot was born and raised in the Village of Pittsford, having attended and graduated from Sutherland High School, and St. John Fisher College.
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