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27 Responses to “Filling In: Avon Place”

  1. Jimmy says:

    I think it is a really good idea to build there. This proposal is probably the best one yet from the ‘Filling In’ series. Now I know that rendering is meant to be very basic, but I got to say that the first floor needs to be elevated from ground level by at least 4 steps. Otherwise it will be very difficult to make the townhomes attractive. If building height is a concern, simply put a flat roof on above the third floor. Neo-classical styled architecture would look good here.

  2. Jimmy says:

    Actually, you might want to demolish the four houses to the right along avon PL and replace them with townhomes.

  3. Chris says:

    With population continually growing exponentially and with the growth of entitlements – not breeding would be a solution to unnecessary development and better quality of life.

  4. Mike says:

    Why do we need to build on green space/open space? A building of this scale should be on South Clinton or South Ave and the open space should be repaired and added to the park. If anything focus on the worst of the worst properties and replace them with better/smarter development. If you can’t tell this area is already as dense as it needs to be and doesn’t need to be any more cramped. Fill in parking lots and increase our green space. Not everybody wants to be on top of each other.

  5. Matthew Denker says:

    Holy moly! Ideas flying!

    @Jimmy – an excellent idea for stoops/porches. This is difficult to render based on my shoestring budget of nil. I am open to the idea of redeveloping up the street, but the more you change, the more resistance comes up.

    @Chris – Even holding population steady (and Monroe County hasn’t exactly seen its population explode), it would be better for us to increase density and sustainability rather than our dependence on cars, etc.

    @Mike – It’s not really open space, it’s a fenced in backyard at the moment. South Clinton and South Aves should have notably larger buildings than this. Having been to the area, I find it hard to believe that it’s “as dense as it needs to be,” which sounds very subjective. Is 160 apartments in the midtown tower as dense as it needs to be? too dense? Considering there are currently 0 apartments on that block, it’s certainly new found density.
    You are right that not everybody wants to live on top of one another. No one is about to force someone to purchase one of these units, and indeed, the people in the nearby houses are also not being rearranged. It’s almost like Wegmans selling organic produce. Not everyone wants (or can afford) to pay a ton more for organic meat. That hasn’t stopped Wegmans from carrying it. I would venture a guess that it is profitable for them to carry it, as they continue to do so.
    I believe density is very much market correcting. There is a point where people will not pay for some marginal increase in density. I think one of the things that skews this market is the idea that neighbors can fight said density without paying. Thus it is free to reduce or hold density, but expensive to increase it. Here’s an excellent article on the topic in the case of Washington DC and height limits. http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2012/11/12/dc_height_act_is_extremely_costly.html. More good reading on this topic would be “The Gated City” by Ryan Avent.

  6. Joe says:

    I usually like these filling in segments, but I’m not a big fan of this one. I don’t really think it fits the neighborhood. I think 2 story, flat roof row houses would fit in better. I believe there are several around the nearby streets.

    If you really wanted to get crazy, if the city would abandon Avon Place in front of the vacant lot you’d gain some land and could have the building front the park. Street view shows the end of fountain st fronts a vacant lot too, you could abandon that section and just keep a pedestrian connection between Fountain, Avon, and Asbury.

    I don’t get the density comments. Swillburg is a very dense neighborhood. Besides my personal dislike of the building’s mass and style, I don’t see a problem with the density. Those lots could easily be 3-4 multi-family houses if it weren’t vacant.

  7. @Joe, that’s an interesting idea. As it turns out, Avon Place and Fountain Street didn’t always meet up. They stopped at this lot which abutted the park. And the park wasn’t always a park either. Take a look this plat map from 1910…

    Avon Place and Fountain Street, 1910.

    So maybe it’s not all that crazy of an idea to take over that portion of the street again?

  8. Also, someone on Facebook mentioned the memorial to Cab Calloway that is located in this park. It’s not widely known, but it’s true. Cab Calloway was born on Sycamore street. Wouldn’t it be great if this park hosted an annual music event or concert in his honor?!

    Monument to Cab Calloway in Otto Henderberg Square Park, Rochester NY. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]

  9. Sorry for the barrage of comments, but here’s another important fact… This park was created in 1980 in an area that had been leveled to make way for the Genesee Expressway, a planned extension of I-390 into downtown. The park honors Otto Henderberg’s efforts to keep Swillburg from being split in two by the road.

  10. Matthew Denker says:

    Mike, this is all really fantastic information. Thank you for researching it all.

    I think the building could be much “lighter” than my rough rendering if it were to forgo parking. It would easily have a back yard and as much if not more square footage and be shorter if that were the case (slightly shorter ceilings, especially on higher floors) would easily do this as well. Again, it’s a give and take, and I think the building would be easier to get neighborhood buy in with parking than without it, but it definitely adds to the costs (both physical and monetary).

  11. Joe says:

    Interesting info about the park, I can’t believe they were thinking of putting 390 through the city. I can’t imagine the damage that would have been done to that part of the city. Glad it didn’t happen.

    Thinking about it more, if the street was abandoned and the building fronted the park. The garage entrance(s) could front the street.

  12. Charles says:

    what is the point of this? What are you trying to accomplish?

  13. Charles says:

    Sorry, I’ll try to be more constructive.

    A good Filling In subject would be the southwest corner of Goodman St. and Clinton ave. Currently, it has a pos gas station, and a useful but poorly maintained commercial lot. Surrounded by a 10 story building, 2 locally significant businesses, numerous ethnic restaurants and I believe could act as a better gateway for the neighborhoods.

    I believe this location is undervalued and has upside. As far as the current study, I just don’t think it works or that area needs improving. The cut through sidewalk is an excellent public feature.

  14. Matthew Denker says:

    Charles – thank you for the suggestion. I’ll spend some time thinking about it. This development wouldn’t change the sidewalk cut through – it IS an excellent feature. Also, one of the important things to keep in mind is that, in general, no one building can completely change the character of a neighborhood. That said, a desirable neighborhood is always a good place to develop. There’s a reason it’s desirable in the first place. It’s why it’s so bad that the opponents of 933 University brag that less than 100 units have been built in the rather desirable East Ave district.

    Just as a spoiler, the next column will be on 88 Elm, so please don’t think I’m ignoring your idea when it’s not the next thing I write about.

  15. Joe says:

    If you were to do South Clinton and Goodman, the vacant lot further north by Uhlen Pl and Karges Pl would be a good side bar.

  16. Jason Haremza says:

    Otto Henderberg is Rochester’s own Jane Jacobs and he, and the successful defeat of the Genesee Expressway, deserve to be better known.

    Incidentally, the Genesee Expressway is the reason there are two ways to enter 490 Eastbound heading south on South Avenue downtown, one to the right and one to the left. One of these entrances would have connected with the Genesee Expressway.

  17. Pyote says:

    I lived there my whole life. One of those yards belongs to my brother (we were both raised here). The neighborhood is awesome, and is only getting more awesome. Nobody who lives here would appreciate an ugly development in their own backyards blocking their windows and creating claustrum about their beloved park. Especially since there are so many trashed old buildings around that could easily be fixed up and used for great things.

  18. J says:

    I know I am repeatings things already mentioned, but the park was created because they were tearing down houses to make way for the highway and Otto was seminal in organizing the neighborhood to protest the demolition of the rest of the houses along Avon and Sycamore, and the highway was redirected. A park named after him lies where houses were demolished. This talk of potentially tearing down more houses for new urbanism disheartens me as a urban studies buff and a 25 year resident of Swillburg. We have some beautiful architecture that could be used for such a purpose, even along Henrietta.

    Be careful.

    Also:
    There are annual parties in the park with music, food, and fun activities for kids over the summer.

  19. @J, maybe I missed a comment in here somewhere, but I don’t think anyone suggested tearing down houses.

  20. Matthew Denker says:

    @pyote – I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder, although I lack the talent, time, or budget to produce truly stellar renderings of plans at this time. I suspect also that the new neighbors would enjoy their homes, and God willing, the neighborhood would enjoy the new neighbors. At the end of the day, the city is about people more than it is buildings.

    @J – No buildings would be demolished in the construction of this plan, nor would any park be removed. This is solely about adding real estate in a very desirable location. Even the other posters seem to think this neighborhood is awesome and getting more so. Capitalizing on that kind of success, as opposed to barring the door, is the way forward.

  21. Tom says:

    As someone who grew up on Avon Place, I have to absolutely oppose this idea. Swillburg has plenty of places where the houses feel packed together (check out Pappert st.) and there are little to no yards for many houses. The idea of dropping a development like this and taking away such spacious yards is a bad one. I would stick to areas that are mixed use, residential and commercial, rather than places like this where it’s all residential. It would just stick out way too much on Avon Place.

    “the way forward” isn’t stripping character from a neighborhood, it’s attending to what is already there. This actually makes me quite mad.

  22. J (again) says:

    I appreciate the dialog created by posting this to Rochester Subway. Love reading this site too.

    But we are introducing concepts of land grabbing and eminent domain in a neighborhood with a rich history. I’ve already seen the neighborhood become less diverse as the housing values have increased. I think this is a bit much.

    I also appreciate the main ideas of new urbanism; walkability, sustainability, mixed building use, less car traffic, etc, but it came to prominence as an alternative to the rampart forms of suburban development. Swillburg is not the suburbs. Also, one of the fundamental strengths of this school of thought is strengthening community life. Do consider this. I don’t thnks would fall very kindly under some of the tenants of new urbanism.

    There are however many opportunities throughout Rochester where a park could be exploited without losing backyards. If the school house near Marie Daley park was available that could be a potential nice loft conversion and overlooks the park. It might also to consider parks in other sectors of the city such as Pulaski park or Edgerton, again without taking away backyards which can be such important social spaces for community life.

    But I do think the real issue at hand is not Otto or Swillburg or my neighbors and friends backyards as much as it is the serious lack of green space in Rochester, something I believe I have read about before on Rochester Subway. That is why we are looking at a proposal for this small gem of a park in the first place.

    Park creation may be a good direction to look in as a way to increase quality of life, property value, communal public space, and sustainability. Maybe we can start in Midtown.

  23. J (again) says:

    aaand I do think a building can change the character of a neighborhood especially when the buildings are fronting numbers of $225K, $140K, and $1500/month

    People make up a city but developers often have a part in deciding who lives in the city.

  24. Samantha says:

    As an owner of a large slice of the land you’re talking about filling in, I can tell you right now this plan won’t happen. Having a big yard in the city is so very rare, and I personally cherish it. Also, I believe someone mentioned that there aren’t any apartments or town houses in the area? There are, right next door to me on Asbury. Why not take the money this plan would cost and give it to the families in the area who need help fixing up the homes that already exist?

  25. Matthew Denker says:

    All, this is a good dialog! So for starters, there would be no eminent domain here. Basically, as a developer, you would go to the people who currently own these pieces of land and offer to buy them. It is quite possible they wouldn’t sell, and this development wouldn’t happen. Always a chance! It could also take years to assemble the site. So be it.

    As for Marie Daley park, the school building next to it has already been converted to condos. They’re very nice, but a poor use of a large plot of land. Such is life.

    I do also think one building can change the character of a neighborhood, although from having walked through this area recently, many of the houses, while having good bones, could use some TLC. A new building might be just the thing to raise values enough for these renovations to be worth doing.

    As for a lack of green space in Rochester, I believe I addressed this a while ago in a facebook comment. There’s no lack of green space. In fact, Rochester has so much more green space per capita than a place like NYC, it’s no wonder it’s underutilized. That said, large chunks of green space in Rochester are poorly fronted. The best (worst?) example being Brown Square Park. This is an utter failure of urbanism at the moment, and will assuredly be the subject of a Filling In column eventually.

    As for a proposal like this making some one mad, that was never the intent, and I’m rather sorry it did. One of the best parts of density and a city is the idea of shared resources. Backyards in the suburbs are, generally, and incredibly poor use of space. They are underutilized by any given homeowner. By compressing homes and adding a shared space (park), the costs of maintenance to the homeowners are reduced, while the utilization of an area is increased. Because this density also supports walkable amenities beyond the park, the exercise as a whole is valuable in a sustainable way.

  26. Matthew Denker says:

    @Samantha – If you can figure out a way to turn a profit on giving homeowners money to fix up their properties, I’m all ears. I mean, if I were a bank, I could lend them money and charge them interest, but they could go borrow that money right now and be doing that…

    I definitely understand cherishing a large backyard, should you have one, and I see where you’re coming from. The way to put together a development like this might involve just buying all 5 houses with the yards. You could then also renovate them and sell them along with the new units. An intriguing idea to say the least.

  27. Jacquie says:

    I have to join the voices opposing this concept. I have lived in a multi-family home on Asbury for over four years and I love the character of the neighborhood. During that time, the area has been undergoing something of a renaissance, in my opinion, with homeowners and the city collaborating on needed improvements. Given the prevailing land values in the neighborhood, this building just doesn’t seem to fit. I also foresee clashes between the types of homeowners that would want a $225K townhome and the currently incredibly diverse population of the neighborhood, which does include many renters.

    @Matthew, I understand that it is difficult to “turn a profit on giving homeowners money to fix up their properties.” This is the basic idea underpinning the recently-announced NONprofit land bank to rehabilitate homes and sell them to first-time homebuyers, thereby putting properties back on the tax rolls.


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