“The units at Erie Harbor are very poorly designed and overpriced… The ground floor units don’t even have a view of the river – it is blocked by a berm… Shoddy construction… The stairs creak… Tacky… Ugliest building in Rochester…” These are all comments you may have heard about the Erie Harbor Apartments which were officially opened last fall .
When comments like these were left under a recent post on RochesterSubway.com, Jim Mayer didn’t take it sitting down. He contacted me and invited me to visit his home. He and his wife Irene sold their home in Brighton and now live at Erie Harbor. I admit, after nearly a three hour visit, I left feeling a bit jealous at just how much this couple is loving life in their new digs…
Jim and Irene are all too aware of the naysayers. “People think these are The Projects 2.0. We just want people to know that it’s not,” Irene explains. “They’re not cheap. But ‘overpriced’? Compared to what? We’ve had friends come from other cities and they’re blown away. The location is unbelievable.” Standing in their living/dining room, Irene points to the view of the river and pleads, “I mean LOOK at this.”
Their unit works out to just over a dollar per square foot. At 2,050 square feet it costs more to rent than it would to rent an entire house in the South Wedge neighborhood. But Irene contests, “This unit is also bigger than those houses.”
And it’s one of the biggest available in the Erie Harbor complex. There are probably four other units like this one. The ones on the ends of each row are like this… with the extra little ‘pods’ on top. “The construction people called them ‘turrets ‘,” Jim says. But Irene censors him after a bit of nervous laughter, “I believe that’s not politically correct.” “Ok.” Jim concedes. “Anyway, some of them are two bedroom, some are three.”
Irene says they were not looking to move out of their Brighton home when they decided to stop in one afternoon and take a look around during an open house. “Our last kid was going to be leaving for college the next fall. And we were thinking, well, we don’t really need the Brighton schools anymore… maybe some day we might move to the city, we thought. We were thinking it would be a few years out.”
But that lighthearted tour of the unfinished apartments quickly turned into a complete lifestyle change for the couple.
The apartment had enough room for them and their kids for when they came to visit. That was important to them. And then there are the views of the river. “We had just been rediscovering the Genesee Valley Trail. We had ridden [our bikes] down to Seneca Park Zoo, and Turning Point Point. And we knew there were plans to reconnect the trail through the city. We like the Wedge. We like Cornhill.
“We said to each other, we’d feel really stupid if…” Jim pauses, and Irene completes his thought, “…if a year from now we’re ready to move and then we couldn’t find another spot like this. So we put the deposit down.”
In the name of due-diligence, they did some quick comparison shopping. “We looked at the Lofts at Village Gate , which we really liked, and some other places. And we just thought, yeah but, this is on the water!”
Jim grew up in New York City and New Jersey. Irene is from Toronto. They both came to Rochester in the early 80′s for work. “This area reminds me of the neighborhood I lived in in Toronto. The Wedge is very much like a Toronto neighborhood with the housing on the side streets, the little main drag on South Ave… and where I lived was on a river too. With the cool urban thing down the block, and parks and bike trails out your back door — this is like a dream.”
Avid outdoors people? They say they are not. Irene jokes, “We’re not spandex-clad.” But these two are no slouches either. They cycle, go for runs, and they also row with the Genesee Rowing Club .
“We ride our bikes to the boat house,” Jim says. “From this spot we can run up to University of Rochester, and the new pedestrian bridge, and you’re basically running through woods. You would have no idea you were any idea you were near the city. But then you go the other way and you’re a five minute walk from downtown.”
They love the fact that they don’t have to cross a street to hit the river’s bike trail. And lockers in the parking lot (which can be rented for an additional fee) keep their bikes and other equipment secure and out of the way while their not using them.
Jim and Irene’s apartment overlooks one of three public right-of-ways that connect South Avenue to the Riverway Trail. Those are thanks in large part to the lengthy negotiations with the City and the developer. The City will be finishing the last little bit of landscaping and plantings this Spring. “It’s going to be fun. The rocks are set up for river and fireworks viewing… and I think it’s going to be really nice.”
It’s worth noting that the older tower next door, The Hamilton , has 131 units of affordable housing and is also owned by Conifer . It was renovated while Erie Harbor was being constructed. But Jim and Irene point out that the two complexes are operated independently of each other.
“We can’t speak for The Hamilton,” Erie Harbor by contrast is 80 percent market rate (like their apartment) and 20 percent are subsidized for working families.
Jim was also eager to point out how accommodating Conifer has been. “We found them very easy to work with as long as we’re not asking silly things. We said we’d really like hardwood floors, and we’d be willing to pay the cost of installing them.” Conifer considered the request and said “ok.” Their decorator picked the color and it was done.
During the winter, Property Management plows the parking lots, the sidewalks, and they clear off the stoops. Jim says management has even honored his request to “go light” on the salt outside his apartment.
Irene says all those perks help justify the rent. “This may not be any cheaper than a house in the area, but when we owned our home, we were spending a lot of money buying mulch, or having the roof redone. Here, we know what our expenses are going to be each month. I don’t even have to buy batteries for the smoke alarms.” Irene called once to ask a question about the smoke alarms she says, “they had someone over here in ten minutes to change the batteries.” They even installed a ceiling fan for them when they asked for it.
As far as the quality of materials and construction, the stairs in this unit didn’t squeak. “Is it the highest end construction, no. The paint for example is just contractor grade, so it scuffed while we were moving in.” That’s what new construction is whether it’s a McMansion in Victor or a new apartment.
Noise isn’t typically a problem either. There’s one unit below Jim and Irene and they share a wall on one side. But they don’t hear people talking or playing music. Although they admit, when all their kids come to visit and large herds of youths are thundering up and down the stairs, their downstairs neighbors say they hear it. But everyone’s friendly and residents understand the pros and cons of apartment living.
I asked if they do all their shopping in the city. Jim says, “That’s the other thing. Everyone says there’s no grocery store in the city. We shop at the Abundance Co-op . We shop at Mise en Place sometimes. The farmers’ market. And when one needs to go to Wegmans, we go to Wegmans.”
The floor plans are not conventional. It’s not a big boxy space, or a loft. When Jim and Irene first looked at the unfurnished space they thought it was too small to fit their existing furniture. As it turned out, even their dining room set fits (with all the leaves in it). But they embraced the opportunity to get rid of many of their old things. “We chose to keep some old stuff but we picked new furniture to go with the space,” Jim says. That meant for example, replacing their couch with movable chairs. And selecting more modern styles that fit with the architecture.
One of things Irene likes about her new urban lifestyle is that she doesn’t need to buy three weeks worth of “stuff” at the giant BJ’s store and haul it home in the SUV. “We might decide night by night, are we going to go out to dinner tonight or cook something. So we only need to pick up enough for a couple of days.”
On the other hand, this 3 bedroom, 2 1/2 bath apartment does have a decent amount of closet space and storage – and lots of little nooks & crannies where that “stuff” can be tucked away.
Oh, and about those bathrooms, Irene says they never run out of hot water because it’s on-demand.
And what about that style of architecture and those exterior colors that everyone seems to complain about? Is it tacky or just a matter of taste? Jim and Irene say they like the style. “It’s creative,” Jim jokes, “We think it looks a bit like a crab shack. It’s fun.” Irene continues the thought, “It feels like a beach house. I think it’s fun and different… We feel like we’re on vacation every day.”
“Could they have done a faux Victorian and brick looking thing, sure. Would it have been cool? Eh… maybe. But it would have been weird with this many windows, and you really need this many windows on a site like this. And I like the colors [and the modern lines]. It’s like a Mondrian painting.”
“You can’t win for trying. People will find things they don’t like.” Jim speculates, “Maybe people would have liked this to be another version of South Avenue. But we don’t need another commercial strip here because the businesses on South Avenue are finally doing well. We need the density and the people living here” to support the businesses over there.
Jim and Irene say they have no regrets. And I must say I believe them. Their space is very comfortable. The views of the river and downtown from their three floors are spectacular. They’re within a short walk to restaurants, shops, and transit. A bike ride on the Genesee River trail connects them to downtown, the UofR, Genesee Valley Park, and the canal trail.
Is it perfect? Well, you show me a perfect development and I’ll find you someone to argue with. I’m sure you won’t have to look further than the comment section below. But one thing you can’t argue with is that Jim (from NYC/Jersey) and Irene (from Toronto) are loving it. And they are talking up Rochester city living to all their friends and family.
Tags: Abundance Cooperative Market, Brighton, downtown Rochester, Erie Harbor Apartments, Genesee River, Genesee Riverway Trail, Genesee Rowing Club, Irene Allen, Irene Mayer, Jim Mayer, Lofts at Village Gate, Mise en Place, Rochester, Rochester NY, Rochester Public Market, South Wedge, The Hamilton, University of Rochester, urban design, urban living
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