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Filling In: Charlotte Street

November 13th, 2014

Charlotte Street, Rochester NY. [PHOTO: Google]
By Matthew Denker

It’s kind of amazing we haven’t looked at Charlotte Street external link already, but better late than never. Also, the RFP from the city is out, so there’s that. You can read the details here external link. Let’s just say the city is much more open minded about this proposal than the one for Midtown Parcel 5.

This proposal, in case you’re curious, is due December 5th. It’s going to be a busy few weeks for you if you’re trying to submit for this and Site 5

Charlotte Street 1936 Plat Map. [PHOTO: Rochester Public Library]
Anyway, let’s start with a little history about the site. As recently as 1936, the site was housing. You can see it extended significantly further east before it was spliced up for the Inner Loop. A number of less-than-favorable uses happened after much of the housing was torn down, including the underground storage of petroleum products.

A decade ago, the city wrapped up cleaning the site up for reuse, and there it has been ever since. Back in 2006, the city had a deal with Christa to build Charlotte Square external link, which was to be 32 condos and 8 townhouses. As you can tell, that didn’t happen, and the site is back out for RFP. I am curious if this project was only to be part of the site, because it’s not much in the way of units for a large site.

Christa Charlotte Square Rendering. [PHOTO: Christa Development]
Just as a quick disclaimer: I’m not qualified to talk about the environmental issues inherent to the site, sadly, so let’s just say whatever I propose here works. It might not. Oh, and feel free to use any of the ideas herein, but as per the usual, there is no warranty to their actual functionality in your proposal.

With the background out of the way, what would I do here? Well, I think this is a prime opportunity to hit many of my favorite things all in one spot. I believe we have a site large enough to accommodate public open space, street level retail, condos, apartments, and townhomes all wrapped into one excellently located site.

Charlotte Street Diagram.
This is a great place to incorporate a new public square, and while Haags Alley external link leaves something to be desired on the north side, there is always the opportunity to reorient those buildings at a later time.

To the east of this new square would be a modern midrise built in the form of Jean Nouvel’s fabulous 40 Mercer. It would be, to my knowledge, the only white-out modern apartments available in Rochester.

40 Mercer [PHOTO: NY Observer & Sayumi Studios]

The west of the square would be lined with townhouses. These townhouses would extend west along both Charlotte and Haags, forming a U around private yards for each house. Finally, a simple, but attractive 3-4 story apartment building would cap the west side of the site.

Charlotte Street Townhouses.

Charlotte Street Apartments.
I estimate the breakdown of units to be: 20 for sale townhouses, 40 for sale units in the tower and 50 for rent units, of which 30 will be affordable. Retail space would line the east side of the park from the base of the tower. Finally, the entire site would be excavated for a single story of underground parking.

This would yield approximately 450 parking spaces. Ignoring the fact that this is enough parking for every man woman and child in the east end plus space to hold a subterranean tailgating party, my hope here is two-fold. First, the city has requested that parking accommodations be made for the business on Charlotte St. (clearly on the other side of the street, since being a dirt lot isn’t much of a business). This would provide for quite a bit of additional parking for said businesses and should help grease the skids. Second, and from a long term perspective, I would like to see a large parking deck here allow for the removal of large portions of the surface lots for 2 Vine, the defunct Little Bakery, and Hart’s to be replaced with liner retail that would enliven the street. One final bonus could be a deal with the townhomes across the street to landscape their interior parking lot, and move all the spaces to this garage. It would greatly increase the value of their homes to have a space with grills, a playground, and a large yard for play.

A further neighborhood improvement that I’ve considered, but won’t dwell on at length here, would be the upgrade of Haags Alley to a full street with sidewalks and on street parking. This would greatly improve the units that will be facing the alley.

Finally, this site is soon to be joined by another development site on the opposite side of Pitkin when the Inner Loop is filled in. It would be good to keep that side of the tower lively as well, so that Pitkin can see the gains from being a real street and not an access road.

This is a large site in a prime location, possibly even better than Site 5, which has potential, but might not be ready yet. The list of interested parties external link is also long and who’s who of the major players in town. It’s sure to be stiff competition, but what would you do here given the chance?

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This entry was posted on Thursday, November 13th, 2014 at 1:56 am and is filed under Transit + Infrastructure, Urban Development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

30 Responses to “Filling In: Charlotte Street”

  1. ELF says:

    The Little Bakery building is now the 1975 Gallery.

  2. Dan Howell says:

    I would love to see a development like this in the area. The idea of a modern high-rise is fantastic! We are due to have some new, modern architecture go up in the center city, it would be very exciting. I also would really love to see some for-sale units in the tower. My fiancee and I are interested in selling our home in the South Wedge and moving into Center City, but we want to purchase a unit, we don’t want to become renters. I am anxiously awaiting the day this is a possibility!

  3. Ben says:

    From the Q and A:
    “The Zoning for this site is CCD-E and this calls for buildings of no more than four (4) stories tall. This requirement can be waived through the Site Plan Review process. We are looking for a very good design and are prepared to be flexible.”

    Sounds like the city wouldn’t mind seeing some density here, I like your suggestion for a modern tower. I’m optimistic about this site, it really is in a good spot right there.

  4. Martin Edic says:

    It’s my understanding that the city’s cleanup of the brownfield revealed that there are underground streams that are very polluted throughout the area- which was a dump at one point. As a result the Christa project was designed to be built on a slab because the cost of excavating and more thorough cleanup was prohibitive. Aside from getting killed by the economy, they were going to have first floor garages resulting in multi-story units with stairs. The demographics of boomers buying and relocating downtown don’t support units with a lot of stairs. A large portion along Scio is now fenced off for teacher parking for the school on Main Street and is not available to local businesses at this point. They had to do this because the large addition to the school being completed now eliminated a lot of parking.
    The big challenge here is environmental and it is a deal breaker because of the huge backlog of cleanup projects across the state. No developer would take that expense on without a lot of government help. Maybe they could remediate by digging it up and dumping the polluted dirt into the Inner Loop fill! 😉

  5. 1.) ELF – thank you for the heads up! I’ll check it out next time I’m around.

    2.) My current plan is to have the entire modern tower, as well as the townhouses, be for sale. The simpler building would be rentals.

    3.) I really fear this is the thing least likely to happen based on the economics, real or perceived, of new build in Rochester. I also think “good design” is likely to be shouted down by locals who prefer disney based design. The other major issue with this site is that it doesn’t have a past that lends itself to multi-family housing. Maybe this is a blessing? In any event, putting something psuedo-industrial (casement windows, exposed steal, cabling, etc.) doesn’t fit with the site’s past any more than building something like this: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7799907@N05/8754607215/sizes/l. That said, rebuilding a bunch of SFHs here, especially in any style remotely suburban, would be a huge mistake.

  6. Martin Edic says:

    Another issue with underground parking downtown is the shallow dolomite bedrock throughout downtown. I watched them dig the parking for the building next to the Chase Tower from my office window in the eighties. They were blasting every day for months. A very slow and tedious process and I’m sure very expensive. It would interesting to research the process of digging out the Midtown Garage- I bet it was a huge project.

  7. Well, I’m not going to lie, I can basically propose whatever with little economic concerns, BUT I think if the proposal were to be more realistic, what would happen is that the parking would be at ground level, shielded by retail/resident amenities (non-living space) to the street. This would basically shift all of the programming up a story. It wouldn’t really change either apartment building (they’d still be elevators), but it would make for taller townhouses with more stairs, which, as your point out, are not quite as desirable.

  8. Martin Edic says:

    BTW, Matthew, I’m in complete agreement regarding ‘Disney’ design a la Collegetown. Awful.

  9. daggar says:

    As long as the choice is between flat roofs and disney design, I will go with disney design. For all its flaws, it is preferable to one that holds the worst design fads of the last half-century.

    Every residence built with a flat roof in this climate has inherent, unavoidable environmental and carbon cost. Any talk of ‘sustainability’ or ‘long-term planning’ are shown to be lies when tied to a building configuration that is inherently structurally flawed and has gravity working against it, not for it. Flat roofs require more effort and material to maintain, require that maintenance more frequently. It doesn’t matter if you hire LEED contractors with a vapor trail of environmentally-oriented certifications; all labor and all construction materials have a carbon cost, and when you build the top part of your building with complete disregard to gravity, you are paying a considerable environmental price for your poorly-thought-out roof.

    Modern design has to abandon, with prejudice, flat roofs in temperate climates. As long as they’re trying to bring Santa Fe design– itself an aesthetic as manufactured as any Disney building– to somewhere with rain, snow and leaves, it shows itself as shallow as any amusement park facade.

  10. College town has flat roofs and is very much disney design. It’s not about roof pitch, it’s about a faux-historicism. I think pitched and gabled roofs are perfectly acceptable (even if there’s not many townhouses with them here in Boulder for photographing). It’s more about the choices of materials, interiors, alignments, lack of glass, etc.

  11. Martin Edic says:

    Another aspect of this site not considered in this approach is the Inner Loop fill reconnecting both ends of Charlotte street and freeing up even more space at that end of the parcel. My understanding is that reconnecting Charlotte is the step in the rebuilding process because they need it as a detour when they take down the East Avenue bridge- which is going create a major temporary disruption downtown. There’s no elegant alternate route. That end might be the logical place for a taller building requiring a deeper foundation.

  12. Martin Edic says:

    Regarding flat roofs: Virtually every commercial building in Rochester has them and snow load and durability have not been issues. And building developers like to locate large HVAC units on the roof where they can’t be seen from the street. Roofing technology has changed drastically in the last ten years. It would be nice if they mandated some solar energy and water collection systems for gray water use in the buildings. Buildings are huge consumers of fossil fuels.

  13. Joe says:

    I don’t think flat roofs are a problem, there’s many older buildings with them in this city. The problem is the cheap faux classic look that is endemic here. The Wegmans on east ave is a prime example. It wants to look like it’s from the early 1900s, but it looks like garbage.

    I’m not a fan of the square idea. There are parks and green space within a couple blocks of this parcel. Id rather this city builds a real public square than a bunch of crappy little half attempts. Maybe a pedestrian section of Winthrop would be a good compromise.

    Underground parking would be worth public assistance. This city has been destroyed by surface lots. It serves a public benefit to put the parking underground and have grade level be for the people.

    A tower with for sale units would be great, I’d buy if I could afford it.

  14. Matthew Denker says:

    Can we go back to the flat roof thing. This is a real straw man of an argument. As suburban development continues unabated, any roof style in urban environment across the street from a grocery store is less carbon intensive. This is right up there with calls to reconfigure intersections instead of red light cams. Or course it is, but it’s also incrementally expensive and time consuming to do, and nothing about red light cameras precludes us from doing it later. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Especially while such standards are enforced unevenly.

  15. Jimmy says:

    I say ditch the public square idea and develop all the land. But this is exciting and I believe Charlotte street will be back on the map again soon.

  16. So unexpectedly, the public square is the most ‘controversial’ of the things I’ve put forward. That makes it sound like I should off a little bit of justification. The city, in the RFP, states pretty explicitly that the pedestrian continuation of Winthrop must stay. With that in mind, I went the public square route. I must admit, one could go the ‘Pell Street’ type situation too (which I considered – it’s one of my favorite streets in NYC – http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-sahNCzhd7bM/UpBRjKnzFgI/AAAAAAAAGvU/g4BLCKUS-d0/s1600/Pell+Street.jpg). I’d just hate to see the walkway become some dimly lit canal.

  17. daggar says:

    I should clarify: My target was flat roofs on smaller, mostly residential buildings. As buildings get larger, the flat roof gets more practical. On large buildings, it’s almost unavoidable and sloped roofs become problematic. If you’re building a five-story, half-block structure, then flat roofs are the way to go. If you’re building a one- or two-family house, sloped roofs make much more sense.

    With that clarification, I stick to everything else I said.

  18. Joe says:

    I’ll explain my dislike of the public square idea. A pedestrian street, especially with commercial and residential frontage would be much better, or maybe a take on a Woonerf. I think that treatment would do well for many of those streets around there. Charlotte, Haags, Richmond, Mathews, Winthrop, etc if they were rebuilt as Woonerfs.

    I don’t like the square idea, because Rochester has an excess of green/open space. You’re only 3 blocks away from Manhattan Square Park/Martin Luther King Jr Park. Washington Square Park is only a block past that (speaking of, where did that cannon go?!). A block and a half from the park by the church at Broadway and East. The Liberty Pole (which should be Rochester’s real Square, albeit a triangle) is only a short walk down East Ave or Main St. And there is the public area being added to Midtown. We have a glut of public spaces and attempted squares, dump the quantity and go for quality.

    It would also help us put pressure on the city to fill the Inner Loop all the way to Main St and un-ruin Anderson Park. Which from what I’ve heard the engineers say they are partial to doing later, but I guess the DOT wanted those 2 additional ramps to speed traffic flow. So a perceived “lack” of public space might help us lobby the city to restore the park.

    It also keeps pressure on the city to keep improving Manhattan Square Park, which they realize is horrible and have been slowly fixing piece by piece.

  19. Of all the people you will find, I am definitely sympathetic to the “excess of open space.” One of the reasons for having it here is that I don’t think the commercial here is in a position to put use pressure on preexisting open space. For example, I find it hard to believe people will get lunch here and then walk to MLK (Manhattan Square). That said, they might to a rebuilt Anderson Sq. I’m not really ok with the idea that building new open space either increases or decreases pressure to renovate or renew other open space, but that’s ok. Further, I don’t think it’s the city that needs any push to rebuild Anderson Sq. I think the traffic flow arguments all come from the state DOT, and they won’t be swayed by any local developments (or non-developments as it were). Indeed, if there is more housing here, it will be much easier for them to claim “additional traffic” and keep the onramps. Anyway, I think this could go either way, and I really like the idea of a commercial street/pedestrian street/woonerf type concept. The only thing I’m not ok with is a super-block development. It’s not a good idea on Site 5, and it’s not a good idea here.

  20. Small update – while digging for some other stuff, I found this aerial shot of the area from 1918. This block is at the bottom right of frame. The image was taken facing, effectively, due east. http://photo.libraryweb.org/rochimag/archives/early/e0000/e0000130.jpg And here that is now – https://www.google.com/maps/@43.1592838,-77.5951609,4086a,20y,90h/data=!3m1!1e3

  21. Joe says:

    If it was 1/3 to 1/2 of the size proposed, I’d be on board. It just seems to big as currently proposed.

  22. Joe says:

    Wow, I just went on google earth and did my best to recreate the photo, really see how the residential streets along Union have seen massive abandonment and demolition.

    I’d post the pic, but I don’t have a website to host it.

  23. If you’d like to email it to me, I can get it up. Also, the park in my plan is really only about 150ft square (less than half an acre). It’s surprisingly small due to the block size.

  24. Josh says:

    Can someone define what Disney Design is?

  25. Joe says:

    How do I find your email?

  26. I assume you mean me? Maybe that’s presumptuous. Anyway, shoot me an email at rocsubway@denker.me, and I should get it. I’ll talk to Mike about setting up some sort of contacts for contributors.

  27. Thank you to Joe for the excellent before/after –


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