The following is a guest post submitted by Matthew Denker.
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Well, dear readers, I must admit that this is not exactly what I had planned when I left you the last time. That said, please bear with me while we look at something a little bit different.
John Baker, Steve Gullace, Chris Gullace have proposed to construct a new gym and a 48 unit apartment building at 759 Park Ave . The gym would be for the Talmudic Institute next door, while the apartments would be for rent. This has, not surprisingly, drawn a raft of criticism from the residents of the Park Ave neighborhood…
The complaints can be broken down as follows…
- Size and density of the complex
- Lack of green space
- Ability to market the apartments as luxury
- Parking and traffic
- Necessary zoning change
- Appropriateness of fit with the neighborhood
I’d like, then, to take a moment to address each of these comments. All data comes from the 2011 5-year American Community Survey. You are welcome to reproduce any of this data at your leisure from here . As further reference, all numbers were generated by defining the Park Ave. Neighborhood as the combination of Monroe County Census Tracts 29, 31, and 78.01. They look like this and Park Ave. runs directly through the middle:
1. Size and density of the complex
The first complaint about any development is generally its size. In the case of this development, the plan is for this building to match the four story building next door. As it is the exact same size as a pre-existing building, the size complaint does not hold much water. To go further, of the 7,083 housing units in the neighborhood, 20% of them, or a little more than 1,400 are in apartment buildings with more than 20 units. That means many residents are already in buildings just as dense and just as large, if not larger than this one.
2. Lack of green space
This is a more challenging argument to take on with pure numbers. As a popular commercial strip, fronting Park Ave. with green space is not architecturally appropriate (any more so than developments fronting Park Ave. with parking lots). Ignoring the fact that this development is less than a half mile from the 109 Acre Cobbs Hill Park, asking the developer to incorporate some kind of green space, however underutilized it would be, in lieu of some parking, is not terrible. A better idea might be to request funding of improvements to other, existing, Park Ave. green space.
3. Ability to market the apartments as luxury
While I personally am unsure why this is a concern of the community rather than one of the developers, I have to assume that this is code for “dropping rents and opening the floodgates to a bunch of drunken college renters that we don’t want on Park Ave.” I have to say that we will have to attack this in a somewhat roundabout way. Why you ask? Well, not a single housing unit has been built since 2000 in the Park Ave. neighborhood. That makes comps somewhat difficult. Even so, over 21% of the 4,753 occupied rentals in the neighborhood already rent for more than $1,000 a month. On top of that, average rents for similar units in Erie Harbor and Corn Hill Landing are well over $1,500 a month in locations that are not as desirable as Park Ave. Suffice to say, these apartments will rent for just about whatever the developers ask. At the moment that asking price is said to be $1280-$2200 for one and two bedroom units.
4. Parking and Traffic
Let’s get this out of the way at the forefront of this section. Park Ave. is the most walkable neighborhood in the city. Now then, parking! Car ownership in Park Ave is, not surprisingly, higher than Rochester on average (car ownership trends well with income and Park Ave. has more income). Let’s take a look at the 6,240 households (occupied housing units) in the neighborhood. Nearly 11% of these households have no car at all. Another 53% have only one car. Finally, 29% have 2 cars (the rest have 3 or more, and let us assume they will self select out of an apartment complex for want of a driveway and garage). That means if the people renting these units were perfectly average compared to Park Ave. as it is today, they would bring with them 57 new cars. Considering there will already be interior space for 51 cars, the other 6 should fit easily in the 48 space overflow that the developer is proposing. Let us go further, though, and imagine that the renters in this building look not like everyone on Park Ave., but instead like the other renters on Park Ave. Here we find that there are would be even less cars, at 55. And again, this ignores the self selection that comes with renting in an apartment building.
Now let’s look at traffic demands. Some 90.3% of the 7,437 commuters in the neighborhood either drive alone or take a car pool when commuting to work. That means we can expect, with an average occupancy of 1.45 people per unit (let’s imagine they’re all commuters and no children or retirees), 70 new commuters from this apartment building. 63 of them will be driving to and from work each day. You’d never know it, but not everyone leaves their home at once to go to work. The busiest period in the neighborhood is from 7:30-8:00am when 19.3% of commuters leave for work. Based on this, at the height of “morning rush hour” this development will produce, as a maximum, approximately 12 additional cars on Park Ave., or one every two and a half minutes for about a half hour each morning. This is not the straw that will break the camel’s back.
5. Necessary Zoning Change
This is a straw man argument. This lot was downzoned a number of years ago to R-1, specifically to prevent anything from ever being built here. To say no to new neighbors, or businesses, or really anything other than the delightful parking lot and empty grass square that is here. There is no better place in the city than here for a building, and the zoning change is inconsequential to that fact. Zoning is not some God-given property of a piece of land. It’s just a marker, and one that is increasingly less useful.
6. Appropriateness of fit with the neighborhood
This is the final, and most controversial piece of all of this. The intial plans are shown here and you can judge for yourself how well the development matched with the neighborhood. For the most part, I believe they do. Even so, this is the kind of thing that a developer is most open to negotiating. Having a smaller building costs a developer real money, in the form of foregone rents. In the case of the street facing façade, most renters don’t notice this at all, but designing something that is compatible with the neighborhood is not as challenging as one might assume. There are a number of talented architects in Rochester, from Plan, to CJS who would be up to the task of a treatment for this building. Again, this is something to work on, not say no to. As for the number of units, or the appeal, or any of the other factors, the data above speaks to exactly how compatible those features already are.
Is this development perfect from the start? No. And no development ever is. As excellent as I think this apartment building would be, I believe that adding a curb cut to Park Ave. and omitting new commercial frontage is a mistake. Could these kinds of changes be implemented given a functional dialog with the developer? Almost assuredly. If we are ever going to grow Rochester again, we need to start somewhere, and I can think of no better place than here. The people who move to an apartment building such as this are the kinds of new neighbors who gush to their friends, build a stronger tax base, and will care about their neighborhood going forward. This is a golden opportunity to choose neighbors instead of having them foisted on us. Why fight this here and now?
What Do You Think?
Let us know what you think in the comments below. And whether you’re in favor of, or against this project, send your thoughts to Peter Siegrist by calling 585-428-7238 or emailing him at [email protected].
About Matthew Denker:
Tags: 759 Park Ave, Chris Gullace, development, Filling In, infill development, John Baker, Matthew Denker, Park Avenue, Rochester, Rochester NY, Steve Gullace
This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 6th, 2013 at 8:00 am and is filed under Opinion, Reader Submitted Stories, Rochester News, 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.
Thanks for the well reasoned article. I always thought this lot was neither here nor there. Would be good to see something done with it.
This area is probably one of the worst places for parking IMO, but it still sounds like a good plan.
I had no idea rents were so high, though. The low end of that range is about what we’re paying for a ~2000 sq. ft. home in Highland Park (mortgage + taxes + insurance). Crazy.