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Judgement Day for an Old Church, and an Unbuilt “College Town”

March 17th, 2013

Judgement Day for an Old Church and a Unbuilt 'College Town'
Two important cases will go before the Zoning Board this Thursday: the ongoing saga of one historic church on Main Street, and design concerns regarding the future College Town. Salvation for the church, as well as the promise of a pedestrian-friendly College Town, may hang in the balance.

First, if you’ve been following the story of the little white church at 660 W. Main Street, owner Marvin Maye will make one more appeal to challenge the building’s status as a Designated Building of Historic Value. If he succeeds, he could have a clear path forward to demolish the 140-something-year-old church.* And in its place would go a Dollar General store…

The former Westminster Presbyterian Church at 660 West Main Street, and Stacie Colaprete's home at 644. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Many residents in the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood are not happy about that, including Stacie Colaprete, owner of the beautiful victorian house next door. She has said that if the Dollar General plans are approved, she will become sandwiched between two box stores and indirectly forced to move out of her home.

Meanwhile, a new engineers report released last week external link found that the church building is structurally sound. That’s good news, but it doesn’t mean the Zoning Board will vote to spare it from being demo’d. It simply means that YOU have some pretty darn good reasons to attend that meeting and speak out if you think it should be saved.

[ See the meeting details at the end of this post. ]

Also on Thursday’s agenda…
College Town

The College Town developers will be asking for certain City design codes to be waived.
Why, you may ask, does College Town need to be “salvaged”? For the sake of anyone not familiar with the project, the intent was to create a pedestrian oriented “town center” with space for housing, retail, restaurants, offices and a hotel on the site along Mount Hope and Elmwood Avenue external link, adjacent to the University of Rochester Medical Campus. This mix of uses—if designed correctly—should promote a lively and vital atmosphere on the street, and enhance the attractiveness of the campus and surrounding community. But now the developer is asking for several of the City’s design codes to be waived for them, which in turn would put the “lively and vital” community atmosphere in jeopardy.

In these renderings College Town looks like an absolute bonanza of pedestrian activity.
The developer will be asking for several variances related to the buildings’ setback distance from the street, the design of the façade, and parking garage. I’d give a pass on all of these things. The setback distances are greater than City code allows, but the extra space will be used for wider sidewalks and space for things like cafe tables and a future cycle track on Elmwood Ave. The design of the building façades are visually interesting enough as is. And the parking garage, well… screw it, it’s a parking garage.

What really has me concerned is how the two buildings along Elmwood and Celebration Drive will be situated – with the main entrance facing the parking lot, and long blank walls facing the street. City code requires that doors or entrances face the street, and that they be placed at intervals of no more than 100 ft. Code also requires areas of transparency (a.k.a. “windows”) along the street side of the building.

College Town plan view. Buildings 1 and 3 are oriented toward the parking lot with their backs to the street.
Click on the plan view shown above and take a closer look at the layout. As it is currently, building 1 (the hotel) will have no entrances on Elmwood Ave. It will have windows along Elmwood, but they will be blacked out. You see, the developer considers the street side to be the rear of the building. And so, that is where things like refrigeration units and building mechanicals will be placed. Naturally you’d want to hide that stuff, and the only way they can think to do it is to black out the windows.

On the opposite side of the parking lot, building 3 (the grocery store) will also have a long wall of blacked out windows – along Celebration Drive. Again, this is because the main entrance is on the parking lot side, and the grocer wants to be able to put shelves along the back wall of the store. But in this case, the “back” is actually the FRONT! Or at least it should be. And here’s why…

This is an example of a deadzone in the High Falls neighborhood, with blocked out windows on one side of the street, and a solid wall along the other side. [PHOTO: Google Streetview]
See what’s in the picture above? That’s right… absolutely NOTHING. No one ever goes here because it’s completely void of anything interesting. And the few individuals who do venture down this street don’t feel good about being here. I know because I have to walk here everyday to get to work.

The City code requires things like transparent windows and entrances on the street for a good reason. These things create a “permeable street wall.” Permeable in the sense that pedestrians can see into buildings, step inside shops or restaurants, and generally feel at ease because there would also be people inside the building looking out onto the street. It may seem silly to make these demands of a developer, but you tell me which street you’d rather walk down; the one pictured above? Or this one…

Here's a good example of a permeable street wall. South and Hickory Place, Rochester NY. [PHOTO: EileenF, RocWiki.org]
I’m sorry, but if they’re going try and sell this College Town project as a pedstrian-scaled, vibrant, community-oriented development, AND ask for $30.7 million external link to help build it… then they can build it in accordance with the City’s design standards.

This Thursday, tell your Zoning Board that clear windows and entrances on the street are NOT optional. Not for College Town.

Zoning Meeting Details:

WHAT: Zoning Board public meeting
WHEN: Thursday, March 21, 2013. 11:30 AM
WHERE: City Council Chambers, Room 302A
City Hall, 30 Church Street external link

NOTE: The Church is case #8, and College Town is case #9. You will have to sit through cases #6 and #7 first. See the full meeting agenda external link

If you absolutely cannot make the meeting, you can submit your comments ahead of time to:
Zina Lagonegro
[email protected]
(585) 428-7054

I received an email from City staff that they have been receiving calls and emails due to this article. That is great! However, they would like me to clarify the Case #8 (the church) and what exactly will be the issue going before the Zoning Board. The Zoning Board is NOT deciding whether or not the church can be demolished on Thursday. They will be hearing an appeal by Mr. Maye’s (owner) that the church should not have status as a Designated Building of Historic Value (DBHV). The Director of Planning & Zoning had previously determined that indeed the church does still qualify as a DBHV even though the State Historic Preservation Office had revoked its National Historic Registry eligibility. Mr. Maye is challenging this interpretation. So the bottom line is… if Mr. Maye succeeds in arguing that the church should be dropped from the DBHV list, it opens up the possibility for Maye to tear it down – an action which would have otherwise been prohibited as a DBHV. [The City sent me this Staff Report]

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This entry was posted on Sunday, March 17th, 2013 at 10:35 pm and is filed under Opinion, 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.

34 Responses to “Judgement Day for an Old Church, and an Unbuilt “College Town””

  1. chase tyler says:

    I will not be able to attend the meeting but I think College Town is a great idea. Great plans are squandered by doubt and vagueness, so things should be as specific and straightforward as possible.

    The church should stay also.
    Good luck on thursday!

  2. Zack says:

    Going to be out of town 🙁

  3. Andrea says:

    Interesting dilemma.. As it sits, the church seems useless and borderline eyesore.. If no one intends on revitalizing it, it’s hard to justify saving it to sit empty.

  4. matt r says:

    I couldn’t agree more with your concerns about College Town. The developers at Park Point at RIT managed to have windows on all sides in the land of big box retail of Henrietta where the developer likely could have designed it with blank walls with blacked-out windows. I hope we can convince the city and developer that pedestrian friendly means pedestrians walking by and not driving a car to the parking lot and walking from car to storefront.

  5. Charles says:

    Great work and insight.

    Better than most but agree with your assessment, especially the hotel not fronting elmwood (utilities?). Still in favor though of the overall project.

    I also think its a weak decision to charge for parking along mt. hope after just investing millions in a commercial area.

    I also believe it’s hard for these politicians and volunteer boards to not cater to “shovel ready”, “job creating”, “increased tax base”,””new” development” projects that resemble progress. While probably not a problem here, it is on many other projects we see. As noted, zoning and its codes are key to shaping smart progress.

    Thanks again for your hard work

  6. Jimmy says:

    The Grocery store needs to figure out a way to have an entrance/exit on both sides of the building. If they cant fugure out a way to do that then they need to make room for a small store in building 3 facing Celebration Drive. But I think that is building 3 on the left side of the rendering. It looks pretty good there

  7. YS says:

    Regarding the parking comment above, they probably couldn’t leave anything for free with concerns that hospital visitors will take up those spots (or employees). The parking price has to at least match what the hospital garage is already charging or people will fight for those spots. Parking at UR is already a huge concern with employees needing shuttling in from off-site satellite lots. Do folks know how parking on the inside lot will be enforced/regulated?

    Regarding the hotel along Elmwood: currently, that sidewalk along Elmwood is hardly used at all. Median-separated traffic hardly helps on that side. There is no on street parking there and none proposed. Given the light foot-traffic along that side along with no ability to park on either side of Elmwood, I do no envision may entering from that side. You show a photo of a storefront lined street with parking vs the one you walk to work. Unfortunately, this isn’t a fair comparison here as there won’t be any storfronts along Elmwood nor street parking.

    Church is an eye sore and unless plans to restore it are proposed, should be taken down.

  8. @YS, regarding Elmwood, there is little foot-traffic there now because there is nothing built on that corner. I was using South Ave and Commercial Street to illustrate the concept of dead-zones vs permeable street walls. Maybe that’s fair, maybe it’s not. But this is how streets slip away from us; one development at a time. And so I don’t accept the notion that because there are no pedestrians there now, we shouldn’t care about what gets built there. Code requires doors and windows. I think that makes sense and is perfectly reasonable here.

    Just FYI, there is no on-street parking on Elmwood, true. But there is a dedicated cycle-track planned for Elmwood. So this could also provide a buffer between traffic and the sidewalk.

  9. Jim Hall says:


    I am 65yrs old/young and I have seen a lot of old things go with my tears and love after they are gone, and the younger look given. I tell anyone that wants to listen I LOVE OLD ! So what if the church is old, GOD still lives there, why not spruce it up, and give it a new look of a paint job, repair the walks, give someone a job of loving it like it needs it. In Canandaigua we have a 200yr old church that has GOD living in it for sure. Why not this old church? You younger folks dont understand OLD, change is good, but in it’s proper place. So you destroy this old church, and put up something that will last say another 50yrs, and guess what you younger folks will be where I am, fighting for what you thought was good enough. New is not a good way to go when history is at its best.

  10. Emily says:

    #1. Old church should be saved, too many buildings of historic value are being razed in this city. Who seriously needs another Dollar Store anywhere? I find it hard to believe that there isn’t a use for the building (restaurant, daycare, thrift store and soup kitchen, even a place of worship for a new congregation, community center and garden if space allows). There are already plenty of empty storefronts in the area, why build another store that will be empty in the future (especially if we stop buying junk made in China)?
    #2. When I drive down Elmwood ( which right now is once a week) I see plenty of foot traffic. There used to be more when the Wegmans was still there, and I am sure there will be more when the weather warms up and a new pedestrian-friendly complex is built. I agree that the storefronts facing Elmwood and Mt Hope need to be open to the pedestrians that hopefully will be attracted to the new businesses.

  11. jimmy says:

    Hey Jim, I don’t mean to get to religious or anything, but God lives everywhere. But yes the church should be saved.

  12. Zack says:

    The eyesore comment regarding the church is ridiculous. This man owns several properties in SW Rochester. They are all in terrible condition and slapped together as cheap as can be. I assure you the Dollar General will be a parasite on the neighborhood. There is a Family Dollar three blocks away.

  13. Joe says:

    1.) I’d love to see someone come out with some proposal for the church. I think that is the major obstacle to saving it. No one really seems to have any alternatives. I’d like to see it saved and even if it were to go, I don’t want to see a family dollar there.

    2.) The orientation of the college town buildings will be a horrible disaster if they go through. The grocery story should at the very least front the access driveway if not the main street. Elmwood has a surprising amount of foot traffic right now, and could have a lot more if this development isn’t screwed up.

  14. Marilyn H. says:

    “College Town” project?? Are you kidding me??? In a city with one of the highest high school drop-out rates in New York state?? Better off preserving a historic district than putting up another Barnes and Noble store that probably won’t do well there anyway.

  15. Matthew Denker says:

    Hi everyone! I’m not going to lie, but I’ve been deeply saddened by the conversation on this post all day. Now that we’ve gotten that over with. I’m going to do this in three comments, because it’s long. This is the first one (about my disappointment). The second will be about the church, and the third will be about College town. Thanks in advance for reading all three comments, and hopefully continuing the discussion about the church and college town. We don’t really need to talk any more about how down this conversation has gotten me. Oh, and yes, I’m terrified to go look at the facebook comments – I might cry.

  16. Matthew Denker says:

    Ok, here’s comment number 2.

    660 Main St.
    There a few things that should be done here. First, the church, which should absolutely be saved, itself. I am thinking the church should be converted into a few spaces. I am leaning towards some community meeting space, some after school space, and some gallery space (also for the community). Please note that THIS WILL NOT MAKE ANY MONEY. I am well aware of that, and I think the following things would go a long way towards making this a much more sustainable project.

    1.) The 2 family house on Main just west of the church (http://goo.gl/maps/H5aiI) is actually part of the church property. It should be restored and rented.

    2.) The parking lot to the side and front of the church should be restored to grass, have an attractive wall/fence built to Main St (low) and be used as play space for the community center.

    3.) The New York St. frontage of the property should have a 3 story apartment building built to look like townhouses put on it. Based on a rough estimate of the size of this portion of the lot, such an apartment building could be nearly 36,000 sqft. This would allow for approximately 40 excellent sized apartments. This would easily subsidize the operation of the community space.

    4.) 20 New York St should be purchased from the current owner, and the triangular portion of the lot converted to a small (pocket) park.

    5.) Voters Block owns the massive piece of property at 6 New York St. and they should be pressured to build there as well. They would be able to have more units and less community space (none) thanks to the redevelopment of this church.

    Here’s a quick overhead drawing of what this will ultimately look like: http://goo.gl/maps/AuLv8

    Before anyone asks, I imagine this would cost approximately $5m to do. The average rent with no grants, tax breaks, etc, would have to be about $880 a month to break even on this. I think that the right PILOT and about $1m in grants would be able to get this to $700 a month, which would work for the area, which might involve some Section 8 assistance.

  17. Matthew Denker says:

    Ok, here’s comment #3:

    College town. This is a great idea that has been souring steadily since its inception. The developers, city of Rochester, and its residents are completely schizophrenic about this. Just a few days ago, I was reading an article about the disastrous parking problem at UofR. I have a great idea, let’s build only 199 apartments on 14 acres (basically the same density as Park Ave.) and then let’s build 2,600 parking spaces. That’s right. 13 parking spaces for every single new resident here. The outrageous new Wegmans is only being built with 480 new parking spaces, and that grocery store is massive compared to the one planned here. Why even bother building apartments at this point? What kind of choices are we offering people here? Shall we just make it easier for student and professors and doctors and nurses to just live wherever and drive? Would it be so hard to instead build 2,000 apartments here and only a few hundred parking spaces? What are we doing to ourselves and why.

    Going further, every time this project looks like it can’t get any worse, it does. These streets need retail and lively uses facing them. Every last one of them would be awash in students and workers all day long if the streets were friendly enough. I mean, the hospital attracts a hell of a food cart/truck following constantly since there’s basically a hospital and parking here and not much else. God forbid we make this a neighborhood where the few thousand people that should be living here could.

    Going back to the parking thing. Who’d want to be one of the people in the 199 apartments living with 2600 cars every day? There are currently 1200 parking spots here. Approximately 22,000 cars are on mt hope here every single day. The addition of 1400 parking spaces will increase traffic here by more than 5%. That’s an epic amount. That’s the difference between reasonably smooth moving cars and gridlock.

    This is being setup for a disaster and the deepest conversation we are able to have about it is that we have a high dropout rate? We’re taking better care of cars than minorities, so it’s no big surprise that we have a high dropout rate.

    Anyway, thank you all for listen to me basically lose it about this project. A project that could support a dozen sidewalk cafes, thousands of apartments, an urban grocery store, and a real community. Instead, we’re going to have storage for 1,400 more cars than the giant sheet of asphalt we already have. Hooray.

  18. craig walker says:

    Hi folks. My name is craig walker and I have had the chance to work with the developer on this project. while we are preparing for the march 21st meeting let me share with you some details that you may not be aware of. by now most of you know that this building has sat for years and when it came on the market not one “preservationist” stepped forward to advance any plan. the building has been referred to as a designated building of historic value. the building as the city defines such buildings does not meet the threshold. the list that the city uses limits it to one category under “eligible for listing on the national registry of historic places”. the building has since been removed from the list of eligibility. the states reason for removal is that the building lacked qualifying characteristics. In addition we provided a petition with over 500 names verses 200 plus who are opposed. the city insisted that we confer and give access to edgmere development the same party who developed the voters block buildings and rehabed the apts across the street. they declined to give an analysis as to what it would take to re-use the building for residential purposes. the landmark society gave the susan b. anthony organization $5000 to hire another engineering firm, jensen engineering. they were also given access, made a brief report and told that organization that they would need to spend even more money to obtain the necessary kind of report and they gave the balance of the money back. what this tells you and what we have argued all along is this. its not that we would not like to do something great with this building. in fact my involvement with the building initially was to develop a jazz/blues venue with an additional component that would feature a ballroom dancing venue tied to pbs tv. the reason that did not happen or any of the other great ideas such as a theater (one group did contact us) or coffee shop or urban mall is this. you can’t spend nearly $1.5 million or more and expect to pay lenders back. even with 30% owners equity and another 20% grants and tax credits how much business do you have to do to pay back $1 million???????. your talking $10-15,000 a month in mortgage payments not to mention things like taxes, utilities etc. wanna pay $20 for a cup of coffee? The next thing is serving the people who live there. the closest store for food is tops over at west ave. all the other stores in the area are crappy corner stores with beer and cigarettes as staples. if our tenant moves into our building there will zero tobacco or beer products and plenty groceries, sundries like house hold products, clothing, housewares etc. things this demographic now must travel to gates to get to walmart. this building will employ nearly 40 minority construction workers and about 20 store staffers, jobs much needed in the area. in conclusion what we have here is people who are passionate about preservation with no money yet feel entitled to determine how people in this area will live according to their image. an urban environment is for all of us and not for those on high. see ya at the hearing.

  19. Charles says:

    Love the comment exchange.

    I think Matt and Craig both summed it up perfectly: It’s my way like it or not. How about instead we put Matt and Craig in a room and find a compromise. That’s novel.

    Matt wants to spend, spend, spend imaginary money and control private property, and Craig on the other hand offers us low wage jobs, cheap processed food, profits going to a national company, all while deteriorating the fabric of our community. Both seem highly sustainable and good for long term progress. Can’t wait.

    My opinion on the church goes, if it’s your personal property and you are not using tax payer dollars, then go ahead. (Sadly not all owners are created equal, thats reality. A good church owner revamp has been slowly going on the corner of Meigs and Clinton) If local, state, or federal dollars are being used though, then you better believe we should have a say. And if we do have a say it should be based on the City’s Mater Plan objectives.

    Now This is from the City of Rochester Master Plan regarding the Susan B. Anthony District:
    (f) Development of facade and other building improvements in the area to reinforce the historic character of the district and its relationship to the Susan B. Anthony House.

    We have a master plan for the City of Rochester for a reason. Let’s start using it.

    We all want the same thing, but as long as there are two sides there can only be one winner. Let’s try harder to work together and base our decisions on plans, research, and experience versus opinion and profits.


  20. Matthew Denker says:

    @Charles – I think Craig and I have offered alternate visions for what we could be doing with the property. Churches don’t demolish themselves and build Dollar Generals from the afterlife for free. As much as it’s a church, that’s an act of man, not of God. As an alternative to tearing the church down, I am suggesting the use of new construction to be supportive of its existence as opposed to wiping it out.

    I am actually deeply sympathetic to a developer such as Mr. Walker and his team. It is rarely the developer who is making the call as to what to build. They happen to own a developable piece of land. They and their investors would like to make money on it. The only way to do that is to work with a bank. This is where the rubber meets the road unfortunately, and if the bank won’t lend money for a mixed use building without parking, but will lend money for a Dollar General, it’s not much of a surprise when what you get is the Dollar General. I don’t want anyone to not make money. Indeed, I believe my plan could and would be profitable if you could get financing for it. Sadly, I admit that would be the largest challenge. This is a difficult case, because all too often in things like this, or public transportation, or many “low rent” public goods (of which preservation is one), it is easy to say, well, the free market doesn’t support it, so kapow! Unfortunately, this ignores many of the realities of the situation. It ignores the influence of politics, it ignores the influence of racism, and it ignores the influences of market distortions both up stream and from externalities that prevent the free market from operating efficiently enough to appoint it the arbiter.

    Incidentally, there’s no reason we can’t all be winners. Mr. Walker and team could be proposing not only to build the Dollar General, but to have less parking lot sited to the rear of the building while also constructing clean, new, and affordable apartments above it for the underserved people of this neighborhood. It’s funny that a parking lot is needed at all considering something like one-third to half this neighborhood doesn’t even own cars, and the people who need access to inexpensive goods close by are those very people. Notably, there is a Tops with a huge parking lot exactly 1.1 miles from here.

    I, and I readily admit that this is personal, am not positive that another dollar store alone makes up for the loss of the church. I think there are a number of things that could be developed here that would.

  21. Jeff Reynolds says:

    The old church is an eyesore?! Have you seen a Dollar General store lately? Please recognize what is happening here, one bit at time: small towns are being homogenized – all local character is being destroyed and replaced by corporate big-box stores. Before long you won’t be able to distinguish Rochester from Warren OH, or Boise ID, or anywhere else.

  22. John says:

    Alright, I’m heading down now. Class is boring anyways.

  23. John says:

    Landmark society pulled another listing out and seems to have staved off this most recent variance for the church.

    I’m actually finding the requests from the college town people to be fairly convincing. Still not sure if I support or oppose, but the new plans they brought today address a number of this article’s concerns.

  24. Entrances to the hotel and grocer from the street are still not there and it looked like more than 50% of the windows on both streets were still blacked out. It’s just a design problem which can be worked out.

    The church was an interesting case too. Sounds like the State Historic Preservation Office has reinstated the building’s eligibility for the national register. I’m not sure if that changes anything… as Landmark Society pointed out, the City code does not allow for a building to be dropped from the DBHV list anyway. Since Mr. Maye bought the church while it was on this list, it seems like he should have known the limitations of what he could do with it. No?

    We’ll see what ZBA has to say later today. Glad to see a number of you all at the meeting!

  25. 644 W. Main St. says:

    A shout out to the Landmark Society for working to get the church relisted!

  26. UPDATE: The Zoning Director’s original decision has been upheld. The building IS a Designated Building of Historic Value.

    No word on College Town yet.

  27. Joel Helfrich says:

    Elmwood Avenue is not the “no go” area that some folks here have claimed. Plenty of students and staff walk or ride bicycles from the neighborhoods north of Elmwood along the street every day.

  28. UPDATE: The College Town plans are approved on condition that the window transparency is increased along Elmwood Ave and Celebration Drive. The amount of transparency is to be determined by the Director of Planning and Zoning.

    Additional street side entrances are not being asked for, but I’m told that may be something that happens anyway as a result of continued dialogue between the zoning office and the developer. There will most likely be some floor plan changes needed to get more transparency, so an entrance may be something that happens naturally.

    Overall I think today went extremely well. Peace out.

  29. Paige says:

    I was at the meeting today. I rather uneloquently jumped the gun and spoke at the wrong time but did point out that the building could be repaired and that the owner has not paid one bit of property taxes and the property has a lien on it but the ATF company that the city sells the properties off who do not pay. The city has been called out on selling off properties for a small amount of money that end up being demolished. Maybe the husband and wife team that own this property can donate it to a non-profit for a tax write off (Susan B. House) and then we can start fundraising to raise the money needed to repair the building. We could do some local fundraising, some crowd sourcing and whatever we can to preserve this historic building.

  30. Noah says:

    I am reading these comments for school because we are learning about what you guys are doing. Thank you for sharing all of your knowledge with me. It was very helpful for my paper that is online so not really a paper.

  31. 644 W Main st says:

    To update you all on the church, there is no update. Apparently they do not have the money to actually follow through on the plan and the church continues to sit vacant…. Just yesterday someone came to mow the garbage in the front yard #thanksmarvin in the mean time, family dollar has put forth a proposal to vacate their ugly store in Bulls head plaza and build another ugly store 2 blocks away across the street from the proposed church demolition. How exciting – two ugly box stores selling the same stuff right across the street from each other! Thankfully the planning board recommended that the city deny this request.

  32. Malcolm says:

    The questions still remain regarding Mayes’s tax debts and the maintenance of the church and adjacent property….

    Maye still owes: $42,156.76.

    The City of Rochester should have taken this property long ago and land banked it. What a shame! Here again, the City of Rochester doing nothing to protect the neighborhood residents and City residents who could have turned the church into something useful — and built on the forthcoming redevelopment of nearby Bulls Head….

    Suspicious fire:




  33. Malcolm says:

    Can the words “College Town” be removed from the Barnes & Noble bookstore? How tacky! Plus, I am not certain if this is the best place-making strategy.

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