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Filling In: Zoning Part 2, Residential

September 22nd, 2015

34 Atkinson Street - An utterly illegal house to build today. [IMAGE: Google]
By Matthew Denker

Hope your heart is still racing from our introduction to Zoning last week, because this week we’re talking about residential zoning in Rochester!

Contrary to common knowledge, residential zoning isn’t exclusively for residences (nor is commercial zoning exclusively for commercial – it’s a good place to build apartments, in fact). That said, Rochester has 3 specific residential zones that we’re discussing here. Grab your bow tie and let’s go…

Rochester has three specific residential zones. R-1, R-2, and R-3. [IMAGE: SimCity via Tested.com]


As mentioned already, Rochester has three specific residential zones. No bets on what they are, because you could probably guess them. In order, they are:

  • R-1 Low-Density Residential District;
  • R-2 Medium-Density Residential District; and
  • R-3 High-Density Residential District.

Perhaps surprisingly, residential zoning accounts for nearly 50% of the land area in Rochester.

Oh, I’m going to spoil the whole article right here (but read on anyway!) – There’s not a huge difference between these zones and high-density is a generous description for R-3. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get down to business and talk about each zone specifically.

R-1 Low-Density Residential District

A Rochester residential zone. [IMAGE: Google]
In the zoning’s own words:

The R-1 Low-Density Residential District is intended to maintain residential areas at relatively low densities. The R-1 District is a distinct urban area that is characterized predominantly by owner-occupied, single-family detached and attached homes but often contains a diverse mix of other preexisting higher-density residential uses. Each R-1 neighborhood is unique in character, composition and scale. The district requirements are intended to preserve and promote neighborhoods characterized by unobstructed front yards and pedestrian-scale streetscapes and to protect against undesirable uses and residential conversions.

So what could you build here? You’re basically limited to single family homes (detached or attached, so actually townhouses are ok if you can make the lot coverage work – more on that later), day-care homes, church things (gathering places, convents, rectories, etc.), and some retail and office inside an existing non-residential structure already in the zone (with limited hours). There are also some spectacular special permit uses (things that are permitted, but need an extra level of review, hence – “special”). These include classics, such as parking lots (because of course!) and some public uses including schools, libraries, police stations, utilities, etc. Oh, and you’re prohibited from converting a house into either commercial space or multiple units, so don’t even think about it.

So what ‘parts’ of the city are zoned R-1? Well, 41.35% of them! More than any other zone in the city by far (open space is second with 17% or so). Almost everything off of a major street is zoned R-1 with the exception of a few neighborhoods like Corn Hill (which is all R-3) and the South Wedge (which is mostly R-2). Here’s a clever montage of some R-1 streetviews for you to marvel at. They’re houses.

R-1 Montage
So I bet if I wanted to build a house, any old one would do, right? Not so fast! In fact, if your lot doesn’t already exist (perhaps you’d like to subdivide), you need 5,000 sqft lots at a minimum for a single house, and 3,000 per unit in a double (for a minimum of 6,000 sqft). Oddly there is no minimum lot size for rows of 3+ units, but don’t think that makes it any simpler, your building can only take up a maximum of 35% of that lot. Then you only get a maximum of 15% more for other impervious surfaces (think the driveway, garage, etc). In addition to all this there are a bunch of yard requirements. the front yard has to match the average of other front yards already on the block (in general it’s better for a new house not to stick out or be set back!) or be 20 feet if there’s nothing else on the block. Oh, and your garage (it it’s detached), must be 10 feet further back than the front wall of your house. Side yards require 5 ft minimum size with a combined 15 ft so one side yard accomodates a driveway (of course!). Oh, and 20 more feet (or the average, but no less than 10) in the back. Finally (and I’m running out of breath here already), your house can’t be taller than 2.5 stories (or 35 feet). And if you build a garage/yurt/shed in the back yard, it can’t be taller than 15 ft. There are also a ton of regulations that apply to the whole city including stuff about fences and floor area and signs and lighting and this and that. I’ll end this with the requirement that there is one off street parking space required for each unit (house/townhouse/etc). This is surprisingly progressive, considering most places require one space per bedroom.

Enough of the words already, show us an example (I imagine you to be saying this right now). Well you’re in luck, because 25 Wilson Street external link is for sale. Surprisingly, this lot is already the required 5,000 sqft (rare in the city). Here’s a quick layout of about the maximum you could build (you could build a bigger house with no garage, but you start to run up against the 50% coverage).

24 Wilson Street - A House Plan.

As a 2 story house, you’d have about 2,400 sqft of living space. The garage is about a car and a half. As for what you couldn’t do with this lot? Well, just about anything else.

R-2 Medium-Density Residential District

In the zoning’s own words:

The R-2 Medium-Density Residential District provides a mix of housing choices. The inclusion of single-family residential, two-family residential and multifamily residential provides a diversity of housing choices while the bulk and density regulations maintain the lower-density scale of the neighborhoods. These residential areas are located proximate to neighborhood-scale shopping and service opportunities. The district requirements are intended to preserve, promote and protect a quality of urban residential living characterized by unobstructed front yards, pedestrian-scale streetscapes and buildings scaled and designed to be compatible with the neighborhood.

In mine: “More R-1.” There isn’t too much R-2 land in the city (it makes up 5.28% of the land area). Most of it is within a few blocks of West Main Street, between Park and Monroe, and in the northernmost parts of the South Wedge.

So what’s the rub? Well, you’ll be shocked to learn, but R-2 is almost exactly the same as R-1. In fact, and you’re going to laugh at this, so try not to, the only material difference is the allowance of two-family dwellings, which are different from single family attached dwellings, in that you could actually put two units in one building without a property line and fire wall separating them. Grab the smelling salts folks, my heart is racing. There are a few extra things you can do with a special use permit like an actual multi-family building, live work space, and the always popular homeless residential facilities.

All of the other R-1 requirements regarding yards and coverage and height all still stand. If you were to get a special permit for multifamily, you need 3,000 sqft of lot for each unit, so to build an 8 unit apartment building by special permit in R-2, you’d need over a half an acre worth of lot (240 feet of frontage with 100 feet of depth). That’s just one example of how the city’s zoning code, for all the areas of progressiveness, still includes a lot of pro-sprawl, auto-oriented, suburban style bias in the requirements.

Surprisingly there is a piece of R-2 land for sale right now at 665 Maple Street external link. Unfortunately, you can’t do anything with it other than the house shown in the R-1 section. Because of that, let’s take a look at slightly more interesting piece of land – 54 Jefferson Ave external link, owned by our good friends, the City of Rochester. The lot is a little over 15,000 sqft, so as you’ll see in the image below, we’re going to subdivide it and build two, 2 family homes. Might as well hit the heady density of 11 units per acre with this hypothetical project (that I’ll build, call me Rochester!).

54 Jefferson Avenue - House Plans.

This yields 4, 1350 square foot units (either up/down or side by side, although at 26 ft wide, I recommend up/down), each with their own garage space. With a little squeezing here and there, one could potentially get another single family home on the property in addition to all this, but you start to get egress issues without more street frontage (or being really clever with driveways and easements). Another layout for this property would be 3 single family homes, but then why be R-2?

R-3 High-Density Residential District

As before:

The R-3 High-Density Residential District protects, preserves and enhances existing residential areas of higher density which include multifamily dwellings mixed with other housing types. The R-3 High-Density Residential District is intended to provide residential areas that accommodate higher-density housing while protecting, maintaining and enhancing existing residential areas. The R-3 District may include various housing types ranging from single-family detached to high-density apartments. The district adds to the urban character of Rochester and provides diversity in housing types particularly in proximity to Community Center and Village Center Districts.

What’s different from R-1 and R-2? The of-right to build multifamily housing, of course! Interestingly, there are no lot coverage requirements for these newfangled multifamily buildings, but effectively, for each floor over 3, you have to be farther and farther from the lot lines. It’s complicated, and we won’t talk about it much here. There is also my favorite (so far) hole in the entire zoning code regarding buildings with 3 units in them. I’m planning to cover this hole in depth, but basically, three 1 bedroom apartments in a building can be built on a standard 40×100 city lot that is zoned R-3, while basically everything else cannot (all of the requirements for single family and 2 family homes carry over from R-1 and R-2). Oh, height requirements have changed now. The house can be two times the width of the lot frontage. That’s surprisingly tall, actually. Oh yes, only 3.15% of the city is zoned R-3. Most of the R-3 zoning is in preservation districts as well, somewhat complicating things if you actually want to try and build anything.

I’m going to save my coolest R-3 idea for later, but for now, let’s take a look at what we could do with a property in Corn Hill. A few years ago, the city auctioned off 152 Troup Street (along with 146-148, but that’s not important). Ignoring the winner of the auction (or maybe you-know-who-you-are won it to do something like this, if so – call me!), we’ll riff on what we could do here. As you may have previously read, the property is R-3! I don’t have the exact dimensions of the lot, since it’s been combined, but the most joyous of loopholes will actually allow the lot to be split in two and two 3-family homes to be built each with two 1-bedroom apartments and one 2-bedroom apartment. A little bit of digging, and you’ll find that the parking requirements for such a beast would be 3 spaces on each lot. More interestingly, there are no coverage limits on a 3-family (or any multifamily, actually), but there are still required yards.

152 Troup Street - Townhouse Plans.

So there it is – an of-right development of six apartments at 152 Troup. The townhouses would be rental (it’s a 3-family, not 3-single family attached). All would be 3 stories/30 feet tall, allowing for each to be 1,080 sqft. The parking in the back is three standard 9×18 stalls entered off of a shared driveway. The front townhouses would be given entrances facing Atkinson and the shared drive.

The End (of Residential)

As you can see, the Residential zones in Rochester are all pretty similar, do not support much density, and have generally been written with a strong suburban bent. If I had one overarching change, it’d be to push significantly more density on R-2 and R-3. The areas zoned R-2 and R-3 are generally close to downtown, the urban core of the entire region and the most walkable, bikeable, and accessible by transit. This is the most logical, most sustainable place in the entire 9 county metro region for more density to happen. And density does not mean high rises. A surprising amount of elegant, compact, urban living can be achieved in 3-5 story buildings. While the outward appearance of neighborhoods zoned R-2 and R-3 meet the stated purpose of the zoning, most of them are much denser than the same zoning would allow them to build today.

I know we’ve covered a bunch (and left out even more), but I hope this has been a good overview of Residential zoning in Rochester. Be sure to join us next time when we cover Commercial zoning (if you’re still awake).

• • •

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015 at 7:56 pm and is filed under Architecture, 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 “Filling In: Zoning Part 2, Residential”

  1. Bill says:

    Thanks for this series. One quick question on this installment – is the lot in question on Troup or Atkinson? The first sentence says Troup, but then the article switches to Atkinson.

  2. It’s Troup. Very sorry about that! Edit coming momentarily.

    Edit: Edited. Thank you for the catch.

  3. Adrian Martin says:

    On the facebook link to this post, you note that the nice brick house pictured at the beginning of this article would now be illegal to build. Is there a quick way of determining, en masse, which houses/properties in Rochester would currently be illegal to build under current zoning? If so you could do some quick math to see if there is in fact a price bump for houses that would be illegal to build today. If there is, it’d be evidence that current zoning rules are depreciating housing values. That’d be great evidence to use in favor of changing our zoning rules.

  4. I don’t have access to the data (it’s not public), but I know the City’s GIS data includes building footprints. If someone with access to this data could work with it programmatically, it shouldn’t be too hard to at least ascertain which lots fail the yard requirements (setbacks, coverage). Using the assessment data, you could also get a rough idea of both the value (for your test), as well as the actual use (a 2 family in an R-1, for example).

    The caution I would like to throw out there is that zoning is arbitrary. While a premium might be found for ‘houses that would be illegal today,’ there is actually no real reason for those houses to be illegal, or to prevent the construction of a new house of that type (and the premium is likely due to scarcity, not to any particular additional physical value). It’s not like zoning was granted to us by some higher power like we’re Moses overlooking Jerusalem and God told us ‘Thou shall not build an accessory dwelling unit for that manger.’

  5. Chris Stone says:

    I would be interested to see what percentage of Rochester would be illegal to build today. I’m guessing it’s sizeable. Much of the city wouldn’t meet the 5,000 sf minimum lot size alone.

    But I’m not sure about any linkage to price. Real estate markets depend on a lot of things, but zoning status is FAR down on that list, if it’s there at all. You can find neighborhoods like JOSANA with a lot of non-conforming properties with essentially no functioning real estate market. You can also find neighborhoods like Corn Hill or NOTA, also with a lot of non-conforming properties where the market is quite healthy.

    If there was a scarcity of historic city houses on small lots with a surplus of buyers, maybe the fact that zoning limits the creation of more supply would affect price. But we are far from that situation in Rochester.

  6. KMannKoopa says:


    I think you are giving the process short shrift. The reasons why the minimum lot size is 5,000 feet is not to develop suburbs. It is to control why For instance, imagine slumlords from buying these City vacant lots, subdividing, and building 800SF houses on 1200 SF lots by just applying for a building permit (they don’t even need an architect’s stamp). These could amount to modern-day tenements. The zoning code enforces governmental control of what people can do without having to seek outside approval.

    This is why the whole variance process exists, it allows for whatever exceptions “the people” (ZBA with heavy input from city staff) deem worthy. The city is more than willing to bend the rules for developers and less willing, but willing to some extent bend the rules for homeowners.

    Case in point: Brooks Court (Brookscrest Way), the City’s newest subdivision violates many of these lot requirements (setbacks, size, etc). But as it is being developed as a coherent street, and not haphazardly, the City approved the variances on September 22, 2011. (Full disclosure: my in-laws are finalizing the construction of a house there).

  7. KMannKoopa says:

    Also, I’d make the case that you can’t analyze Rochester’s residential zoning without inclduing C-1 and C-2 zoning. They are at least as residential oriented than they are commercial oriented.

    I’ll use a property featured on this site previously as an example:


    The NYSDOT will finally auction that site on October 14, 2015. This site is zoned C-2. I did a down and dirty breakdown of its zoning for HPNA and Swillburg on this parcel and without rehashing the whole article, here are some of my feelings about development:

    -C-2 allows for single attached and multi-family residential by right, with significantly smaller lot requirements than residential zones.
    -Commercial space is limited to a maximum of 6,000 feet per use

    Traffic along that stretch of Goodman is quite heavy, and combined with ample commercial vacancies along Clinton and to a lesser extent Monroe, commercial development is not particularly attractive here, so I feel like development will be residential — one of two types:
    — Multi-family Apartments like Erie Harbor or Wedgepoint in the area
    — Townhouse Development like Corn Hill, or N. Plymouth Ave downtown (there are also 1980s townhouses just on the other side of I-490 on Broadway).

    I’m hoping for the Town Houses myself, but it will likely be a while before anything happens.

    Maybe Rochester needs to consider renaming its zones to better encompass what is allowed, because it appears that C-2 is just the next level of density after R-2 or R-3.

  8. As someone involved in the process, I am sorry to disagree entirely. The 5,000 ft minimum lot size is to expressly exclude the reconstruction of demolished homes in the city without unnecessary oversight. If the example were as you put it, I agree. There needs to be some kind of minimum, but there are hundreds of examples of two family houses on a 1/10th of an acre lot (40×100) which do not in any way negatively affect life in the city. But this sort of construction is expressly illegal. 6,000 sqft minimum for a two family home is arbitrary and capricious.

    As for Brooks Court, I don’t think we should discuss it. The buildings torn down for it were a capital loss, and its construction as a suburban subdivision rather than a legitimate city street is patently unacceptable. Further, the zoning exceptions that WERE granted, such as they permitted this: https://goo.gl/R9p8kN Where by a house is not even required to face a main street are just depressing.

    We can do better than this, Rochester.

    Oh, one more thing about your specific example. While this would be unfortunate if it were done as substandard housing, it also prevents the construction of beautiful and forward thinking in-fill such as this development in Boulder that sites 5 townhomes on a quarter of an acre site – https://goo.gl/U2KXWj. Or any number of successful and popular cottage courts built elsewhere (may I recommend Pocket Neighborhoods by Ross Chapin for just how spectacular this type of construction can be – http://amzn.com/160085107X). I’d also like to say that new build is so expensive, it is unlikely something like this could be built as anything but a premium product, and is unlikely to be anything resembling a slum.

    Anyway, I’m sorry to be harsh about this, but the minimum unit sizes, to prevent houses to be broken into apartments smaller than 400 sqft are the sorts of zoning that prevent substandard housing. Not minimum lot sizes (and where do these minimums end. Did you know that Hilton has a minimum lot size of 2 acres?).

  9. Well, now that you add about C-1/C-2, you must have noticed the first sentence of the second paragraph of the article states just that. There will be plenty of residential discussion in the next piece (which covers commercial zones). I guess the best I can say is sit tight.

    I suspect the Sherwood Shoe Site will be a mix of building types, similar to the Charlotte St. Development. It allows for affordable units to go in a larger building for tax purposes while also allowing for some fee simple townhouses (condos are the worst thing to set up. Rochester doesn’t have a strong enough market to justify the extra cost almost ever – there’s a reason most of downtown is rental and not owner occupied).

  10. Chris Stone says:

    In response to KMannKoopa:

    “imagine slumlords…subdividing, and building 800SF houses on 1200 SF lots by just applying for a building permit (they don’t even need an architect’s stamp). These could amount to modern-day tenements.”

    A: You can’t build a legally occupy-able house of any size without an architect’s stamp.

    B: The New York State Building Code regulates standards for minimum dwelling and room size, light, air, and ventilation. There is no need to repeat that, or make more onerous requirements, in the local zoning code.

    C: Whether or not property is well maintained or not has nothing whatsoever to do with the size of the structure or parcel. There are gorgeous, precious, tiny houses in urban neighborhoods from Philadelphia’s Old City to Boston’s North End to Toronto’s Corktown to Rochester’s Corn Hill. There are also large, rambling, slovenly dumps on 10 acres in scores of rural towns throughout Upstate New York.

    The Property Maintenance Code, and its effective enforcement, is the key to preventing the physical deterioration of property. Not the zoning code.

  11. Chris Stone says:

    Also, regarding C-1 and C-2, if you read the actual names of these districts (Neighborhood Center and Community Center, respectively) and their purpose statements, you’ll see that their intent truly is “mixed use”, not merely “commercial.”

  12. KMannKoopa says:


    I argue the unnecessary oversight you described is very necessary. While many parts of Rochester are looking better and better these days as people move back to the City. The City of Rochester is one of the poorest cities in the country, despite the fact that Metro Rochester is in the middle of poverty rankings (i.e. a disproportionate share of the poor in the area live in the city).

    This policy has led the city to come to the decision that as the city demolishes properties, they don’t want to be in the same boat again 10 years down the line. This is a conscious decision on the part of the City Government. As you look at the code, you can see little tweaks and here there about items being repealed or added. Minimum lot size can be repealed in much the same way.

    I think this level of control is good enough for now (but should be changed when the City starts really growing again), but perhaps enough of the City’s residents/voters do want it changed.

    For the record I also support a smaller minimum lot area, but I’d rather see them err on the side of caution — especially because the City’s ZBA seems willing to approve anything in front of them.

  13. KMannKoopa says:


    A. I didn’t know you could build a house without a stamp until my Uncle submitted and got his plans approved for the house he is building in Syracuse.

    From http://www.aianys.org/what's_legal_whats_not.pdf

    Exceptions Not Requiring an Architect’s or Professional Engineer’s Stamp or Seal
    The following exceptions do not require the stamp or seal of a licensed, registered architect or professional
    engineer (N.Y. Educ. Law § 7307(5)):
    •farm buildings and other buildings used solely and directly for agricultural purposes;
    •single family residential buildings 1500 square feet or less, not including garages, carports, porches,
    cellars, or uninhabitable basements or attics;
    •alterations, costing $10,000 or less within New York City and $20,000 or less outside of New York
    City, if these alterations do not involve changes affecting the structural safety or public safety of the
    building or structure

    B. Rochester does define some things, like Dwelling unit in its zoning code, I am not sure if the building code applies in all conversion cases.

    C. Effective enforcement is of course very hard, as that house on Woodward St with a multiple shooting showed. That house was near the end of its enforcement phase which had been going on for months. I suspect this is exactly why the City seems to want control over what gets built — to control the strong deference to property rights we have in the USA.

  14. Chris Stone says:

    Interesting! I stand corrected on the question of architect’s stamp.

    Regardless of needing an architect’s stamp, you still need a building permit and the Building Code applies, including conversion cases. And trying to follow the building code without an architect is like trying to follow the tax code without an accountant: possible, but difficult.

    Enforcement is also hard, but not impossible. The city could do things to help itself. Having a separate Housing Court like Buffalo has is one potential tool.

    My larger point is that too often, including with Woodward Street, the building and property gets blamed for the activity occurring on it. Zoning is used to regulate land. Let’s not load it up with trying to also address all other urban maladies that it is not designed to deal with, from loitering to violence to noise.

    As I said before, there is absolutely no relationship between minimum lot size or size of the apartment and the behavior that happens thereupon or therein.

  15. I think this is a little chicken and egg, though. I mean, is nothing being built in the city because the zoning code is onerous? or is the zoning code onerous because many people tried to build things in the city that were subpar? I would suggest that this isn’t a problem we will have again in another 10 years. That they houses that are being torn down are universally from the early 1900s. Much can change in 100 years, and many of these properties took a long time to decay. Frequently these are non-owner-occupied properties as well, where the owner cares very little for the occupants. These are all jobs for enforcement at the building code level, and not at zoning.

    Where does a two-family house (and remember, 41% of Rochester is zoned for one-family) stop becoming the kind of rental income that can support an owner occupant and start becoming slum-lord level investment property? I would suggest that it takes decades of wear. I cannot get the rents in Rochester that justify building new two family housing in a transitional neighborhood. On the other hand, I can make good money building high end new rentals in Corn Hill or in the South Wedge, except despite being zoned R-2 and R-3 and having many existing buildings of solid density, none of the available lots are actually legal to build 2 or 3 or 4 family homes (and truthfully, the target density is a fourplex, since it can still be funded with FHA instruments).

    I contend this is a problem, and that this ‘oversight’ is not necessary. Because in general, it’s not oversight at all, it’s just a way for a neighborhood to fight change. Who, exactly, was being hurt by the incredible townhomes built on Park Ave? From what I can tell, only the first developer who went belly up trying to build them. They are, in general, good for the neighborhood, and are decidedly not blight.

  16. Sorry to spam the comments, but here’s some interesting follow up reading on all this: http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/?GCOI=80140100178220

    I have a copy of the book on order and will make sure to discuss some of it later in the series.

  17. KMannKoopa says:


    I did some investigation on that Boulder location you linked (it is a specific near-downtown zoning, almost all of the rest of Boulder has a 6,000 SF lot requirement). I also realized that there is one place in a similar location in Rochester that has that kind of density: Center City District Grove Place Residential (CCD-GR)

    And unlike Boulder, CO this density is required.

    Some highlights of it for those who don’t want to go through city Code:
    -Minimum Frontage 25 feet
    -Building length (frontage) less than 20% of entire block (not property), which is offset by a MAXIMUM 9′ side setback (may want to increase that to Max. 15′ to allow for driveways).
    -Building depth (to back yard) less than 30% of block
    -Minimum 10′ Rear setback, but the existing City Grid would set this more than anything.

    Of course you eliminate the architectural standards and just make sure it conforms to the City-Wide design guidelines.

    It would seem that could be a very elegant solution to the problem. Density in enforced in this zoning, which I think is great. As the Southwedge comes close to conforming to this as it is right now, maybe R-2 should be reworked to look more like this, then other areas of the City can be slowly rezoned that way.

    I like this enough to actively advocate this…

  18. It wasn’t so much the boulder zoning that allows or disallows it (Boulder is heinous with regards to zoning and development in general, so we should discuss it separately). It was more just an example project. I’ll read up on the grove place stuff more, but it sounds promising. I don’t think we should densify R-2 without passing along those same additions to R-3, but your idea is still excellent.

  19. Ben says:

    Glad to see you guys mentioning the Sherwood Shoe Company site could be sold soon. It’s such a waste of space in an otherwise up and coming area, and as someone that walks through there often in the winter, it would be really nice to have some development there so someone might actually plow/shovel the sidewalk once in a while. Right now it is a huge barrier between Monroe and Swillburg.

  20. John says:

    I don’t get why Rochester has such a surburban mindset, even in city hall. It’s as if the zoning says “cities, which we are suck, lets try to be like the ‘burbs.”

    I almost wonder if this zoning encourages slums. In JOSANA the city has leveled hundreds of houses, yet the living conditions still are rough for many residents because many of the standing houses are 2 family or more (even though most were built as singles). I have to imagine the vast majority of those lots were considered unbuildable by the code. If they were able to be filled back in with houses would residents be able to move from the apartments into the new infill houses?

  21. John – one of the problems is that older housing is irreplaceable. Because older houses are infinitely more affordable than new build, it’s nearly impossible to rebuild a neighborhood like this on the economics alone. I think one of the best ways to do it would be to up zone areas like this to R-2 and allow adus of-right. Then provide some sort of low down payment loan product that favors existing neighborhood residents. By doing so, you can discourage investment purchases, while allowing the rent to help people afford a new home. This would also take far less tax money than just building housing and outright subsidizing the price. A critical mass of this new, higher quality housing can turn a neighborhood suffering from disinvestment around and make it worthwhile to renovate existing buildings as well.

  22. John says:

    I just don’t understand why the city adopted a zoning code that is so hostile to the built environment. I guess I could see trying to get the older sections built prior to the automobile to a 1 side yard set back to allow a driveway.

    But I don’t see why the R-1 zoning doesn’t follow what was built in a lot of the neighborhoods that sprang up in the late teens and 20’s. The area around Main St pretty much from Goodman to Winton seems like what R-1 should be in the city. It’s dense, but the houses generally all have a driveway and have a useable backyard. Most seem to be a 40X100 lot or maybe a little deeper.

    It almost seems every residential zone is made so nothing can be built without a variance so the city can have an excessive say in what does and doesn’t get built.

  23. Circling back around, I checked the approval for Brookscrest way. Unfortunately, the actual staff reports going back that far are not available. That said, the items being waived were area, setback, and building coverage requirements. And even when this was done, it was given the following conditions:

    1170 Genesee Street and 53, 57, 63 and 69 Oak Hill View/V-025-11-12
    Approved on condition that

    1) the garage setback shall be a min. of 4’;
    2) the lot size shall be no smaller than 4,000 sq. ft.
    3) the side yard setback shall be a min. of 5’ with a combined side yard of not less than 13’;
    4) the max. building coverage shall be no more than 42% for the single story unit;
    5) the minimum rear yard setback for lots 17 and 21 shall be 8’.

    That’s not getting much, and it’s still a wholly suburban affair. Even then they came up with a new floor plan, and got it approved 2 months later on the condition it’s not built on Lot 17 or 21 (as though those lots are somehow so small and the house plan so large as to not work.

    As for your comment John, there is a ‘positive’ way of looking at it, and a ‘negative’ way. The ‘positive’ way is to say, ‘well, what makes the suburbs so safe and fantastic and great?’ and coming to the answer that it is clearly that there is so much space for people to relax and be calm and have cars and generally not be stressed by being put on top of one another as they are in the city. And if we could just, you know, space city housing out a little more, everything would be ok. Ignoring that this is factually wrong, it’s the source of the Garden City concept. The ‘negative’ view is that cities do not deserve to be invested in, and setting up zoning like this will prevent it at nearly all costs. This isn’t wrong (in that an opinion can’t be wrong without there being some factual basis) so much as it’s unfortunate. Cities are the lifeblood of civilization (what was the last great invention/art/discovery/etc to come spilling out of the suburbs and onto society at large? And when was it ever attributed to the suburb, the nowhere, rather than the city the suburb is in orbit around?)

    Anyway, just some thoughts on all this.

  24. Adrian Martin says:

    “As for Brooks Court, I don’t think we should discuss it. The buildings torn down for it were a capital loss, and its construction as a suburban subdivision rather than a legitimate city street is patently unacceptable. Further, the zoning exceptions that WERE granted, such as they permitted this: https://goo.gl/R9p8kN Where by a house is not even required to face a main street are just depressing.”

    Jane Jacobs:
    “there must be eyes upon the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street. The buildings on a street equipped to handle strangers and to insure the safety of both residents and strangers, must be oriented to the street. They cannot turn their backs or blank sides on it and leave it blind.”

  25. Chris Stone says:

    There are so many things wrong with Brookscrest Way, but let’s start with the arbitrary 20′ front setback that imposes a relatively unusable front yard while preventing larger, more usable back yards on these relatively shallow lots.

    Also, the decision to use a cul-de-sac rather than connect to the adjacent dead end of Oak Hill View to the north, and actually create, you know, a street NETWORK.

    But of course the self-selected group of “neighborhood” leaders liked this plan, so the city goes along to get along.

  26. KMannKoopa says:


    Why don’t you reach out to you “neighborhood” leaders and ask to join up. Most neighborhood associations in this city are unpaid volunteers who do this as a hobby.

    What you will find is a lot of retirees who aren’t necessarily thinking about placemaking the way that this page advocates. In some cases they may be for more car happy than you or I are, but they care and actually participate in the development of many of the “filling-in” articles on this website.

    I know my group (Highland Park Neighborhood Association) is always looking for more volunteers.

    The neighborhood leaders are only as good you want to make them — grassroots in the truest meaning.

  27. Chris Stone says:


    You’re absolutely right. Before I moved to Rochester I was heavily involved in neighborhood associations. But I got burnt out. When they work well, neighborhood associations can do great things.

    But the darker side of neighborhood groups is that an entrenched group can cling to power and make newcomers or those with alternative views made to feel unwelcome. I got tired of the petty dramas and personality conflicts. It got to be too much like middle school.

  28. Chris Stone says:

    Also, with regard to Brookscrest Way, I don’t live in that neighborhood, so I’m sure any input I would have given would not have been welcome. Many neighborhoods believe only their residents should have input, but many projects have larger, city-wide or even regional implications.

  29. Adrian Martin says:

    Question. Let’s look at 350 Benton St, residential vacant land zoned R-1. It is just under 3000 sq ft. Does that mean that it’s illegal to build a house there since you can’t get to 5000 sq ft for a single family house?
    Also it is 34 feet wide. Does that mean that the house itself can only be 14 feet wide (5 foot side yard, 15 foot driveway)?

  30. KMannKoopa says:

    Adrian, the technical answer is yes, but the actual answer is no.

    If you wan’t to build a house there, the City Staff will look at your site plan and force you to apply for a variance to build there. The Zoning Board of Appeals will hear the case you make (previous development on the site, unbuildable under current zoning laws, etc.), and then vote to allow you to build it.

    On a larger lot, such as 1099 Meigs St or 4 Uniman Place nearby, you simply submit your architectural plans. Providing you comply with the City-Wide Design guidelines (which are fairly generous), you just pay for a building permit and get to work.

  31. Also, it’s 15′ total, so the house can be 29′ wide. Also also, it’s my understanding that existing, nonconforming lots do not require a variance to have a single family home built on them. It’s addressed significantly later in the code. I’ll pull the language and post it here shortly.

  32. Adrian Martin says:

    OK. So basically it just moves the process from routine to “do we like you and your plans”.

  33. Section 120-201:
    In any district in which single-family dwellings are a permitted use, notwithstanding the regulations imposed by any other provisions of this chapter, a single-family detached dwelling which complies with the yard, space and bulk requirements of the district in which it is located may be erected on a nonconforming lot.

    Which means that existing lots of record, so long as the house isn’t too large, will be ok. Since single family homes are allowed in R-1 through R-3 (but not C-districts), you can basically build one that’s conforming. Meaning Habitat for Humanity doesn’t need to go before the ZBA every time they want to build a house. They surely have a design that is legal automatically on a 40×100 lot.

  34. Adrian Martin says:

    Interesting, thanks!

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