Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Urban News Vol. 52

The D&C ran a story this morning rehashing the history and proposed future of development monies pouring into a small section of the city immediately across the Genesee from the University of Rochester.

by Brian Sharp, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Article Key Points:
  • The West Bank of the Genesee, between the major bridges at Elmwood and Ford has seen $65 million in development and improvements since 2000
  • An additional $45M is projected to be spent on future projects
  • The next phase of Brooks Landing proposes a restaurant/85 bed student housing/drive up ATM/Jewish Center (pictured)
  • Developer Ron Christenson envisions spending another $20M on possible Brooks Landing Condos
  • City study underway to determine contamination cleanup procedure for the Vaccum Oil/junkyard site bought last year by local businessmen for $660k, assessed at $208k
  • Neighbors have suggested a building moratorium due to issues arising from increased traffic
  • City is unwilling to sell any additional land for development until a Brownfields Opportunity Area grant can be secured to pay for a comprehensive development plan, possibly in partnership with the RRCDC

The next phase of the Brooks Landing project looks reasonably good. It fills in a gap in my mind that I could never close regarding the positioning of the hotel that was built initially. Unfortunately a new building like this that should be promoting density and walkability is touting a drive-thru ATM as a FEATURE. Quality urban areas feature ATM's built into the street-facing side of the building or in lobbies/vestibules. If motoring continues to diminish, we will have missed our chance at creating good urbanism while the ability to do so still exists for the sake of making sure we can wrap a car lane around each and every building.

In a way, I believe the configuration of Brooks Landing is more to blame for Ms. Martin's traffic woes than the quantity of development. Prior to hotel construction, Brooks Avenue continued to the river where it T'd into Plymouth Ave. It is no longer possible to use Plymouth to get from Brooks to Elmwood so all North-South traffic in the neighborhood is routed to Genesee Street. I believe this is a case of over-correcting the misuse of waterfront in generations past. Rather than turn our backs to the river as was the case downtown, great effort was taken to focus the hotel meeting areas and window exposures on the river. Plymouth Avenue however, was not a concrete heavy elevated expressway or anything of the sort, it was a thoroughfare designed by Olmsted himself to traverse AND CONNECT the northern end of Genesee Valley Park with the Brooks-Genesee-Plymouth area.

Pollutant remediation and a comprehensive plan are crucial elements of the augmentation of this neighborhood as an extension of the University section of the city. I am worried however about the proposed rail bridge refurbishment, not specifically this instance, but the overall trend in this country. The best use of this former Erie Railroad bridge and right-of-way that formerly terminated just south of the War Memorial would be as part of a new comprehensive rail transit system. The idea of a pedestrian bridge is nice, but signals a continuation of the collective consensus that serious transit reform is simply not in the mind of the public or of our leadership. That said, any maintenance performed is generally a good thing, provided it doesn't preclude the ability of the bridge to accomodate trains (from a load bearing standpoint) in the future should the prevailing attitudes shift.

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