By Brian Sharp | Original Article
May 17, 2019

Certain city arterials could see increased density and more varied uses under a new draft blueprint for the city released Thursday.

That is possibly the most controversial part of the proposed Rochester 2034 comprehensive plan — reversing, in part, a citywide down-zoning that occurred more than a decade ago.

But city officials say the suggested changes do not dramatically alter what already is occurring. Instead, the proposal is to reinforce or restore the historic form and character of these areas, largely along the “frequent” or busiest bus routes envisioned under Rochester Transit Service redesign.

Mayor Lovely Warren led a community unveiling and celebration on Thursday, kicking off a three-month public review of the plan.

“This is not a City Hall plan, but a community plan,” said Dorraine Kirkmire, manager of planning for the city. The goal is for shared ownership; “a way to the bring community together around collective vision and strategy. It can be unifying, more strategic and can give us a lot of pride in the city — and hope.”

Rochester 2034 would replace the Renaissance 2010 plan that was rolled out in 1999. The goal then was to encourage homeownership, reduce concentrated poverty, increase property values, create more public access to the river, foster better schools, and a more diverse, healthy housing market.

Not all dreams come true.

Today, the neighborhoods in highest and lowest demand show a striking and troubling similarity and polarity. The southeast and the crescent, respectively, are nearly equal in population and square footage of residential area, yet are polar opposites in poverty rates, education levels, minority population share, evictions, unemployment, vacancy and home values.

In both, more than two-thirds of the housing units are rental, highest in the city and above the citywide average, according to a housing market study released in combination with the comprehensive plan.

Linking land use to major transit routes in the draft plan exemplifies a common thread in the nearly 500-page document. Any zoning changes would be brought to neighborhoods, and go through normal approvals.

Street-level retail

The plan — described as a “place-making plan” instead of a traditional land-use plan — is more nuanced than what exists now, officials said; overlayed with bus routes, schools, parks as well as the demographics and the strengths and/or weaknesses of each area.

In the downtown, the focus is on street-level retail around the East End area, Sibley Square and Midtown, with the potential for that to extend westward to the Genesee River. At the port, there is an identified strategic development site (familiar to anyone who has followed port planning in recent years).

But overall, the plan is not a street-level guide.

More flexible regulations

Routinely, it suggests more flexibility in regulations, be it parking or minimum lot sizes that have rendered some parcels in older neighborhoods “unbuildable” once blighted houses are removed. Yet it pushes for higher standards, particularly when it comes to design of mixed-use and multi-family building projects.

Often, the proposal seeks to re-establish or re-legalize past practices whether it be two-family homes, or the use of commercial spaces as offices and specified other businesses in residential area.

While the plan encourages “the development of new, creative, emerging housing types and styles,” there is no specific recommendation for such options as tiny houses. There are a number of strategies aimed at de-concentrating affordable housing, and supporting small and in-home business, as well as workforce development.

The result is less policy, more strategy and guidebook, interlaced with goals for types of investment and development most appropriate to different parts of the city. Rochester 2034, which coincides with the city’s 200th birthday, also celebrates current successes.

Speaking about the plan on Friday, Warren said it’s “about the legacy that we leave.”

Work drafting Rochester 2034 dates back several years, with public engagement beginning in earnest in January 2018. Once the plan is adopted, the city will hire a consultant to review its zoning code and map for inconsistencies and recommended revisions.