Residents concerned Alatus project will disrupt life in nearby neighborhoods
The team behind the Alatus project — a proposed $110 million development near St. Marys Hospital — won preliminary approval from the Rochester City Council in the wee hours of Tuesday, despite continued objections from neighbors.
The vote squeaked by 4-3, with council members Nick Campion, Mark Hickey and Mark Bilderback voting against the motion. The project still needs two more public hearings before it goes up for final approval.
Before the council took action, about a dozen residents participated in a public hearing. Many still had reservations about the scale of the project and the impact it could have on the quality of life in the adjacent neighborhoods.
The two concerns brought up repeatedly Monday night were:
- Height of the building: There were concerns raised that the 13-story building will overshadow both St. Marys and the Folwell Neighborhood, a residential area to the south of the proposed development. Speakers noted the DMC guidelines, as well as the Second Street Corridor Plan, call for a six-story limit at the site. (Just a side note: The helipad atop the hospital would still be higher than the new structure.)
- Impact on traffic: Neighbors, specifically on the nearby residential streets, were not sold on a traffic study commissioned by Alatus. Since announcing the project, Alatus has already agreed to cut parking from 883 to 560 spots, the bare minimum the company says are needed for residents and commercial activity. The study found that cutting back on the number of parking spaces would reduce traffic by 50 percent. But neighbors were still fearful the increase in activity could disrupt life for families in the neighborhood. "It would be wonderful to have this, perhaps in another site in the city ... to place it somewhere where you're not impacting a really vibrant neighborhood," said Laura Gilliland, a Kutzky Park resident.
In defense of the project, the Alatus team noted it has worked closely with city staff to accommodate concerns, such as parking. Chris Osmundson, the representative from Alatus, said the proposed development meets six of the seven objectives for the site and will be built to be a "100-year project."
"It's a signature, mixed-use building, which is really what is asked for in this section," said Osmundson. He added that the company is "always sensitive" to concerns of residents and that project was designed to enhance the nearby neighborhoods. (One example would be putting the highest density portion of the project away from the neighborhoods.)
Council member Michael Wojcik, whose ward includes the proposed development site, has supported the project — albeit not unconditionally — since its plans were first made public. In a recent podcast with the Med City Beat, Wojcik expressed his appreciation for the work the Alatus team put in with the neighborhood prior to coming up with the design.
"In this particular case, the developers met 10 or so times with the neighborhood ahead of time," said Wojcik. "It's run into some difficulties because the group that initially met with the developer was not necessarily reflective of the viewpoints of the people who are most vocal right now."
He added: "It's always easier and cheaper to go out and build on a cornfield, but this is the kind of development that makes Rochester sustainable in the future."
The proposal has, though, caused some rifts within Folwell. Don Nordine, its former neighborhood association president, and a supporter of the project, recently resigned as a result of tension within the community. Wojcik, meantime, has been the recipient of an ethics complaint related to the project.
During the public hearing, Folwell resident Kevin Lund disputed claims by Wojcik and others that the process has been a collaborative effort between Alatus and the neighborhoods.
"I want to disabuse this council of any notion that the Folwell Neighborhood Association, in its entirety, worked with Alatus on this project," said Lund. "A handful of neighbors did; that's it."
The project, which includes 347 residential units and 21,000 feet of commercial space, will go before the Planning and Zoning Commission before heading back to the council for a final vote. Both meetings will include public hearings.
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(Cover graphic: Rendering / Alatus)