Wednesday, May 15, 2013

CityGate plans include a Costco

Posted By on Wed, May 15, 2013 at 1:12 PM

This post has been corrected and clarified.

Developers Anthony and Brett Costello are rebooting their proposed CityGate project in Rochester, revealing at a press conference this morning that Costco will be CityGate's anchor tenant. CityGate would be located at the former Iola Campus at the intersection of East Henrietta and Westfall roads.

A previous CityGate design has already been approved by the City of Rochester. Anthony Costello said this morning that a new application would be submitted to the city.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

How do parents feel about the Rochester school district?

Posted By on Tue, May 14, 2013 at 1:39 PM

The Rochester school district has had a tenuous relationship with parents for years. Almost every superintendent in recent memory has made some kind of an effort to improve relations between parents, teachers, and school administrators. But success has been illusive and varied depending on the school.

The district’s Office of Parent Engagement is making a new effort with a Parent Participation Survey that can be found on the district’s website. It’s about 23 questions long and shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes to complete. The survey can be taken from now until Friday, June 7. And on Friday, June 14, the results will be posted on the district’s website.

How the survey will be used is vague. And the questions are fairly general and designed to gauge the level of respondents' participation, and how respondents feel about their children's school and the school district.

Here are some shortened versions of the questions:

"Do you feel welcomed? Do the school’s policies respect and value diversity? Are students treated fairly? Are teachers easy to reach and do they keep you informed?"

You get the idea.

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Citizen budget ideas include closing Durand beach, cutting Mounted Patrol

Posted By on Tue, May 14, 2013 at 1:20 PM

The suggestions made during the City of Rochester’s Voice of the Citizen budget meetings aren’t really surprising. It’s also not clear how these relatively small adjustments would help the city close its $28 million gap.

City officials offered four opportunities — one in each quadrant — for the public to provide input on the upcoming budget. Mayor Tom Richards is supposed to present the 2013 to 2014 budget this Friday, May 17.

The biggest surprise is that the public — at least the ones who attended one of the meetings or filled out an online survey — support the closing of Durand Eastman beach. The move would save the city approximately $185,400 a year.

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Week Ahead: MCDC convention, Bike Week continues

Posted By on Mon, May 13, 2013 at 10:42 AM

UPDATE, Monday, May 13, 1:20 p.m.: Hearing from a couple of sources that the race for City Council endorsements will be less exciting than we thought. Two Democratic insiders say all five City Council incumbents have locked up the endorsement of the party by winning a majority of the citywide weighted vote.


The Monroe County Democratic Committee meets this Thursday to formally select a slate of candidates for this year’s elections. The biggest race — mayor — is a foregone conclusion. The MCDC announced recently that incumbent Tom Richards had already locked up the endorsement. Richards had been challenged by City Council President Lovely Warren, who is expected to stay in the race. Warren would have to petition to force a September primary.

The City Council and Rochester school board endorsements may include a few surprises. A couple of newcomers have been doing well in the district committees. All five at-large seats are up on City Council, and all five incumbents are running again. They are: Dana Miller, Loretta Scott, Matt Haag, Jackie Ortiz, and Carolee Conklin.

Incumbent school board members Jose Cruz, Cynthia Elliott, and Van White are also running again.

The convention is from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday, May 16, at the Hyatt downtown. Christine Carrie Fien

Rochester Bike Week started late last week, but many planned rides and events are still ahead. The Lilac Ride, for example, happens from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. today (Monday); the Bike Week website suggests
calling Full Moon Vista bike shop at (585) 546-4030 for more information. And the first Rochester Bicycle Film Festival is on Tuesday.

For a listing of Bike Week rides and events, go to:

The Monroe County Legislature meets at 6 p.m. on Tuesday. There isn’t any attention-grabbing
legislation on the agenda, but the recent issues at Monroe Community Hospital could come up.

Last week, County Executive Maggie Brooks fired the hospital’s director, Todd Spring. A state report said Spring had mistreated a resident. The report also pointed out that a hospital oversight board has been dormant for several years.

Legislature Democrats have asked Lej President Jeff Adair for a briefing on hospital issues. The request is pending. Jeremy Moule

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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Beebe will challenge Reilich for Greece supervisor job

Posted By on Sat, May 11, 2013 at 1:05 PM

Former Monroe County Legislator Dick Beebe is stepping into the race for Greece town supervisor.

Beebe, a Democrat, announced his candidacy at a press conference this afternoon. He's already been endorsed by the Greece Democratic Committee. He'll be running against Assembly member and Monroe County Republican Party chair Bill Reilich, who was endorsed by the Greece Republican Committee in March.

The sitting supervisor, Republican John Auberger, can't seek re-election due to term limits.

Beebe was elected to the County Legislature in 2007, but lost a 2011 re-election bid. He was the first Democrat to win a local office in Greece in 15 years, according to town Democratic Leader David Garretson.

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Friday, May 10, 2013

A new CO2 record

Posted By on Fri, May 10, 2013 at 3:26 PM

Yesterday, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels either broke 400 parts per million for the first time in recorded history, or came incredibly close to doing so.

The figure depends on who's doing the reporting, but either way, it's not a good milestone. Carbon dioxide from human activities, particularly fossil fuels, is driving global climate change. Leading climate scientists and activists say global levels need to be reduced to at least 350 ppm to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Mauna Loa observatory reported the 400 ppm reading. The reading is of symbolic importance more than it is practical; global atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have been approaching the mark for a while.

The University of California San Diego's Scripps Institute of Oceanography reported a 399.73 ppm figure. Scripps explains that the difference between what it and NOAA reported basically comes down to the fact that the two organizations measure daily levels using different time zones. Scripps has been posting daily carbon dioxide measurements to keep attention on the fact that global concentrations of the greenhouse gas were/are likely to soon exceed the 400 ppm mark.

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Possible delay in controversial University Ave. apartment application

Posted By on Fri, May 10, 2013 at 12:53 PM

Updated Monday, May 13, at 3:20 p.m. The Planning Commission will not be taking up the application for the proposed University Avenue complex during its May 20 meeting. The Preservation board will instead make its recommendation during its regularly scheduled June 5 meeting, and the application will go before the Planning Commission on June 17, according to Peter Siegrist, city preservation planner. Original story:

The City of Rochester Planning Commission may not take up the controversial application for a University Avenue apartment complex on May 20, after all.

The commission had been scheduled to consider Morgan Management's controversial proposal for a 102-unit apartment development at 933 University, in the East Avenue Preservation District. The proposal is opposed by the Eastman House, the neighborhood association, and others who say the project is too big and inappropriate for the preservation district.

The veterans club at 933 University Avenue.
  • The veterans club at 933 University Avenue.

The city's Preservation Board held an initial meeting on the project Wednesday night. In a phone interview earlier today, city preservation planner Peter Siegrist said that board members received a slew of last-minute documents and letters hours before the Wednesday meeting, and they didn't have time to review those materials.

City attorneys are now determining whether board members, after reviewing the new material, are required to have another public meeting — and whether there is enough time to have it before the Planning Commission's May 20 meeting. Siegrist sounded doubtful today.

The University Avenue site is home to the Monroe Voiture veterans group and is next door to the historic home of Rochester’s biggest celebrity, George Eastman. Morgan Management wants to demolish the existing building, the vets 1920’s Tudor-style stucco home, to construct the apartments and a new building for the veterans.

Adding to the fireworks, the folks at the Eastman House have expressed interest in the property, too.
Siegrist began Wednesday night’s meeting by reminding residents and neighborhood leaders that the board’s job is to determine whether the project would have an environmental impact on the area’s historic resources.

“Before the Planning Commission can take this case, they have to have this environmental impact statement from the Preservation Board,” Siegrist said.

If the Preservation Board decides that is that there is an impact, “Morgan would then have to take a hard look to determine how they could mitigate the impact,” Siegrist said.

Project supporters say that the characteristics of University Avenue are quite different from those of East Avenue. They said that like Monroe Avenue, University was intentionally planned for increased density with residential properties interspersed between clusters of commercial properties. And they pointed out that apartment complexes already exist on University Avenue.

The problem for the city,is unusual because five to 10 years ago, no one was interested in the University Avenue property, Siegrist said. But the investment in ArtWalk and the Memorial Art Gallery have made it a desirable location, he said.

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Rochester school board passes $734 million budget

Posted By on Fri, May 10, 2013 at 10:16 AM

Last night, the Rochester school board unanimously approved a $734 million budget for the coming school year. The budget is about $6 million more than what Superintendent Bolgen Vargas proposed several months ago, and it will fund longer school days in as many as 10 schools this fall.

The budget closes a $50.2 million gap through a combination of attrition — more than 100 teaching positions will not be filled — and by using a plan proposed by Governor Cuomo that offers municipalities and school districts some flexibility for funding pensions. District officials say layoffs will be minimal.

Vargas says the budget builds on earlier priorities by providing city students with more opportunities to participate in arts, music, and sports programs. And it gives students extra time to prepare for the state’s more rigorous curriculum, referred to as the Common Core.

While Vargas got much of what he wanted in the budget, some board members are unhappy. Board member Van White resubmitted a proposal to fund converting School 17, one of the district’s most troubled schools, to a Freedom School.

The Freedom School in Rochester is one of more than 200 nationwide and originated with the support of the Children’s Defense Fund and its founder, Marian Wright Edelman. The schools emphasize literacy and the arts. But other board members are concerned with the costs and how the school would be operated.

Board member Cynthia Elliott said the idea had not been thoroughly thought out and she was concerned that it may cause instability at a time when the board is trying hard to create stability in the district.

Board member Mary Adams said she was concerned that the budget cuts too deeply into social and emotional services city students need.

The city school district’s 2013 to 2014 budget now goes to City Council for a vote next month.

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Irondequoit Republicans come out swinging

Posted By on Thu, May 9, 2013 at 9:57 AM

Two years can be a lifetime in politics: just look at the way Irondequoit's elections are shaping up, especially the tone of the races.

In 2011, Republicans and Democrats cross-endorsed a slate of candidates for the Town Board. The parties agreed that Supervisor Mary Joyce D'Aurizio, a Republican, and the two Democratic board members up for election, Stephanie Aldersley and John Perticone, worked well together. The town was progressing, so why change that?

Last week, however, Democrats endorsed Adam Bello for supervisor and Dave Seeley and Lori Barnum for Town Board. The committee also endorsed Joe Morelle Jr., for Monroe County Legislature. Morelle was appointed to the Legislature earlier this year after Ted O'Brien, who held the seat, won election to the State Senate.

Bello is former executive director of the Monroe County Democratic Committee and works as an administrator in the Monroe County district attorney's office. Seeley is a regional representative in Governor Andrew Cuomo's Rochester-Finger Lakes office.

And this morning, the Irondequoit Republican Committee sent out its 2013 endorsement, backing D'Aurizio and Town Board member Paul Marasco for re-election. The committee is also supporting attorney Bill Brongo for the other board seat, and attorney Ed McClenathan's run against Morelle in the Legislature.

The campaigns will probably be quite aggressive. For a peek of what could be coming, consider this quote from Irondequoit Republican Committee chair Mike Valente, which was in the statement announcing the party's candidates:

“Half of the Irondequoit Democrats on the ballot have either shared a home or an office with Party Boss Joe Morelle. Hardworking town taxpayers know this is Irondequoit, not Morelleville. We are confident that our friends and neighbors will reject the Democrats’ abuse of tax dollars and again support the proven record and experience of our Irondequoit Republican team.”

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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

School board and Vargas have last-minute budget fight

Posted By on Wed, May 8, 2013 at 12:44 PM

Obtaining reliable data has become a flashpoint of tension between Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas and some city school board members. At an often tense board meeting last night for a final review of Vargas’s 2013 to 2014 proposed budget, some members complained about a lack of general information.

With a vote to adopt the budget scheduled for tomorrow night at 6 p.m., board member Van White said last night that the board is being asked to approve a budget while questions remain unanswered at the 11th hour.

For example, when White asked about a program that supports teen mothers and whether school officials knew how many pregnant students don’t participate in the program, school officials didn’t know.

And when White asked whether the district knew which providers for tutoring and other services were most effective, Vargas didn’t have an answer. The same was true for getting an accurate reading on classroom sizes for some programs.

“We’re making dramatic and draconian [budget] decisions here, and your response is we don’t have the data,” White said.

Vargas and Deputy Superintendent Anita Murphy plead for more time. They said that the district has not been especially careful at collecting data in the past, so they frequently lack solid benchmarks for making accurate and informative comparisons.

Attendance records were so bad last year, for example, that the district was still counting students who haven’t been in Rochester schools for years as enrolled.

Vargas also said the district is seeking help with data collection and analysis from a team at Harvard University. Board member Mary Adams panned the idea, especially if it involved purchasing new technology. She said the district has a long history of spending millions of dollars on technology but has had little success collecting useful data.

In a heated exchange between Vargas and White, Vargas said he needed more clarity and direction from the board. But White said the board made its recommendations clear months ago: create a school modeled after the Rochester Freedom School or another School Without Walls. But Vargas did not pursue those recommendations.

“Give me a program that for these kids will work,” White said.

Much of last night’s feuding was about finding a fix to the district’s stubbornly low academic success, and trying to determine which investments out of the proposed $728 million budget are most promising. But board members got few assurances.

Vargas said it could take another three to four years before the district turns the corner on student achievement.

“What I’m seeing is not big enough, not present enough,” board member Willa Powell said. “Three to four years to turn the corner? I got to tell you that’s not fast enough for my kids.”

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