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Colgate neighbors sue over development 

A group of residents near the former Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School campus are suing to stop local developer Angelo Ingrassia and his company, ROC Goodman, from moving forward with his plan to develop the site. The Colgate Neighbors group and several individually named neighbors of the project filed the lawsuit against the city, City Council, the city’s manager of zoning, Ingrassia and his development company, and the divinity school.

The city recently rezoned the Colgate property from an Institutional Planned Development District to a Planned Development District, a change that will allow for a more flexible design and use of the property. The neighbors’ lawsuit, which was filed in Monroe County Supreme Court, seeks to annul that zoning change. The lawsuit also challenges the city’s environmental review of the project and its conclusion that the proposed development wouldn’t have an adverse impact.

Ingrassia agreed to buy the 22-acre historic site more than a year ago and he later promised not to develop the sweeping hillside on South Goodman Street and Highland Avenue, a major concession to nearby residents and neighborhood associations. He has also worked closely with the Landmark Society of Western New York on his plans for the historic site. Montgomery House, Swasey Library, Colgate Memorial Chapel, Strong Hall, Jones Hall, Trevor Hall, and Eaton Hall were designated as a city landmark in 2017. James Gamble Rogers designed the buildings’ Collegiate Gothic architecture and Alling DeForest designed the landscape.

But during multiple neighborhood meetings, Ingrassia said that repairing and maintaining the existing five buildings would require a long-term revenue stream. He said he was considering marketing the buildings as office space, conference and banquet rooms, and a senior living facility. He also planned to construct two new four-story apartment buildings, each with 52 units. One would have underground parking.

The neighbors lay out several concerns in their lawsuit, most of which involve the new construction and how, they argue, it will impact their properties. They say that the project will result in a loss of privacy, noise pollution, light pollution, traffic congestion, loss of trees, soil erosion, and endangerment of numerous forms of wildlife in the area.

The lawsuit also claims that the city’s zoning manager failed to take a hard look at the serious environmental impact the project would have on the site’s steep slopes and glacial moraine, which are unique geological features. The development creates risks for land shifts, soil erosion, and stormwater runoff changes, it argues.

Mindy Lee Zoghlin, attorney for the Neighbors, was critical of the city’s decision to rezone the site. The decision to rezone should be made in the context of its impact on the community, she says.

“What you have here is a situation where comprehensive planning is being done to satisfy the needs of an individual developer instead of what is good for the community,” Zoghlin says. She notes that the city didn’t even include the site in the draft of its 2034 Comprehensive Plan, which was recently presented to City Council.

Colgate still owns the property, which is the reason it was named in the suit. What effect the suit will have on the sale of the property isn’t clear. Colgate was taken by surprise, says Thomas McDade Clay, special assistant to the school’s president.

“We’ve been working with the neighbors all along,” he says. That involved working with nearly a dozen neighborhood associations, various municipal offices, and residents who live near the campus.

“It isn’t like we’re dealing with one group of people,” he says. “We chose this developer because we were confident he would be sensitive and listen to everyone’s concerns.” An earlier contract with Top Capital to purchase the campus fell through.

It should be clear to everyone by now that whoever takes possession of the property is going to soon need significant revenue from it, McDade Clay says.

“The worst thing would be that the property continues to decline because it could soon reach a point where no one will have the money to do the repairs and develop it in a way that makes a profit to preserve it,” McDade Clay says. “The status quo won’t work.”

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