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Housing project fails to win over EMMA leaders 

A housing complex heavy with one-bedroom units is not what the struggling EMMA neighborhood needs, say leaders of the East Main, Mustard, and Atlantic Avenue neighborhood group. They want owner occupancy, stability, and stores befitting a corridor that's an important gateway to downtown, they say.

But the project's backers are going ahead, anyway. The Community on East Main would be an investment in a neighborhood sorely lacking resources and commitment, they say. And the project has won the endorsement of the nearby Beechwood Neighborhood Coalition.

The Community on East Main would consist of two buildings, one a conversion and one a new build on East Main between Mustard and Palmer streets. The project will be in front of the City of Rochester's Planning Commission on June 13 and the Zoning Board on June 16.

click to enlarge The Community on East Main. The building on the left would have 26 apartments, while the one on the right would have 50. - PROVIDED RENDERING
  • The Community on East Main. The building on the left would have 26 apartments, while the one on the right would have 50.

Home Leasing plans to convert Hillside's three-story Cotter Building into 26 apartments and 2,500 square feet of commercial space for Hillside offices and a small, streetside café. The second part of the project would be a new, three-story building with 50 apartments on East Main and Breck streets. The parcel would also encompass land currently occupied by two houses: one is vacant, according to the project's letter of intent, and the other is owned by an investor.

Sixteen of the apartments in total would be for people with developmental disabilities. Kimberly Russell, Home Leasing's executive vice president, says that the apartments would be mixed income. Rents range from $520 to $775 a month for one of 57 planned one-bedroom units to $915 a month for one of three, three-bedroom units.

EMMA's leaders say that putting single-unit apartments in a struggling neighborhood is a mistake, and that EMMA has its own plans for East Main.

"You put mess on top of mess and you're going to have a problem," says Pastor Dorothy Parham, EMMA's president. "First of all, you need to clean up the whole area."

"We thought that we were going to be able to put dress shops, shoe shops, and such, because we don't have that downtown," she says. "We have to go all the way into the suburbs to shop."

East Main is an important gateway to downtown and development there should be a draw, Parham says.

Russell wouldn't comment on EMMA's continued opposition. But in the past, she said that EMMA isn't strong enough yet to attract market-rate investment and that the Home Leasing project represents much-needed economic development in the neighborhood.

And changes have been made to the plans, Russell says, based on residents' input. The number of units has dropped from 80 to 76, porches have been added to make the apartments on East Main look more consistent with surrounding housing, there will be a bigger buffer between Breck Street and the project, and a small playground and exterior public gathering space have been added, she says.

A planned entrance-exit on Breck Street has been eliminated, too, in response to residents' concerns about additional cars in a residential neighborhood, Russell says.

The project is located in EMMA, but it's just outside of the Beechwood border, which is why the Beechwood neighborhood has been watching the proceedings closely, says Kyle Crandall, president of the Beechwood Neighborhood Coalition. The coalition decided to endorse the project last week, with two conditions, he says.

The first is that all first-floor units have porches, and the second is that there will be footpaths from East Main to the porches of the apartments facing East Main.

A majority of the coalition's leadership feel that the project would be an asset to the community, Crandall says.

"We have spent some time really looking at East Main and we want to see improvements," he says. "And the opportunity to allow for affordable housing is very important to many members."

Much of the $17 million project will be financed through low-income tax credits, Russell says. New York State Homes and Community Renewal approved the funding last week.

"There is no single answer to the neighborhood's challenges, but we are pleased to make a contribution around which other solutions may take hold," says Deborah Rosen, Hillside's managing director of strategic development. "Meanwhile, the building will offer high-quality housing to a number of individuals and families who may otherwise be unable to afford it — something that is not to be taken lightly, in this or any city."

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