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PLEX residents worry about Vacuum Oil plans 

Despite the concerns of residents in the Plymouth-Exchange neighborhood, City Council has approved rezoning properties at 5 and 15 Flint Street.

The land, formerly occupied by the Vacuum Oil refinery, is a brownfield site, and residents had wanted Council to hold off on rezoning until they were satisfied with DHD Venture's plans for the property, including the amount of cleanup it committed to.

click to enlarge The Vacuum Oil site on Flint Street in southwest Rochester. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • The Vacuum Oil site on Flint Street in southwest Rochester.

After several meetings with residents, though, at its October 16 meeting Council approved rezoning the properties from R-1, low-density residential, to R-3 high-density residential. Council member Jackie Ortiz cast the lone "no" vote.

Council's decision allows DHD, which owns the two properties, to begin the process of cleaning up of its portion of the 58-acre Vacuum Oil Brownfield Opportunity Area. The site is along the Genesee River, across from the University of Rochester, and for years the city has wanted to see the area developed. DHD bought its property in 2010, intending to redevelop it for residential and mixed use, possibly student housing. DHD still plans that use but hasn't yet presented a plan to the city, says Amy Kendall, the company's attorney.

The PLEX Neighborhood Association was pushing Council to delay the vote so that a Community Benefits Agreement could be hammered out with DHD, says Dorian Hall, the organization's vice president. Those agreements, usually between developers and residents, hold the developer to certain terms in developing the property.

click to enlarge PLEX Vice President Dorian Hall: Council members rezoned the site “before they even know what’s going there.” - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • PLEX Vice President Dorian Hall: Council members rezoned the site “before they even know what’s going there.”

"Once the rezoning takes place, that takes away leverage from the neighborhood," Hall says. "We should be talking about how they're going to clean up the site first. They're rezoning before they even know what's going there."

PLEX wanted DHD to agree to several conditions: Any development would include affordable housing for low-income families, some construction jobs would be available to city residents, development would include a community space, and DHD would build a neighborhood children's park. DHD informally agreed to some of these requests, Hall says, but there is nothing in writing.

Most important, PLEX wanted assurances that DHD would do the most comprehensive type of cleanup of the polluted site, one that would remove a significant amount of contaminated soil. Hall says that rezoning the site without the agreement may have dashed any hope of that.

There are four levels of brownfield cleanups. The first is so thorough that the site is suitable for "unrestricted use," such as schools and day care centers. The fourth level is the least restrictive and gives the developer more flexibility. It's unclear which level of cleanup DHD will pursue.

Council has been listening to PLEX residents and didn't disregard their concerns, says Council Vice President Adam McFadden, whose district includes that neighborhood. But a Community Benefits Agreement couldn't be attached to a rezoning application on a privately owned property, he says.

However, McFadden says, a Payment In Lieu of Taxes agreement between the city and the developer can be negotiated later when the company submits its plans. The PILOT agreement is a strong incentive for developers, and it could include requirements that address many of PLEX's concerns, McFadden says.

"In my mind, PLEX won," McFadden says, "but they may not feel that way right now."

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