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Webster plans upgrades to critical corridor 

The decision to open a second location of her bridal shop, Heart to Heart Bridal, in the Village of Webster a few years ago was based in part on demographic factors, says owner Janice Burkhart. That includes area incomes, she says, and the number of people nearby who might get married.

And she found an enviable location at the corner of West Main Street and North Avenue, which is the village's main intersection. The location, combined with the storefront's big windows, give the shop visibility.

But Burkhart has since found other things she likes about the village, too. Building owners take good care of their properties, she says, and the village has a good sense of community. Residents support Webster's small businesses, she says.

"It's nice to have that small-town-character feel, which I think Webster does," Burkhart says.

Webster's cozy charm is important to village residents and business owners. To enhance that appeal, Webster officials have put together a $1 million proposal to remake an important commercial corridor in the village.

The proposal focuses on North Avenue between Main Street and Orchard Street, a half-mile section of four-lane road. The village plans to add bike lanes and improve sidewalks, as well as install several high-visibility crosswalks, new street lighting, trees, and signs to direct people to parking.

Officials say it's more than just another public works project. North Avenue connects the village's downtown core to the Route 104 expressway, which means it serves as a gateway. The road also intersects with two multiuse trails, which connect the village to the larger Town of Webster. (The project includes revamped connections between the trails and North Avenue.)

"In the village, it's an economic development project as well because the goal is to continue to make it easy to bring people into the community and have them seek services, restaurants, and just enjoy coming into the core of the community," says Matt Chatfield, economic development specialist for Webster Community Coalition for Economic Development.

The downtown businesses draw visitors, says Mayor John Cahill. The village downtown is filled with unique, locally-owned businesses that provide an alternative to shopping at big-box stores, he says. The businesses include the Garage Sale Store, a hobby shop, salons, and a shoe repair shop, among many others.

"I would challenge you to go into a lot of villages and find a shoe repair place," Cahill says.

But village officials don't yet have the $1 million they need to fund the project. They won't find out until October if they're approved for the federal transportation grant that would cover the bulk of the project. If the application is rejected, officials say they will probably proceed with smaller, targeted projects as funding allows.

The project does have significant support. Earlier this month, Senator Chuck Schumer publicly urged the state — which administers the federal funding in question — to approve the application. And State Senator Mike Nozzolio, Assembly member Mark Johns, Webster schools Superintendent Adele Bovard, Monroe County Legislator Carmen Gumina, and Webster Supervisor Ron Nesbitt have signed letters supporting the project.

Nesbitt and Town of Webster officials even held back an application they planned to submit for funding from the same grant pool, Cahill says, in order to give the village project better odds.

North Avenue is a heavily-traveled four-lane road fronted by diverse businesses. Most operate out of converted houses, with paved parking lots next to or behind them. An exception is the Dunkin' Donuts, which looks like a typical chain store.

"It's pretty commercialized right now and there's some traffic flow issues," Cahill says.

If the North Avenue corridor were located outside of the village, in a car-centered commercial strip, it wouldn't seem so out of place. But it's in a village with a compact, walkable, busy downtown. And villages are supposed to be welcoming to pedestrians and cyclists, as well as those travelling by car. In its current state, North Avenue is somewhat at odds with that philosophy.

An example: along some parts of North Avenue, the sidewalk ends at the street, which has no shoulder. Walking on those sidewalks can be intimidating, since there's no buffer to make pedestrians feel safe.

The situation also serves as an example of how the village's proposal can make a difference. If the village eliminates some of sidewalk surface next to the road, it can create a tree lawn — the fancy term for a buffer of grass and trees, Chatfield says.

And while bike lanes would give cyclists some on-road accommodation, they'll also have other desired impacts, Chatfield says. North Avenue is wide, with wide lanes, which many traffic experts say encourages drivers to go faster. There's plenty of room to shrink down the car lanes and add lanes for bikes, Chatfield says.

"So that will hopefully slow down traffic a little bit," he says.

The high-profile support behind the North Avenue project is advantageous, officials say. But the proposal also benefits from years of planning and some serendipity, they say.

The concept emerged a few years ago in a revitalization study for the village's downtown. It was carried over into a downtown plan that was finalized in November. Soon after that document was finished, village officials learned about the federal funding opportunity and began putting their proposal together.

Village officials also recently resolved a dispute with Morgan Management regarding an incentive zoning application. The developer sought approval for a town house and apartment complex within the North Avenue project area, but some village officials thought the project was too large. The developer agreed to scale it back, which satisfied the majority of Village Board members.

As part of the agreement, the developer is giving the village $175,000 toward the North Avenue project. The federal grant requires the village to kick in some of its own money for the project, and officials will use the developer's payment for that purpose.

And Webster officials are talking with the State Department of Transportation to try to coordinate a DOT plan to repave East and West Main streets with the North Avenue project. Village officials want to see if some elements of their project could be worked into the DOT's plan.

"The timing of this couldn't have been more perfect," Cahill says.

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