Residents, developers invited to learn about new ‘Sustainable Rochester’ tool

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published February 20, 2018

 The annual sidewalk sales attract crowds downtown.  Officials said the city is booming with development and redevelopment projects.

The annual sidewalk sales attract crowds downtown. Officials said the city is booming with development and redevelopment projects.

File photo

ROCHESTER — The city is booming with development and redevelopment projects, but Deputy City Manager Nik Banda said not all growth is necessarily good growth.

“We are really lucky to have all these great developers in town right now coming in at the same time now that the economy is good to do all of our major development potential areas all at once. But it is a bit overwhelming,” he said. “More is not always good. … We want smart growth.”

Over the past few months, city officials have asked potential developers to temporarily hit the pause button while the city’s planning company, McKenna Associates, helps the city come up with a tool to evaluate potential projects fairly.

“I was starting to feel uncomfortable with us shooting from the hip, so I wanted us to have a tool that would be consistent across the board that would help our staff, our Planning Commission and City Council,” City Manager Blaine Wing said.

The tool, called Sustainable Rochester, is a new sustainability framework and development indicator designed to help officials make informed decisions about the benefits and impacts of development.

The city is now looking for input on Sustainable Rochester from city residents, business owners and developers at a special meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 28 in the Royal Grand Ballroom at the Royal Park Hotel.

“We want to hear from the people who haven’t been part of the process,” Wing explained.

Paul Lippens, of McKenna Associates, said Sustainable Rochester is a toolkit to help city administrators, elected officials and potential developers understand and communicate about the many, often competing, impacts and benefits associated with development.

“Rochester is a very desirable city to live, work and visit, and in many ways it is the premier downtown of the region,” Lippens said in a statement. “Local decision-makers are looking to get ahead of the next wave of development and make sure that tomorrow’s Rochester is a place where today’s residents will feel at home.”

Lippens said Rochester is in a great position to guarantee the city’s long-term environmental and fiscal sustainability. Although the city’s current plans, policies and regulations ensure that new development will be designed to be respectful of community norms, he said Sustainable Rochester will help bridge a gap between code and creation with a common framework for discussing community benefits and potential impacts of new projects.

“The whole goal was to try to make sure that every developer that comes in is treated fairly and equally,” Banda said. “We aren’t trying to chase anybody away. We are trying to work together because it is for the sustainable future … to see how we can remain sustainable, so we can invest in our infrastructure, keep our tax base solid and keep this a desirable place to live.”

Upon completion of the document, the City Council, the Planning Commission and the Downtown Development Authority will consider passing resolutions to adopt the Sustainable Rochester development framework as a current policy to assist in project evaluation.

Once approval is gained, which Wing anticipates happening this spring, new projects in the city will be provided with a sustainability worksheet to evaluate how the project contributes to each of the 20 development values identified in the framework — things like traffic, environment, housing stock and tax base, according to Banda.

“This tool is going to help us then shape what we are going to be looking like during the next 200 years,” said Wing.

The Sustainable Rochester framework will cost the city about $55,000 — approximately $35,000 from the city and $20,000 from the DDA.