Staff at the George Eastman House and residents of the East Avenue Preservation District are opposed to Morgan Management’s proposal to build a four-story apartment complex on the property adjacent to the Eastman House. The issue is contentious in part because of the neighborhoods historic value, which includes the George Eastman House, one of two National Historic Landmarks in the city of Rochester.
UR and the Eastman House have collaborated on past initiatives, including teaching partnerships, a master’s degree program run jointly with the Eastman House’s L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation, photography research, fellowship and public programs, and the sharing of library collections and online databases, according to UR’s website.
In response to the opposition, Morgan Management revised its initial plan, presenting an alternative at a public forum presentation on Wednesday, Feb. 27.
The new plan includes a decrease in the number of units from 105 to 102, the addition of underground parking, which will raise the total number of parking spots from 132 to 164, and revisions to make the complex facade appear more traditional rather than meeting,” chief project architect David Hanlon of Hanlon Architects said at the meeting. “I think it will be positively received.”
Other changes include bringing above-ground parking into the middle of the design so that it is hidden from University Avenue and making the site more aesthetically pleasing by constructing the four-story buildings in the middle and the three-story buildings around the perimeter.
“This allows us to break down the site so it’s not as apparent when you drive down University Avenue,” Hanlon said.
Hanlon also presented a series of photographs of East Avenue which he said demonstrated the “incredible number of trees” that the design preserves, in response to landscape concerns raised by both community residents and George Eastman House staff.
Director of the Eastman House Bruce Barnes said the changes are not substantial and do not alter his view about the damage the development will cause.
“To pretend that they’re actual changes is disingenuous,” he said, noting that the change in the number of units was negligible and does not change his belief that the development will “loom over a national historic landmark property.”
“It will radically damage the quality of the land,” he said, adding that it will also “devastate the view,”which was the same that George Eastman himself enjoyed.
Barnes said that lawyers for the Eastman House stated that the proposal violates zoning code in the neighborhood and that the House plans to oppose it going forward at the Preservation Board and, if necessary, fight it in court.
He also noted that since 1975, only 98 residential units have been built. The current development calls for a figure more than double that. No new buildings have been taller than two-stories since 1975.
“It’s grossly inappropriate for the area,” Barnes said.
According to Peter Siegrist, senior planner for the city of Rochester, the new plan will be reviewed to determine if it meets zoning code requirements and could be adequately serviced by public utilities. If approved, the plan would then be assessed for its environmental impact on the neighborhood. Next, the Rochester Preservation Board would review the proposal to determine its “historic visual character,” Siegrist said.
The earliest possible date for review by the board is April 10. If the design passes the Preservation Board, it will move to the City Planning Commission for review.
The original plan, presented in November 2012, involved the construction of a 110-unit, 174,000 square foot apartment building at 933 University Ave. The land for the proposed project is owned by the Monroe Voiture 111 Veterans’ Club, commonly known as the 40 & 8 Club.
Monroe Voiture entered a binding contract with Morgan Management, which has agreed to build a new clubhouse for the group at the back of the apartment building in exchange for the land.
Approximately three years ago, the Eastman House began a dialogue with Monroe Voiture about obtaining the land. The discussions were unsuccessful because the two parties could not agree on how long the Eastman House would be responsible for maintaing the property.
If Morgan Management’s new plans are not approved by the city, then Monroe Voiture will be able to terminate their agreement with the company, reopening the possibility of collaborating with the Eastman House.
“We’ve made clear that we are prepared to take care of the club for a much more extended time than originally said,” Barnes said.
Community members at the forum echoed Barnes qualms with the project.
“I don’t want it to be too modern,” said Analisa DelPlato. “I want it to fit in aesthetically.”
DelPlato said that while she is happier with the plans presented Wednesday and thinks the new version would “fit in better,” she still thinks the construction will “take away from the George Eastman House.”
Local resident Bill Barry said he is concerned with the level of traffic that will descend on the neighborhood, specifically deliveries and trucks that will block the street.
Barry explained that the value of his house will decrease as a result of the construction. He had expected Tudor condos, or something similar that would fit in more with the neighborhood aesthetic.
“It’s going to have a huge impact,” Barry said. “They have a right to build, but it’s ill-designed. It’s not in keeping with the neighborhood.”
Barry added that he thinks the development violates zoning law and that developers did not consider the culture of the neighborhood.
“It’s just way too big,” he said. “All it is is a profit center.”
Another resident optimistically noted, however, that the amount of people brought in by the development presents an opportunity for commerce and growth in the area, noting that the people, not the landscape, are the most important aspect of living in the Park Avenue area.
In response, Barnes said that the “enormous amount of additional population” is too large for the area’s resources and too damaging to its aesthetic.
“It’s far too dense for one of the most effective preservation districts in the U.S.,” Barnes said.
Remus is a member of the class of 2016.