We are deeply disturbed that, without discussion, city council voted 5 to 4 in favor of Rochester Management’s proposal to demolish the existing 60 apartments at Cobb’s Hill Village, erect in their place five multistory apartments and extend their ownership of the lot from 2041 to 2061.
We are disturbed that they did so despite the explicit opposition of 45 neighborhood and community organizations. This broad coalition included, among others, neighborhood associations, Metro Justice, the Citywide Tenants Union and Cobb’s Hill Village Tenants Association.
We are disturbed that before the vote we met with three of those who finally voted for this measure and asked them basic questions such as, What will be the actual rents that Rochester Management will charge for the new units? Why are two other properties included in this deal? We were either promised responses that were not delivered or told that the council member did not know the answer. Either council members who voted in favor were unable or unwilling to answer our questions. We are not sure which is worse.
If this project comes to completion, we will lose 40 apartments that that serve Rochester seniors with extremely low and very low incomes and would be serviceable for many years to come. Rochester Management will diminish the stock that those with incomes of $13,000 to $20,000 can afford, and instead provide a mix of apartments that will cater to those with much higher incomes. Cobb’s Hill Park will suffer. All this in a city with one of the highest poverty rates in the country and a proud parkland heritage.
This is, of course, not the end of the matter. The coalition has filed an Article 78 lawsuit against the city of Rochester and Rochester Management. This lawsuit has many elements to it, but they fall into two categories. The first is that the city privileged developer access and arbitrarily limited public comment. The second is that the city didn’t adequately address environmental concerns.
The concerns that we have with this project are ones that arise again and again in Rochester. Neighborhood group after neighborhood group comes before city council to state that developers have embarked on planning without community consultation, and that the project is being railroaded through with the city’s complicity. This contrasts with the occasional experience that a developer works with a neighborhood and they mutually arrive at solutions — unlike in this case, there are processes that work, but the city doesn’t adequately advocate for or require them.
We will continue to work on these issues. The coalition has, over the past two years, established a strong working partnership among its core member organizations and a network that we intend to keep in place. We will continue to work creatively and collaboratively on increasing access to housing for those with extremely and very low incomes. We will work to enhance, and to some extent salvage, Cobbs Hill Park from the majority of city council.
Finally, we are deeply disturbed that two new members of city council who ran saying that they were opposed to this project switched their vote. We advised many to vote for them based on this position. We will explore ways to increase our political influence and change the extent to which the city appears to see itself as beholden to developers. Rochester primarily depends on its residents and small businesses for its income, and we need to convince City Hall of that fact.
Coalition for Cobb’s Hill Park