Mark Bilderback said a Third Street business owner’s proposal to extend a downtown sidewalk over three parking spaces has caused more sleepless nights than any other issue he’s faced in 11 years as a Rochester City Council member.
"We’re dealing with multi-million-dollar things happening in this city, and we’re here fighting over a $30,000 deck that anybody can sit on, but somebody has to take the responsibility," he said, noting other businesses in the area will have similar opportunities if they ask for it.
His observations came after nearly 40 minutes of comments from 14 residents during a de facto public hearing after downtown attorney Alan Yanowitz requested a chance to address concerns about the project during Monday’s council meeting.
Yanowitz and other business owners on the block of Third Street between Broadway Avenue and First Avenue Southwest said they oppose a plan to build a deck over three public parking spaces in front of Grand Rounds Brewing Co. The deck was approved by the council earlier this month.
"None of the affected businesses on Third Street were consulted and had knowledge of the kind of proposal that was presented to the council," Yanowitz said.
Concerns raised by the street’s business owners revolve around a lack of communication, loss of three on-street parking spaces and maintaining the historic nature of the street.
Yanowitz suggested the council reverse its decision because it was based on insufficient information.
Council Member Michael Wojcik agreed that more details should have been provided when the decision was made.
"I don’t think I was properly well informed at the last meeting," he said, but noted he didn’t support revoking the permit provided to Grand Rounds.
The permit allows the creation of a wooden deck with the ability to operate it for a full year as a pilot program, testing the impacts on downtown activity, parking and street maintenance, as well as the use of ash lumber generated from trees removed through the city’s emerald ash borer plan.
Grand Rounds owner Tessa Leung said she attempted to inform neighboring businesses, providing an email sent the day before the City Council’s discussion of the plan to create what is being referred to as a "parklet."
"It is not required that you need to get permission from your neighbors," she said.
Leung noted she opted to take on the project as a partnership with the city, agreeing to fund the space and carry needed insurance.
At the same time, she said she’s hoping to open the space to her neighbors.
"I would love it if the neighbors want to do a popup of anything on there," she said, noting she’s hoping to program the space to attract people to the block.
Steve Lee, owner of the Half Barrel on the other end of the block, said he doesn’t oppose the project, but it needs more time.
"I think we all agree we need to look further into this before we do anything," he said.
Bilderback, who represents the ward that includes the downtown block, said he agrees and plans to ask Leung to consider a delay to discuss the matter further, saying both sides of the issue appear to be sharing misinformation regarding the project.
"We need to talk about what the real issues are and not going after making issues," he said, noting past discussions have failed to address the root concerns.
Other council members indicated that would be the ideal outcome.
"I do take Council Member Bilderback’s words to heart," said Council President Randy Staver, adding: "Perhaps hold off a little bit or get some extra guidance."