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Housing complex plans in Rochester draw criticism from neighborhood

A potential affordable housing development in northwest Rochester inspired an outpouring of neighborhood concern and a heated public hearing at Monday’s Rochester City Council meeting.

A proposed affordable housing development in northwest Rochester prompted a flood of neighborhood concern and a heated public hearing during Monday's Rochester City Council meeting.

The 49-unit Ashland Village apartment building at 19th Street and Ashland Drive Northwest, proposed by Joseph Development, has some neighbors angry about what it might do to traffic, crime and property values. The issue also has some questioning how the city notifies a neighborhood about public hearings.

Joseph Development was asking the council to approve a land-use permit, a zoning change and a general development plan. The area is now zoned as a B-4 general commercial district, and the developer wants to change it to an R-3 medium density residential area. The city's planning and zoning commission moved to recommend denial of the three actions, saying the site didn't have enough buffer from a nearby industrial area and the changes wouldn't be consistent with the city's comprehensive plan. City staff recommended approval of the developer's agenda items.

Chris Stokka, a representative of the developer, said the Ashland Village project would fill a need for affordable housing in Rochester. A study done by a consultant for the developer showed a 0.6 percent vacancy rate in affordable units, Stokka said. Generally, a 3 percent vacancy rate would be considered strong demand, he said.

"It's a good opportunity for the community, just as our other projects have been," Stokka said.


But more than a dozen would-be neighbors of the project disagreed.

"Any development should enhance the neighborhood, not take away from it, and I believe this development would totally take away from our neighborhood," said Cheryl Hudson, who lives near the proposed building site.

No guarantees

Harry Scofield took it upon himself to print out fliers and distribute them to his neighbors after he didn't think the city was doing a good enough job of notifying them. He's opposed to the development.

"I feel that that definitely does have an effect both on the safety of our neighborhood and the value of our neighborhood," Scofield said.

Scofield said he wouldn't have purchased his home if he knew there was going to eventually be an apartment building like this nearby. But Council Member Mark Bilderback said he's heard that complaint before.

"There's no guarantee when you move into your home," Bilderback said. "There's no signed papers that says, this is what's going to be near your home forever and ever. Zoning does change, and it happens frequently."

Dave Stanley, who lives on Ashland Drive near the development site, was concerned about his property value and does not support rezoning, land-use permits or the plan for the development in general.


"I know we're an inclusive city and I love Rochester," Stanley said. "If I lose property value, what are my rights? I don't want to lose property value for the sake of inclusiveness."

Notification concerns

Stanley said much of his concern, which was echoed by many of the neighborhood members who spoke out at the public hearing, comes from a lack of notification from the city. Stanley said he felt like the city was trying to "pull the wool over his eyes."

"I found out tonight at 6:30 that this was going on," he said. "As a person who distrusts government … I'm really concerned about how it's being handled."

After the public hearing was closed and all comments from the audience were heard, Council Member Michael Wojcik was speaking when an audience member called out, asking him if he was trying to sell the property and accusing him of owning a construction company. Wojcik asked for a 5-minute recess after the outburst.

"Sadly, I do not own a construction company," Wojcik said after the recess. "I've never had any construction interests, nor do I have any construction interests now. I do have thousands of constituents who need affordable housing."

The council voted 6-1 to reopen the public hearing and discuss the matter again on July 21 to give the developer an opportunity to meet with the neighborhood and iron out some concerns. Council Member Sandra Means voted no on continuing the public hearing, saying the conversation and concerns expressed by the neighborhood were "uncomfortable."

"One of the values I can state (of an affordable housing project) is not having a segregated neighborhood," Means said. "The high mobility rate for children affects them so adversely … children learn better in a stable home."


Rochester planning director Mitzi Baker said the city has expressed an interest in mixed-income neighborhood and desegregation.

"The city of Rochester has acknowledged that there's value in having an inclusive community," Baker said.

Need is there

Several council members said the issues with notifying residents was a problem that needed to be addressed. The planning department sends out notifications within 500 feet of a proposed site or to the nearest 50 properties, whichever is met first, Baker said.

"It seems like we have an issue with our notification system," Council Member Bruce Snyder said. "I don't have a simple answer … no matter how far out we do it, there's going to be somebody that's not happy."

Wojcik said he had no issue with approving the project, but was fine with allowing the neighborhood to meet with the developer some more.

"The people who are going to be most affected by this are the people who are desperately in need of affordable housing," Wojcik said.

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