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Called an 'anchor project', new townhouses coming to Beechwood neighborhood

A 72-unit mixed-income townhouse complex scheduled to open this summer on East Main Street aims to address housing needs and spur the growth of the Beechwood neighborhood as an “anchor project.”

“The idea is to have families and individuals move in,” said Kim Russell, executive vice president of Home Leasing, a housing development company. “As they see the neighborhood improving and they are able to take advantage of the opportunity here, they’ll become an integral part of the community and strengthen it as they go.”

In 2015 Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren asked development company Home Leasing to create an apartment complex on East Main Street, similar to its previous projects, the Voters Block and Frederick Douglass apartments on West Main Street. It is the first new housing project in the neighborhood in 50 years, according to Executive Director of Connected Communities Lashunda Leslie-Smith.

Connected Communities is a nonprofit organization aimed at revitalizing the Beechwood and EMMA neighborhoods. Through its partnerships with Hillside Children’s Center and Home Leasing, Connected Communities is working to address the need for mixed-income housing in the neighborhood, as a first step.

Sixteen of the units in the building are for independent living for people with developmental disabilities, with most of them being referred from Hillside. In Monroe County, there are about 2,000 developmentally disabled people capable of independent living who are in need of better housing, according to Hillside.

Additionally, Hillside will open a public cafe and office space, both on the first floor. Hillside was downsizing some of its properties and its building at 1337 East Main St. was selected for the site. The building was refurbished while additional townhouses are being built on next to it as well.

Leslie-Smith noted that in the 1960s, homeownership in the Beechwood neighborhood was between 60 percent and 80 percent. Now it’s 28 percent. She views Warfield Square as an anchor project.

“There’s a significant number of vacant homes, vacant lots as well in the neighborhood,” Leslie-Smith said. “There’s a need to have a housing development plan that addresses all of those vacant lots and the blight that we see in the neighborhood.”

Home Leasing held several interest meetings for Warfield Square to inform the neighborhood, and also received feedback from the community as well. When initially announced in 2015, the project saw some criticism from people in the neighborhood based on the design of its appearance. These critiques inspired major changes to the development. It was originally designed to be two apartment buildings but it was changed to townhouses to better fit the neighborhood.

“It’s difficult because some people really want the neighborhood to improve but in order to attract businesses and amenities that make it feel good about living here, you need density, so you need more people,” said Alison Bottone, chief operating officer of Hillside Service Solutions. “And yet I understand that people want that small neighborhood feel, so there’s this catch-22.”

The complex is called Warfield Square. It is named for Rev. Vernice Warfield, who was a prominent social activist in the neighborhood and took in several foster children. She died at the age of 102 in August 2017.

This story by Brian Boye is part of a journalism collaboration between WXXI and St. John Fisher College, giving aspiring student journalists the opportunity to report on and create stories for WXXI listeners, viewers, and readers.