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Neighbors want Rochester to take back a vacant Inner Loop lot and make a park

empty lot
Max Schulte
The empty lot between Union Street and Pitkin Street above the filled in portion of the Inner Loop remains undeveloped. Neighbors are pressuring the city to take back the site since the developers have failed to meet construction deadlines for building on the site.

A weed-filled lot at the edge of downtown has become a sore spot in the neighborhood growing up around it.

The lot is part of the Inner Loop East redevelopment, and was one of the first parcels the city offered for sale. Nothing got built. Now the city is leaning toward taking it back.

Neighbors want the nearly half-acre on Charlotte Street turned into a park, something simple, with trees and grass and benches.

“There's really nowhere for those of us that live here to go, to gather outdoors in a public space,” said Josh Doolittle, who moved into one of the Charlotte Street townhouses in 2020. “And right now, we have an opportunity to correct that.”

The city tore up and filled in the eastern leg of the sunken Inner Loop highway, completing the final leg of construction five years ago this month. Fresh, shovel-ready lots were sold to developers.

Plans for this stretch have changed several times, and have included offices and apartments, even a stand-alone daycare center.

When the city finally sold 125 Charlotte St. for $50,000 on Oct. 1, 2020, it did so with the stipulation that the developers – now CSD Housing – would start construction in two years time. That deadline came and went last month. CSD is asking for an extension with no definite plan for what to build.

Talk inside City Hall is beginning to move toward taking back the land, "to make sure that it's green,” said Dana Miller, the city’s neighborhood and business development commissioner, “and then see what other interests there might be in it.”

Neighbors want the greening to be permanent. But this is a start.

“So we're leaning toward that,” Miller said of retaking the property. “I don't think there's been a final decision made yet. But I know that the mayor specifically expressed concern about just leaving it the way it is ... and not being able to have any control over how it looks.”

The lot sits between North Union and Pitkin streets, at the back end of the newly developed 270 on East apartments; surrounded by a neighborhood that largely didn’t exist a few years ago.

empty lot
Max Schulte
The empty lot.

Doolittle’s recording doorbell, which gets activated anytime someone passes by, has tracked the evolution.

“I used to see maybe 10 recordings a day,” he said, “and now it's in the hundreds.

“That tells you just how many more people are walking up and down the street, and how much more busy it is. Which is wonderful. I mean, that was the idea, right? To make this back into a connected community with the rest of the city?”

That, indeed, was the plan.

“We've had people here from all over the world coming to look at this because they can't believe we actually did it,” Miller said of building a neighborhood where a highway used to be.

“But when we did it,” Miller continued, “we weren't 100% sure how this was going to work. ... And so, you know, to a large extent, we were learning this as we went.”

The city is embarking on an even more ambitious effort with the remaining Inner Loop that runs along the northern edge of downtown. There is intentional greenspace built into that plan. Here, though, Doolittle and his neighbors say there was a promise, and an expectation.

Having a park, Doolittle said, would “give us that sense of place, that’s still a little missing.”

He and his neighbors have passed petitions, gathering around 340 signatures, and written to the mayor, arguing CSD has forfeited its interest and urging the city to act.

For now, though, the area is fenced off, and has the look of a space that’s been forgotten

“Which is unfortunate,” Doolittle said, “because, you know, there are some children that live in the building directly across Charlotte Street from there lack of place to play. So they play out in the street.”

A representative of CSD declined to comment.

Brian Sharp is WXXI's investigations and enterprise editor. He also reports on business and development in the area. He has been covering Rochester since 2005. His journalism career spans nearly three decades.
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