Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School opened its new location this week, marking the end of a three-year journey to move 2.2 miles.
The school sat at its picturesque Goodman Street grounds for 90 years. Lisa Bors, Colgate’s director of development, worked there for 20 of them.
“I didn’t realize 2.2 miles was this long, but it’s for a good cause,” said Bors. “We’re excited to be a part of the community now and not on the hill and looking at the sky. We’re looking at people now.”
Bors and the other staffers marked the occasion by walking from their old offices to their new ones in the Village Gate.
Colgate agreed to sell its old campus to developer Angelo Ingrassia for $3.5 million and lease their new space.
The school’s president, Angela Sims, said the move is necessary for small schools like Colgate to survive.
“The question has to be, ‘Do we maintain physical buildings or are we going to invest in our students and our mission?” said Sims.
The move isn’t without controversy. Neighbors of the old campus like Bob Thompson are concerned about how the plans may affect the character of the neighborhood and the environment. Thompson says Ingrassia, who wants to build apartments there, isn’t listening to their concerns.
“Do we feel a bit ignored? Honestly, yeah. We do feel a bit ignored. We’re still very, very concerned about the environmental aspect of this whole project,” said Thompson.
Ingrassia did not respond to a WXXI News request for comment.
The minutes from City Council’s Neighborhood and Business Development Committee meeting on Aug. 13, show that Council discussed the needed rezoning of the property for Ingrassia’s project to go forward. Those minutes also say that 12 public meetings have been held since the project was introduced on June 11, 2018, including one with Rochester’s Preservation Board.
Despite all the input, Thompson, members of the Highland Park Neighborhood Association and other groups maintain that the proposed new buildings are still too tall, and the rest of the project needs an environmental impact study. Opponents amassed over 1,300 signatures on a petition that they presented to City Council.
“This is not a matter of we want nothing to happen to it,” said Thompson. “But we just feel that the design and character of the campus should really take predominance over making a profit on it.”
Thompson said that the neighbors have obtained an attorney and plan to sue.
The city’s preservation board expressed concerns about the project at the Aug. 13 committee meeting. They cited problems with “relative height and scale” of the proposed buildings compared to existing buildings on the property, whether the proposed buildings are on a grid with existing buildings, whether the property’s curved entry driveway will be maintained, and whether the entire project was pedestrian-friendly.
At that same meeting, Ingrassia presented a new design. Ingrassia added greenspace, shortened the buildings, moved them back more than 100 feet, and moved the new parking spaces away from the existing driveway.
On Tuesday night, City Council voted 5-3 to rezone the property. Councilmembers Jackie Ortiz, Mitch Gruber and Malik Evans voted against it. Councilmembers Michael Patterson, Molly Clifford, LaShay Harris, Vice President Willie Lightfoot and Elaine Spaull voted for it. Council President Loretta Scott was not present.
The campus lies in Spaull’s district. She said the decision was difficult but necessary. Spaull called the campus a special place and says the now-empty buildings are vulnerable to vandalism and destruction. Delaying the vote “did not seem like an option,” she said.
“We found ourselves in a situation that I believe was a no-win, but we felt we had to move forward,” said Spaull.
Spaull said she has pressed the Warren administration to listen to neighbors as the process continues.
“The mayor has made promises to me that they will have a full review, a constant review, and meetings with neighbors and the developer and anyone else who would like to meet within 30 days. That meeting is essential to me and may be the only way I could move this ahead,” said Spaull.
Colgate’s president Angela Sims is hoping there’s a middle ground between the neighbors and Ingrassia.
“No matter what anyone does, we always have to recognize that we hope for a compromise that will be amenable to as many people as possible and that no harm will be done,” said Sims.