Primary preview: South and East neighborhoods weigh in

Jun 6, 2019

Zola Brown has spent most of the last decade involved with the 19th Ward Community Association and became its president just a few months ago.

Over cheesy grits and coffee at the Arnett Cafe, Brown said the neighborhood is in transition.

She said more than 200 University of Rochester staff members have settled in the 19th Ward over the last five years, in part because of incentives. The university and the city of Rochester are offering home ownership grants for university employees in nearby South District neighborhoods, including the 19th Ward, PLEX and the South Wedge. Those grants also apply in several East District neighborhoods.

Students are also moving to the neighborhood in droves.

Brown said she's heard from residents who are confused and upset because they're receiving cold calls from people asking them to sell their houses.

Zola Brown
Credit Renee Heininger / CITY Newspaper

"We have to keep an eye on what's going on here in the 19th Ward to make sure that families can stay here and afford here," she said.

In the PLEX -- or Plymouth-Exchange -- neighborhood, one leaders said his area is gentrifying.

Dorian Hall is the president of the PLEX Neighborhood Association. He said he's seen this type of change before.

"The current state of my neighborhood is what I have witnessed happen in the South Wedge and what my parents have experienced in the Corn Hill days in the Clarissa Street area," said Hall. "We have been experiencing an influx of student housing, they call it gentrification, but not to include the community but push the community that is currently there and bring in a different community."

Corn Hill was once a majority black area. It isn't today.

"When I speak to certain people, they say your neighborhood is 'up and coming,' What do you mean that a neighborhood is 'up and coming?' I’ve been there my whole life," Hall said. "So to me, my neighborhood has always been a successful neighborhood. What that means is that other folk are moving in."

Adam McFadden represented the South District for nearly two decades. He resigned after pleading to several federal charges including wire fraud, conspiracy and money laundering earlier this year.

City Council voted in April to have LaShay Harris serve for the remainder of McFadden's term. Harris, who left her seat on the Monroe County Legislature to take the role, works for the Rochester City School District and as a real estate agent. She's currently running to permanently replace McFadden, as is City School District educator Ann Lewis. The two will face off in a Democratic primary on June 25.

Both Brown and Hall have shared their concerns to McFadden and other Council members. The next South District Council member can expect the same, they said.

East District

Jesse Knoth of the South East Area Coalition is working to engage an increasingly transient population.

"Renter levels are high, and you have a high level of turnover with those renters," said Knoth. "So you don't have long-term residents and that leads to much lower engagement."

Jesse Knoth, left, and Kevin Wilson in the East District, where community engagement and schools are among the issues.
Credit Renee Heininger / CITY Newspaper

To foster engagement, the coalition works with smaller neighborhood groups to plan events like the upcoming NOT-A-Festival in the Neighborhood of the Arts this summer and establish historic districts, most recently in the Park Avenue area.

For Knoth, though, engagement is also about the look of the neighborhoods.

"Boulev-art is a policy where you're allowed to paint in the street," said Knoth. "A playful sidewalk is that policy for the sidewalk space."

The group spearheaded efforts through city government to paint sidewalks and streets with images of cats playing with string, a Twister board and a Monopoly board. So far, that's happened in the South Wedge, Highland Park and Beechwood neighborhoods. He said more are coming in the Swillburg, Neighborhood of the Arts, and Upper Mount Hope.

"It encourages walking because there's stuff to look at on your journey and that it gets kids out playing everywhere," said Knoth. "That play isn’t just something that belongs at a playground. That play can be incorporated throughout everything you're doing. You can play while walking down the street."

Knoth, who is an avid biker, said that beautifying the district will encourage walking and transportation alternatives like biking. He gives kudos to the city's bike-sharing program called Pace.

"One of the things I love is seeing two or three people on their own bikes and two or three people on Pace bikes," Knoth said. "That's a whole group of people who would have otherwise driven somewhere because their two friends didn't have bikes. Because of Pace bikes, it becomes more convenient for groups to go out on rides."

Knoth said he wants to see a Rochester with a multimodal transportation system where a car isn't necessary. He and the South East Area Coalition intend to partner with their next representative in City Hall to bring this to reality.

The East District is represented by Elaine Spaull, who is retiring from after more than a decade in that role. She's expected to continue as head of the nonprofit Center for Youth.

Several candidates are vying in the Democratic primary to replace Spaull, including Bryce Miller, North Winton Village neighborhood group vice chair and operations manager for Jaguar Land Rover of Rochester; Police Accountability Board Alliance member Stanley Martin; activist and substitute teacher Mary Lupien; former Rochester Police Department deputy chief Wayne Harris; and attorney Michael Geraci.

This is the second of a two-part look at the concerns that city neighborhood

leaders have ahead of this month’s City Council primaries. On Wednesday, WXXI News talked to leaders in the Northwest and Northeast districts.