Model Letter to the Rochester Preservation Board


On August 7, the Rochester Preservation Board will vote on whether to recommend to Marcia Barry (Director of Planning & Zoning) that the proposed apartment building at 933 University Avenue "may have a significant adverse impact" on the community. This will be a key consideration in Ms. Barry's determination of whether to issue a "positive declaration" under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). The Preservation Board's decision on its recommendation is very important. 


* If Ms. Barry issues a positive declaration, this would allow the environmental review process to continue, including preparation of a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) and further proceedings to ensure a thorough review of the impacts of this project on our community. This would give concerned parties a meaningful opportunity to provide input on issues that would affect the East Avenue Preservation District, Neighborhood of the Arts, and George Eastman House (a National Historic Landmark). In the event a positive declaration is issued, the Planning Commission and Preservation Board will participate in the DEIS process, and no final determination of the proposed project will be issued by those agencies or others until the SEQRA review is completed and findings are made. 


* If, on the other hand, Ms. Barry decides to issue a "negative declaration" in advance of the Planning Commission meeting in September, then the critical SEQRA review process will be terminated and no environmental impact statement would be prepared. In this case, we should expect that the Planning Commission will review the project in September. If the Planning Commission issues the Special Permit necessary for the proposed project to proceed, then the Preservation Board would probably hold a hearing on the application for a Certificate of Appropriateness in October. We believe that this would short-circuit a critical process and result in a failure to give serious consideration to the numerous potential adverse impacts that this project would present to the community, including potential impacts to some of our community's most important historic and cultural resources.  


Peter Siegrist (City Planner) has indicated that the Preservation Board will not be accepting oral testimony at its meeting on August 7. He has also announced that all written testimony on this matter should be submitted by July 31, to give the board members time to review the materials. I will be submitting extensive written testimony on this matter prior to this date. 


We urge you to communicate your concern to the Preservation Board at your earliest opportunity. Here is a model letter to the Preservation Board. 

You can simply add your address at the top of the letter, print and sign it, and mail it to the indicated address. 

 In the alternative, you can e-mail it to the Preservation Board via Peter Siegrist (, with a copy to Marcia Barry ( and Mayor Tom Richards (


July 26, 2013

Rochester Preservation Board
City Hall—Room 125B
Rochester, New York  14614

Re:  933 University Avenue

Dear Member of the Preservation Board:

My understanding is that the Director of Planning and Zoning has requested that the Preservation Board make a recommendation as to whether the proposed project at 933 University Avenue may include the potential for at least one significant adverse impact on the environment.  This recommendation will serve a basis for the Director’s decision on whether to issue a positive declaration under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) and, thereby, require preparation of a draft environmental impact statement.

There is a potential for the following significant adverse impacts from the proposed project:

·         The height, mass, density, and lack of surrounding open space of the proposed apartment building would adversely impact the character of the East Avenue Preservation District and Neighborhood of the Arts.  The proposed building, with a front setback of only 21 feet, would be 53 feet high—more than 50% taller than the opposing Gleason Works building, which has a setback of over 60 feet.  The proposed apartments would be the first building of over three stories built in the District since 1975.

·         Containing at least 99 residential units, the proposed project would more than double the number of residential units added to the East Avenue Preservation District since 1975.  The resulting population concentration and sudden population growth would have potential adverse impacts.

·         The proposed four-story apartment building would have an adverse impact on the surroundings and vista of George Eastman’s house and gardens, one of only two National Historic Landmarks in Rochester and a leading tourist attraction.  Revisions to the proposal have done nothing to address this issue.

·         The proposed project appears to conflict with the City of Rochester’s plans and goals in creating Planned Development District 14—George Eastman House in 2011, which promised that any physical alteration “shall be in harmony with the existing structures, the character of the site, and the neighborhood.”

It is imperative that, as a steward of historic preservation, you vote to recommend that this project has potential significant adverse impacts.  Otherwise, the SEQRA process that would allow the critical environmental review to be completed will be short-circuited, resulting in a failure to give serious consideration to numerous potential adverse impacts on the community.  If the Board were to recommend that construction of a large apartment building in the East Avenue Preservation District next to a National Historic Landmark would not have a potential significant impact, the hurdle for a positive declaration under SEQRA would be set unreasonably high, setting a dangerous precedent for future projects.


Jul 26, 2013, 10:43 AM