CityGate or ShittyGate? Seven Myths and Facts.

CityGate or ShittyGate? Seven Myths and Facts.

This article was scraped from Rochester Subway. This is a blog about Rochester history and urbanism has not been published since 2017. The current owners are now publishing link spam which made me want to preserve this history.. The original article was published July 14, 2013 and can be found here.

Iola Building 1 with copper wire removed and other trash. [PHOTO: Joel Helfrich]

     The following is a guest post submitted by       Joel Helfrich      .
      Submit your story today      .

I have been arguing about CityGate for some time, but have come to the realization that this project     appears    mostly a "done deal" and that it appears to have community support, which is unfortunate given the atrocious new Site Plans and Renderings.

What I hope to show in this post is that although the project appears to be moving forward and that Anthony J. Costello and Son appear to be "listening" to the community, I beg to differ. Here are some of the fallacies, as I see them and as have been reported on this blog, as well as my responses. Let us call them the "seven myths" of CityGate...

Myth 1:    The buildings that comprise the campus of the old Iola Tuberculosis Sanitarium crumbled under the watch of the previous owners, Monroe County (see Final Environmental Impact Statement [FEIS], 2010).

Iola Building 1 with copper wire removed and other trash. [PHOTO: Joel Helfrich]

    Fact:    Photographs from the years     2000

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and     2002

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show that the buildings were in solid shape, inside and out. The     Resource Evaluation report

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from Bero Architecture said as much. I pass these buildings while heading to and from work since September 2007, nearly the time that the new owners purchased the Iola campus buildings. Since that time, I have seen windows and doors become permanently opened or broken, slate roofs crumble, and copper roofing material disappear. I also saw that hundreds--perhaps thousands--of pounds of wiring was removed from Building 1, the stripped remains still resting behind the building. Trees have begun to grown near to or out of foundation walls. Nearly the entire site is overgrown.

If Costello disagrees with my assessment, why have they not cleaned up the site or maintained it to their standards? If Costello thinks that the County took poor care of the campus, they have done nothing to improve on its watch that shoddy record of care, concern, and maintenance. My "reading" of this situation is that although some of the neighbors complain of vandalism, drug "havens," and other problems at the site, Costello has done nothing to secure the property nor has the City done anything to fine Costello for its poor care. If the campus is a "haven for drug users" and that was truly the issue, then why hasn't the City advocated for the removal of the buildings or at least that they be better secured since Costello has owned the properties for six to seven years! The property and buildings have not been maintained since they purchased them, but they were when the County owned them, as evidenced by the Evaluation Report and 2002 photographs. Furthermore, notice the way that the County currently maintains nearby buildings. The grass is mowed, the trees are trimmed and away from buildings, et cetera. Compare the County-owned buildings today versus the Costello-owned buildings today.

My main concern here: the track record is hardly the sign of a good current or future neighbor.

Myth 2:    Costello is listening to the community, as displayed during recent meetings with the City and neighborhood association.

CityGate plans, 2010 vs 2013. [PHOTO: Joel Helfrich]

    Fact:    Other than the new plans to save "some" of the Sycamore trees and create a "pocket park" on the corner of Westfall and East Henrietta Road (a great, yet small effort, to which we should honestly thank Daniel Hurley of the Upper Mount Hope Neighborhood Association), no new plans regarding this campus--other than the drastic change from a predominantly neighborhood-like campus to a parking lot with Costco Warehouse as its centerpiece--have been brought to the table. Costello is still planning to reuse some portion of only one historic building: Building #12. That is it.

Compare the 2010 FEIS to the most recent CityGate/Costco Warehouse Site Plans. The latest plans are a radical departure from the initial plans to create a neighborhood.

Myth 3:    Mr. Costello cares about history. In fact, his relative was once a resident of the Iola campus.

Iola Building 2 completely open to the elements. [PHOTO: Joel Helfrich]

    Fact:    The Iola Tuberculosis Sanitarium campus site is a big deal. The entire campus is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. It should have already been designated a Rochester Landmark, as the campus fits every requirement for listing. And those buildings are historic not because they are old but because of the medical history, architectural history, and local and national history that they portray.

No new ideas regarding historical preservation or interpretation or education have been put forward since 2008. Costello was chided in a December 2008 letter by the Landmark Society (LSWNY). LSWNY said that the company's efforts were not enough, nor historic preservation. I am completely in support of the Landmark's Society's letter, dated December 1, 2008, that asks the City and Brighton (none of the current site plans include Brighton property) to save more historic buildings. The LSWNY is on record for supporting more adaptive reuse. As LSWNY stated, Costello has not done "serious or credible efforts to mitigate negative impacts." LSWNY stated that a "book or 'on-site interpretation program'" is not enough, nor "true mitigation for an impact of this magnitude." The four-page letter says a whole lot more about the problems with the plans in 2008.

The bottom line: Costello is no further down the road from publishing a book and "perhaps" creating an interpretive center than it was five years ago.

Myth 4:    Costello cares about sustainability

Iola Building 4 open and partially demolished. [PHOTO: Joel Helfrich]

    Fact:    Here again, there is nothing new and only promises. What is wrong, as far as many community members are concerned, is that Costello & Son seems to have backed away from its 2010 plan to "seek certification under the new LEED Neighborhood Development (ND) rating system." Costello has brought in a huge BOX and has certainly moved away from "walkability." Although Costello is talking the language (Congress for the New Urbanism [CNU], historic interpretation, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design [LEED]), they have not moved more toward the things they stated they would do (LEED ND, etc--see FEIS). They were creating a neighborhood in 2008-2010. Now they are creating a shopping/retail center. Let us use the test of experts to get a little bit more of what this neighborhood and broader community need and want (more green elements and historic preservation).

To be truly "sustainable," as Costello put it in the Final Environmental Impact Statement from 2010, the company would need to diligently pursue the three overlapping goals of economic development, social development (equity), and environmental protection, broadly defined. Although Costello can clearly check the first goal off the list, the other two fall short--way short. Demolition is not sustainable. The loss of historic buildings creates a tremendous loss of embodied energy from the loss of the energy from the original materials--bricks, copper, old-growth (250 years+) timber, steel, and other resources. Costello would need to engage with the community and earn its support.

We could have the first LEED ND (or even LEED-Retail) project completed in Rochester and one of the first in the entire state. We could have walkability. We could save all or nearly all original historic Iola Tuberculosis Sanitarium buildings. We could have a dynamic entrance--a true CityGate--to the City of Rochester. We could have oodles of green space, a stormwater park, rain barrels, community gardens, an organic CSA, bioswales and rain gardens, permeable pavement, bike infrastructure, canoe rentals right on the Erie Canal, green roofs, Xeriscape, real placemaking, a true TOD, et cetera. Perhaps a wind turbine and some solar could be thrown in for good measure. Implementing any one of these ideas would be a step in the direction toward sustainable community development. Federal, state, and local grants and tax incentives would help pay for some of these ideas, as well as for the historic preservation of the historic structures.

Myth 5:    The buildings are "too far gone" and too dilapidated to be renovated or incorporated into the current plans for CityGate.

Iola Building 8, overgrown, with slate roof crumbling. [PHOTO: Joel Helfrich]

    Fact:    Rarely is a building not salvageable, as architect and longtime preservationist Howard Decker recently stated. "Just for the record, as an architect with a lifetime of reusing historic structures, . . . buildings [are rarely] too far gone to be recycled. I believe that this very website [] has run a series of images showing     buildings in worse condition

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that have been repurposed. . . . Be careful not to administer the last rites until the patient has actually expired," wrote Decker.

Even a fire is not a death sentence for a house or building. Take a look at 1 Mount Hope, which was saved in the 1980s after a fire. It was used as office space and sold last year to a nonprofit that will reuse the building yet again for a new purpose. Take a look at     this effort in France

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to "rebuild" a castle! Almost anything is possible if you truly care about sustainable community development, including adaptive reuse.

A building is never too far gone that it cannot be saved. Just ask Randy Alexander, CEO of the well-known Madison, Wisconsin-based development firm, Alexander Company, who has saved buildings literally at the last second from the wrecking ball. Look at the work that his company did at the National Park Seminary in Maryland, for example. Most of the buildings astoundingly lacked roofs before renovations commenced. (Visit

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Furthermore, asbestos and I assume all mold must be remediated before a building can be demolished. Regardless, the presence of these contaminants, nor their deteriorated state, is not a reason to demolish historic buildings.

In addition to Building 12, the following buildings with little effort could easily be repurposed within the existing plans: Building 1, as well as Buildings 7, 8, and 10-all of which "front" East Henrietta Road.

Myth 6:    This project is about and the developers are concerned with "walkability."

Somehow the lawn and growth around the old Monroe County recycling center gets trimmed and maintained. [PHOTO: Joel Helfrich]

    Fact:    This development is predominately for retail purposes, not residential or neighborhood planning and creation. There is "no public realm to support" walkability, as one architect recently noted. The plans are nearly devoid of "sidewalks, trees, parks--what cities should be made of. Looks like a single use development to me--which of course is the worst kind."
   Catherine Tumber, a former longtime Rochester resident and author of     Small, Gritty, and Green: The Promise of America's Smaller Industrial Cities in a Low-Carbon World    , pointed out that "suburban culture and form sprawls inward and engulfs older buildings." That is what is happening here. Most of suburbia does not have walkways. "Drive" out to Henrietta to remind yourself of what this development will look like. Then you might know what I am talking about. You are destroying a reusable, urban campus setting and greenspace in order to create a suburban marketplace.

Myth 7:    The "neighborhood" wants it and the people who want something better at the Iola tuberculosis site are "utopians" and obstructionist preservationists.

Somehow the lawn and growth around the old Monroe County recycling center gets trimmed and maintained. [PHOTO: Joel Helfrich]

    Fact:    The first part of this statement is most likely true. But since I am not an architect or planner or totally steeped in the language of public policy, let us hear from a local architect:    I am sure that many of the neighbors want this-it is the same auto-dominated retail development that has been plaguing our city, and many other cities, for half a century. And just think what value we get in return for this: way more than half the site in parking lots with nowhere to walk, complete ignorance of all the historic, and natural, resources of the site, traffic from all the cars that we can complain about and spend fortunes on for decades to come, scores of dead-end jobs, shocking environmental waste, and a million other features that we can find all around us. Since everyone drives and no one walks, and most people want the awful goods found in such places, I am sure this will be quite popular with the neighbors.    They won't like the traffic, but that won't come up till later, when we get to spend millions of tax dollars trying to fix the unfixable.    Of course the time for this kind of development is well behind us. We have all this stuff already, and we certainly don't need more of it.    But I would pursue the value proposition. Chuck Marohn, at

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, who spoke here for Reshaping Rochester, did some amazing calculations to show tax generation and real value in a typical (and run-down, I note) urban neighborhood vs. a suburban development much like CityGate. The results were shocking-the crappy existing neighborhood out generated the schlock by a very wide margin.    Maybe the way to get the neighbors to think twice is to pursue this line a bit. One of the reasons why regions like ours are going broke-and you don't have to take my word on that: just ask our Mayor-is that this pattern of sprawl development costs more than we can afford, costs more than it produces in real value for the surrounding community. Way more.    The question we must be asking ourselves in this time of decreasing wealth and resources is just this: what can we do/build/envision/construct/plan/restore/preserve so that we will never face the kind of fiscal drama that is intensifying all around us? [CityGate] ain't that answer to that question.    Many Rochesterians, though certainly not the majority yet, realize that this is true. If those who can see the dilemma we face need to be labeled, then I certainly wouldn't call them utopians. Realists maybe, sane people who can see what is unfolding, people fed up with spending money we don't have on things we don't need.    The real utopians are the ones that believe we should and can keep doing what we have been doing for the last decades.    * * *

Iola Building 9... where is it? [PHOTO: Joel Helfrich]

   What the neighbors I have spoken to over the last few months would like to see, since this plan is apparently moving forward and Costco Warehouse is here to stay, is:

  1. More green elements and a true emphasis on smart, sustainable community development.
  2. Historic preservation/adaptive reuse of at least Building 1 and all buildings along East Henrietta Road.

The plan is actually entirely about Costco Warehouse now instead of     smarter development    .

I think it is time for representatives from the Landmark Society of Western New York, the Rochester Regional Community Design Center, the Jane Jacobs chapter (New York) of the Congress for the New Urbanism, the U.S. Green Business Council New York Upstate Chapter, and local economists and architects to speak up regarding this proposal.

Take a look at the plans and ask yourself: is this Rochester, an urban area, or is it Henrietta, a sub-urban area along Jefferson Road (as one Rochesterian recently called it, "Jefferson Road redux")?

Then ask yourself: CityGate or ShittyGate? Which will we have?

Take Action

Sign the Petition:

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and leave a comment there, it will be emailed to all the appropriate parties including the Director of Planning & Zoning.

Speak to City Council:
   City Council meeting is Tuesday (7/16)
   3rd floor, City Hall, 30 Church Street

In order to "Speak to Council" about this issue you must call (585) 428-7421 before 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday. You will need to provide your name, address, the organization you are representing (if any).

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About Joel Helfrich:

Joel Helfrich is a father, educator, historian, and activist who works on animal rights, environmental, historic and sacred sites preservation, and social justice issues.

Chris Gemignani

Chris Gemignani

Rochester, NY, USA