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Henrietta hopes to modernizing its zoning

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Henrietta is an evolving suburb, though that may not be apparent to the people who live outside of the community.

Its commercial corridors – which are often hypocritically mocked by the very people who flock to them – are an ever-changing mix of big-box stores, restaurants, car dealerships and service garages, and office complexes. Marketplace Mall is in flux as its owner transitions it to an outlet mall. And property owners continue to struggle with some vacant properties, both free-standing spaces and plaza storefronts.

Demographic shifts favoring multi-family housing are also playing out in Henrietta, which has seen several high-profile – and controversial – apartment complex proposals in recent years.

Those residential and retail dynamics are some of the underlying reasons why town officials are looking to make key zoning changes in the town. They're considering a proposal that would end developers' ability to build apartment complexes in industrial districts. And they want to create three mixed-use districts where housing, offices, and retail could all exist on the same parcel.

The town has developed a draft environmental statement on the proposals, and the Henrietta Town Board held a public hearing on that document last week. The board has to accept a final environmental statement before it can vote on any zoning changes.

Henrietta Supervisor Steve Schultz says it makes no sense to take valuable industrial land and use it for housing. Industrial development tends to place less stress on infrastructure than residential development, he says. And when governments do have to spend on things such as road improvements or sewers for an industrial site, the taxes from the new development provide a better return on the public investment, he says.

"Those are two very different uses and they have very different impacts on their surroundings," Schultz says.

Currently, Henrietta's zoning doesn't allow for mixed-use projects, Schultz says. There are areas with a mix of differently zoned parcels where stores, offices, and houses may be adjacent to each other, but there aren't any laws that allow for multiple uses on one site, he says.

That problem isn't unique to Henrietta. Other communities in Monroe County don't have mixed-use zoning districts on the books either, says Maria Furgiuele, executive director of the Community Design Center Rochester. For a long time, the standard practice with suburban zoning was to separate certain uses, so that one part of town was residential, another commercial, and so on.

But as Henrietta officials discussed where they wanted apartment complexes to be built, and what to do with vacant retail, they arrived at mixed-use districts as a potential solution, Schultz says. They want to establish three so-called overlay districts, where a project could be built according to the existing, underlying district, or it could build a mix of uses on a site, he says. The shift should also help preserve green space by giving developers more flexibility to revitalize or redevelop things such as struggling plazas.

Henrietta officials are targeting three parts of the town for the mixed-use districts: the area surrounding Southtown Plaza and Marketplace Mall, the East Henrietta Road commercial corridor starting south of I-390, and an area south of RIT bordered roughly by East River Road and Lehigh Station Road. They looked for areas that could use revitalization, but that also had enough road capacity as well as existing water and sewer service.

"It's got to be complimentary, but it really does create some nice, livable areas," Schultz says.

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