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Reimagining Charlotte


Even plenty of sunshine and unseasonably warm weather wasn't enough to draw more than a dozen or so people to Ontario Beach Park in Charlotte during a recent afternoon. Seagulls well outnumbered cars in the Port of Rochester's huge parking lot.

And that's just fine with some people who live and spend time there. The lakefront neighborhood's out-of-season serenity is worth the wait, they say. They like its mellow vibe and don't want to see pricey townhomes popping up in the area.

But for some residents and small businesses, Charlotte's cyclical changes can be a test of endurance, and they wish the area was livelier and attracted more people year round.

Envisioning a future Charlotte will be the challenge for participants in an upcoming event. The city, the Community Design Center of Rochester, and the Charlotte Neighborhood Association are holding a community charrette on Saturday, November 4, at the Port of Rochester Terminal building, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required: 865-6101.

Planning for the charrette has been underway for about six months, says Sue Roethel, a CNA board member and head of the charrette steering committee. Participants will focus on several key areas: the port, harbor, and marina; Ontario Beach Park and the Roger Robach Community Center; River Street North and the Riverway Trail; and the Lake Avenue corridor. The charrette will begin with a slideshow of historical photos of Charlotte to help give participants a sense of the community's distinct past as something to build on, says Roethel.

Charlotte is in many ways a cross-section of multiple communities with interests that may overlap but aren't identical, Roethel says. It attracts summer beach-goers, families who go there just for picnics in the park, boaters, tourists, bar and restaurant patrons, and year-round residents and businesses, she says.

"I believe that's our asset and our challenge," Roethel says. "We need to find that balance. We want people from all over greater Rochester to have a vested interest in what happens here. Some people want to keep it more public; others want more private development."

This isn't the first time the Charlotte community has debated its future. It was only a few years ago that Edgewater Resources proposed a $30 million port project with a hotel located, condos, and townhomes. Proponents said it would draw more lakefront investment, create jobs, and attract retail. Opponents said the development would be too tall and would obstruct views of the lake.

Even though that project sputtered out, the debate over improving the area has continued to percolate.

Emily Selover has worked for her father, Lee, owner of the Windjammer, for a long time, and she says some development is needed.

"I think people want to keep the small-town feel, but still have the excitement of a tourist destination," she says. She would like to see some of the quaintness of Skaneateles or Clayton in the Thousand Islands combined with more winter activities so that businesses aren't so dependent on summer crowds. Selover plays in a band and she says there used to be plenty of venues for musicians, but now there are hardly any in the area.

Roethel says the charrette is an opportunity to completely reimagine Charlotte and address some longstanding issues that go beyond seasonality: improving walkability, making the beach area more attractive, and creating a more inviting Lake Avenue gateway to the beach, for example.

"We want to dream big," she says, because anew plan can take the community far into the future.