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Charlotte residents and businesses seek a community vision


Charlotte, that appendix of a neighborhood at the northern tip of the city, has a dilemma: It's in the city, but it doesn't feel like it is. It's a beach community, but it doesn't always feel much like that, either. After the summer's burst of activity, the area becomes quiet by November.

Charlotte's residents hope to change much of that, and they know their neighborhood has assets that are distinct to Charlotte. The challenge, though, is figuring out what to do with them.

The Port of Rochester, Charlotte residents, and the Community Design Center of Rochester held a community charrette last November, and the Charlotte Community Association recently posted an 88-page report based on the event on its website. Drawing from that report, the association plans to create a list of short and long-term goals soon.

November's charrette focused on six main topics: transportation and improving traffic flow; creating year-round activities and repurposing vacant buildings; enhancing Ontario Beach Park; increasing use of the port, marina, and harbor; connecting River Street to the rest of the community; and making the Lake Avenue corridor a more welcoming gateway.

"These six focus areas were chosen because they are interrelated, and we felt that we couldn't address one without the others," says Sue Roethel, head of the charrette steering committee.

To Roethel, the Port of Rochester area is the biggest concern because of its size, she says. The city is giving the Charlotte community time to reach a consensus about a vision for the port area before promoting more development, she says. As it stands now, the Terminal and Link buildings are underutilized. The marina has been a big success, but it's small. And while public parking is a necessity, the Port area's huge parking lot has become its most prominent feature.

A 2014 proposal to build a hotel and an eight to 10-story condominium building was bitterly opposed by many residents. The city's zoning code permits buildings up to 16 stories tall in the Port area, but many Charlotte residents don't want to see structures that size, says Roethel.

Some residents are concerned that development on that scale will block views of the water and eliminate massive amounts of open space, she says.

But that brings up the challenge for Charlotte: If increasing year-round activity is a goal, especially for Charlotte's business owners, what will draw people there year-round, and where will it be built? The more popular suggestions from the charrette included big projects like an aquarium, an arts center, a skating rink, and an indoor waterpark.

Creating more housing was also important, particularly for people attracted to lakefront living, boating, and water recreation. That's what Charlotte can offer that most city neighborhoods can't, says Roethel.

"We have to decide what we want first," says Roethel. "Clearly we want greenspace with plenty of public access, and we want to protect our views."

Protecting the beach and improving the water quality is another big concern, says Roethel. While people do use the beach, by mid-summer the algae smell can be pretty off-putting.

But Charlotte doesn't manage or have any control over Ontario Beach Park, says Roethel. It's owned by the city and the county manages it, and it can be challenging for residents when there are problems, because they don't know who to contact.

Some residents are hoping that environmental and educational groups can help improve the beach and resolve water quality issues, Roethel says.

While the charrette produced some ideas that will require significant funding, others were less costly. For instance, some residents want to see Charlotte's rich history, lighthouse, and nautical character become a design guide to future development.

"Our history is so important to the people in this community," Roethel says. "We're trying to hold on to that in every way we can, but our history is also changing. We have a lot of younger people, and they're bringing something new to the area."