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The state of the neighborhoods

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In this year's November election, Rochester voters will choose the people who will manage the city and its schools for the next four years: the mayor, five of the nine members of City Council, and three of the seven members of the school board.

But because voter registration and turnout in the city is so heavily Democratic, the winners will likely be determined in the party's September 12 primary.

That primary will be particularly competitive this year, with three candidates for mayor, more than a dozen for City Council, and at least four for school board. Over the next three months, we'll ask leaders of individual neighborhood groups to share their concerns and their hopes for action from the next city leadership. An occasional series featuring their responses begins this week.

If Rochester is your idea of a recovering Northeast US city, surely Beechwood is surely typical of a recovering Northeast city neighborhood. A mostly working-class community north of East Main Street and west of Culver Road, Beechwood was in serious decline for years, says Kyle Crandall, president of the Beechwood Neighborhood Coalition.

At that time, he neighborhood, dotted with boarded-up vacant homes, some of which were known drug dens, was marred by a lack of interest and little investment, says Crandall. He moved there 18 years ago, and he says the first seven years were tough.

"I can remember when they put in the bump-outs on Parcells Avenue, they were big news," he says.

But Beechwood is changing, he says. The neighborhood still has some houses in foreclosure, but the city has demolished many vacant homes, including some on East Main Street that were among the area's worst eyesores. Crime is still an issue on some blocks, but it's much less a problem than it was, Crandall says. And instead of people fleeing the area, younger people are moving into the neighborhood to take advantage of its more affordable housing, he says.

Crandall credits past and current city administrations with what's being described as a stabilization of Beechwood that's been long in coming, beginning with building the Thomas P. Ryan Center on Webster Avenue. The building also houses School 33 and the Sully Library. Beechwood is now the focus of Connected Communities, Inc., a non-profit that's dedicated to revitalizing neighborhoods by tackling some of the main causes of cyclical poverty.

What do Beechwood residents want to hear from mayoral and City Council candidates?

"That's what we're about to find out," Crandall says. The Beechwood Neighborhood Coalition will hold a town hall-style meeting with the candidates on Thursday, June 1, in the Ryan Center, 530 Webster Avenue, at 7 p.m.

"Beechwood is not a political organization, and we don't endorse anyone, but we want to have an open forum for all of the candidates to share their stance on the issues," he says. "We want to make sure that whoever is elected mayor, whether it's Mayor Warren or if someone else takes over, they would continue the momentum and collaboration we've developed."

For instance, the vision for a revitalized Beechwood includes reducing absentee ownership and increasing homeownership to 60 percent, up from 30 percent, Crandall says. And residents have been pushing city officials to crack down on the neighborhood's many mini markets, which have frequently been the site of drug dealing and other crimes.

Beechwood has a surprising number of small businesses, restaurants, and bars. And its proximity to the Public Market and the East Main Street and Culver Road corridors is an economic asset that needs to be leveraged, Crandall says.

"I feel like we are finally set up for success as long we can continue working together," Crandall says. "I see the next five years as extremely crucial. This is our chance, and we want to build on that."

Charlotte, the northwest finger of Rochester that ends at Lake Ontario, is something of an anomaly when it comes to city neighborhoods. It's a beach community, but it doesn't feel like one. It's a city neighborhood, but it feels more like a suburb.

And even though a considerable amount of money has been spent on revitalization – streetscapes, a new marina and port terminal – Charlotte can seem kind of plain.

But that's the way many people who live in Charlotte like it, says Jonathan Hardin, president of the Charlotte Community Association. He moved there to be closer to the water, the area's nature trails, and its beauty, he says.

"When we were buying our house, people would always say, 'Way out there?'" Hardin says.

Charlotte is trying to figure out what it wants to be, Hardin says. There are great housing options for first-time buyers and a healthy mix of long-time merchants and neighborhood bars and restaurants with some newer, trendier additions.

But Charlotte residents are divided over how much new development they want, Hardin says. Navigating this has been a challenge for the current city administration. And it could make a big difference in the upcoming mayoral and City Council elections, because finding that sweet spot between old beach community and a popular hot spot isn't going to be easy.

"I've met new residents who don't want much growth, and I've got people who've been here for 30 years who do," Hardin says. "And then there's about half that don't want anything at all to change."

A major development proposal a hotel and condominiums angered many residents, he says. They complained that the project was too big and that they weren't included in the planning process. Mayor Warren killed the project almost a year ago, partly because the developer was having difficulty finding funding.

Hardin says much of the frustration around the project was a result of poor communication between the city and Charlotte's residents, something he thinks has improved. Much of the last nine months has been spent on resetting that relationship, he says, and he hopes the elections won't adversely affect it.

The city and community association will be working with the Community Design Center of Rochester on a charrette sometime this year. The charrette, which is essentially a community-led design and planning session, will help residents envision Charlotte's future well beyond the port area. Whoever is elected mayor needs to follow through over the long term and help fulfill the vision.

And while Charlotte's out-of-the-way beach location is a plus for many residents, business owners continue to need help with marketing and promotion in the off season, Hardin says.

But better communication is needed between the city, county, and residents during the summer months, too, he says. The city owns the beach, but the county maintains it, so when there's a safety or cleanup problem, people frequently don't know who to call.

"If there's a problem with a Porta Potty, they call everybody to get a response," Hardin says.

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