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  • Kevin Elliott

Sustainability study provides planning tool

An analysis of how a glut of large development projects is impacting the quality of life in Rochester was used to develop a sustainability planning tool that will be incorporated into the city's planning and economic development strategy.

The city contracted with McKenna Associates to conduct the analysis and develop a planning tool. Sustainable Rochester, the results of the $53,000 project, were presented in early March to the city's planning commission and the Rochester Downtown Development Authority (DDA), which contributed $20,000 toward the analysis. The city's planning commission also in March approved a motion to incorporate the sustainability analysis into the city's overall planning process.

Rochester Deputy City Manager and Director of Planning and Economic Development Nik Banda said last year that the city needs a more accurate way of assessing the cost of projects, in broader terms of traffic congestion and safety. The analysis, he said, would use those and other quality of life concerns to develop a scoring system on proposed projects.

"When you make a decision on a development, the good side of it is tax base. Let's say we can bring in two to three times million more of taxes to our general fund if 80 percent of these new projects that are on the horizon are approved. Pretty cool. That keeps tax base down, it keeps the burden off the taxpayers and helps us pay for infrastructure. But there's a cost to it," Banda said, in first presenting the idea to city council. "It could be traffic congestion, it could be people getting burned out on what we (the city) are becoming. Everybody wants to balance that, and the only way to balance it is a community-wide look."

The analysis looked at indicators of quality of life and a system of assigning a value that proposed projects could have on the city. Those indicators included the amount of parks and open space per 1,000 residents; a walkability index; traffic information, such as trip generation, intersection density, and intersection delays; cost of living; houses per acre; water and sewer costs and system condition; crime indexes, emergency response times; and land uses.

"Sustainable Rochester provides a framework by which the city of Rochester can evaluate a development project in terms of how it advances the city's sustainability values," McKenna said about the analysis. "The indicator, baseline measures, targets, found in the main report, give decision makers the tools to understand regional growth trends and a common language to discuss progress towards sustainability.

"The framework is not a model that computes whether a development should be approved. Instead, Sustainable Rochester is the standardization, synthesis, and fact-based comparison of various data sources that allows decision-makers to weigh and all tradeoffs associated with the development to minimize unplanned impacts to the built and natural environment."

City council will be asked to formally accept and discuss Sustainable Rochester at its April 9 meeting.

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