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Wednesday, January 28, 2015 at 6:03 pm

Planners look at how to make Batavia more attractive to millennials

Millennials -- that generation born after 1980 but before the turn of the century -- came of age in a time of economic stagnation, fewer jobs, fewer chances for career advancement, lower pay.

Technology has ruled their lives.

They're getting married later in life, starting families later, and moving to smaller cities in droves.

Buffalo has attracted a 34 percent jump in recent college graduate residents, outpacing bigger cities such as Los Angeles.

All of these trends, and more, are attracting the attention of land use planners and informing a new way of looking at planning, said Felipe A. Oltramari, director of the the Genesee County Planning Department during a presentation at City Hall this morning on the Millennial Generation.

There are 87 million people born in the millennial decades, about 11 million more than were born during the baby boom years.

What they want out of life tends to be far different than Baby Boomers or even Gen-X.

To them, suburbs are dead.

A higher percentage of them than any previous generation have never had a driver's license. Often, they don't own cars.

They're more environmentally aware and socially connected through their digital devices.

The reason they're flocking to cities like Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Portland and Houston is they're more interested in deciding what lifestyle they want before deciding what job they will take, Oltramari said.

Sixty-four percent settle in a city before they get their first job offer.

"It's going to be a difficult job market any place you go, so you might as well go to someplace where you want to live," Oltramari said.

So why not go to New York City instead of Buffalo?

Because it costs a lot more to live in NYC than Buffalo.

So why come to Batavia instead of Buffalo?

Because, Oltramari said, eventually, as Buffalo attracts more millennials, the cost of living will rise. Adjacent small cities such as Batavia can offer some of the same advantages of bigger cities, but at an affordable price.

Besides, millennials are the coming economic driver, so Batavia should be planning to be the kind of community they want now, otherwise, we get left behind.

The planning model for this new urbanism is called "form based."

From the 1920s until recently, all planning was built around what developers cannot do, not what a community wanted.

Planning zones were radically segregated, not just separating, say, residential from industrial, but apartments from houses, offices from retail space, artisans from factories.

Mix-use was a product of the organic growth of American cities in the 19th Century, but planners tried to stamp it out in the 20th Century.

In the post-War years, as suburbs boomed and highways were built to accommodate the booming auto industry, planners replaced dense city blocks with strip malls and paved over culturally diverse neighborhoods.

Batavia, with its white elephant of a mall and Urban Renewal conformity, is an example of a city that lost its soul to parking lots and drive-thru restaurants.

"What planners tried to do was try to make our cities more like suburbs, and what did we get? Very bad suburbs," Oltramari said.

Form-based codes allow cities to set a vision for what they want to be.  

"Conventional planning looks at use, not at form," said Derik Kane, a senior planner for the county, and himself of the Millennial Generation. "In looking at use, you eliminated things you might want, such as small artisans when you moved out the industry, things like that that make an economy and a community. With form-based codes, instead of eliminating things you don't want, you say what you do want."

For developers, new construction and renovation of existing structures becomes a more streamlined process.  

A community with form-based codes doesn't need to require a developer to go through the current lengthy and expensive environmental review process, Oltramari said, because a conforming proposal will already fit within those environmental requirements.

"We need to be moving at the speed of business," said Chris Suozzi, VP of business development for GCEDC.  "Developers don't want delays."

The City Council has already approved funding for a new master plan for Batavia and City Manager Jason Molino said form-based codes will certainly be part of the discussion as the process moves forward.

Urban Renewal did a lot of damage to downtown Batavia, but there are still positive aspects that can be enhanced.

Kane pointed out that experts in new urbanism recommend you build on successes, rather than trying to fix problems.

For Batavia, that success would center around Jackson Square, especially Jackson Street.

Oltramari suggested borrowing a page from a small Massachusetts city and building over a portion of the parking lot on the west side of Jackson Street and putting up a row of single-story, small retail shops.

Millennials want walkable communities -- remember, they often don't have cars -- which means density, and more retail on Jackson would give them what they want.

County planning is planning on bringing in a walkability expert this summer to study Batavia, but online resources such as WalkScore.com already give Batavia low marks.

On a scale that counts 80 as pretty good, very little of Batavia scores higher than 70 (my house, three blocks south of Downtown Jackson Street, scores 67).  

Greater density and more options downtown would help improve those scores, which millennials look at when deciding where to live.

One issue planners might wrestle with is Baby Boomers still have an auto-oriented mindset. They demand parking. They expect to park right in front of the store they wish to enter. Any proposal to eliminate parking downtown is going to meet resistance, even as data shows its not necessary.

People will park and walk, or just walk from their residence, if it's an interesting walk, Oltramari said. 

"Nobody wants to park on the far edge of the Walmart parking and walk to the store, because it's not interesting," Oltramari said. "But if you measure it, they probably walk at least twice that distance once they get inside the store."

People will walk for blocks and blocks at Disneyland, he noted, and then come home and complain if they can't find a convenient parking place downtown.

For millennials, if they're living and working in a neighborhood they like, parking simply isn't an issue.

"The good news is, we know how to build this way," Kane said. "We built this way for centuries.  Your villages, your main steets, are all walkable places."

Copies of the slides used in Oltramari's presentation along with related material can be found on the web page for the county planning department.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015 at 2:58 pm

Law and Order: Woman accused of providing alcohol to four minors

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, Le Roy, Stafford

Carolina M. Frias, 34, of West Main Street, Batavia, is charged with four counts of endangering the welfare of a child and criminal nuisance. Frias is accused of providing alcohol to four juveniles at her residence.

Kimberly A. Brodsky, 23, of Elm Street, Batavia, was arrested on a warrant for alleged failure to appear on a traffic ticket. Brodsky turned herself in to Batavia PD. Brodsky's mother posted $250 bail.

Marene A. Donnelly, 29, of Oak Orchard East, Albion, was arrested on a warrant for allegedly parking after hours on city streets. She turned herself in to Batavia PD.

Kelly A. Kasper, 44, of Dellinger Avenue, Batavia, is charged with endangering the welfare of a child. Kasper is accused of causing pain to a child during a domestic incident. She was jailed on $3,000 bail.

Kurt Wayne Tripp, 58, of Bernd Road, Le Roy, is charged with DWI, driving with a BAC of .08 or greater, moving from lane unsafely and refusal to take breath test. Tripp was arrested following a report of a vehicle on fire in a field at 7:53 p.m. Monday on Buckley Road, Stafford. It's alleged that Tripp drove a 2006 Chevrolet pickup while intoxicated when it travelled off the west shoulder of the road and eventually caught fire.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015 at 2:46 pm

Task Force announces arrest of two suspected dealers

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, bergen, byron, crime, Pavilion
Joshua Baltz

A pair of investigations by the Local Drug Task Force has led to the arrest of two men, one accused of selling a controlled substance, the other of selling marijuana.

Busted were Joshua L. Baltz, 38, of Wood Street, Batavia, and Mark A. Knickerbocker, 17, of Route 262 in Byron.

Baltz allegedly sold a quantity of suboxone to an undercover agent on three separate occasions, once in Pavilion and twice in the City. 

He is charged with criminal sale of a controlled substance, 4th, a Class C felony.

Knickerbocker is accused of selling marijuana to a person under age 18 while in the Town of Bergen in May.

He is charged with criminal sale of marijuana, 2nd, a Class D felony.

The task force was assisted by the District Attorney's Office, uniformed deputies and Batavia PD.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015 at 1:57 pm

Body of missing man found in field off Cookson Road

post by Billie Owens in batavia, alexander

The body of an 84-year-old Batavia man was found in a field off Cookson Road late this morning following a search by state troopers and Sheriffs deputies.

Alphonse Spiotta was last seen by a family member yesterday evening, a trooper said. His daughter reported him missing this morning.

At around 10 a.m., a county road maintenance worker reported finding a car off the roadway at 4312 Cookson Road, Alexander, that crashed into a tree. No one was around the vehicle, which was just around the curve where Dorman becomes Cookson. The worker told dispatch he first spotted the vehicle yesterday.

About 10 minutes later dispatch got a call from a woman who said her father was missing and that he was last seen yesterday.

A State Police helicopter was dispatched to the scene, but officers found the body shortly before it arrived. Sheriff's and State Police K-9s assisted in the search.

The man's body was found along a tree line next to the field some 300 yards south, southeast from where the car was found.

Alexander fire and Mercy EMS also responded to the scene.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015 at 1:43 pm

Batavia beats Lackawanna 73-32

post by Howard B. Owens in basketball, batavia, Batavia HS, high school sports, sports

With an offense that distributed the points a bit, the Batavia Blue Devils beat Lackawanna on Tuesday night in a non-league game, 73-32.

As usual, Jeff Redband led the team in scoring, this time with 20 points.  Mmalachi Chenault had 13, Jarred Lasket, 9, Ryan Hogan, 8 and James Schrider, 8.

Redband added eight rebounds and three assists and had a blocked shot. 

Batavia was 46.4 percent from the field and 81.2 percent on free throws.

Batavia is now 10-2 on the season.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 10:37 pm

Old Batavia Photo: Batavia Archers

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, history

Tony Mancuso shared with us another picture of old Batavia from his family archive. This shot is of a group known as the Batavia Archers. He doesn't know the year nor can he identify most of the people in the photo. He'd love to hear from anybody who can. His father, Joe Mancuso, is second from the left. The young lad looking like Robin Hood, near the center of the photo with the feather in his cap, is Jim DiSalvo, currently owner of Applied Business Systems and of the home on Fargo Road known for its annual Christmas lights display.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 7:56 pm

Attorney for Jacquelyn Deats plans series of pre-trial appeals to get charge dismissed

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Baby Chandler, crime
Jacquelyn Deats

The Batavia woman who at one time thought she was the grandmother of a baby who died while reportedly in her son's care should have the criminal charge against her dismissed, her attorney will argue in a series of motions that will be filed March 3.

Jacquelyn Deats is charged with endangering the welfare of a child, under the theory that she took no action to seek medical attention for 6-month-old Chandler Zuchs before he died Dec. 10.

Court documents that were available at the time -- and have since been sealed -- contained statements by Jacquelyn Deats and her son Jeffrey Deats that seem to indicate the once-presumed grandmother was alone with Baby Chandler and noticed something wrong, but didn't call for an ambulance.

When Jeffrey Deats came downstairs that morning, he found Baby Chandler unresponsive. It was then that 9-1-1 was called.

Baby Chandler, according to later medical examiner reports, died of brain injuries.

Jeffrey Deats, who seems to have believed he fathered Chandler with Michelle Zuchs (aka Michelle Denise), was charged with manslaughter.

In Facebook and Twitter posts, prior to Chandler's death, he displayed a good deal of pride and affection for little Chandler.

While confined to the Genesee County Jail, Deats learned he wasn't Chandler's father.

A week after Chandler's death, Deats attempted to hang himself in his cell with bedsheets. He later died at ECMC.

Jacquelyn Deats appeared in court today with her attorney Thomas Burns and entered a not guilty plea to the charge of endangering the welfare of a child.

Burns, always aggressive on behalf of his clients, plans to file several motions aimed at either getting the charges dismissed or his client's statements surpressed.

Outside of court, Burns said he plans to challenge the legal sufficiency of the charge as well as bring a motion to dismiss the charge in the interest of justice.

A dismissal in the interest of justice has legal precedent and is predicated on a series of legal tests the judge must consider. 

"The case meets all the criteria for dismissal," Burns said. "(The motion) doesn't necessarily look at the merits of the case, but at the person's background, culpability, lack of criminal record, lack of a drug problem, factors such as no need for rehabilitation, no protection of the community issues. You put it all together and argue that the charge should be dismissed."

Burns has yet to see any evidence in the case, which could also be a factor in his series of motions.

With the Jeffrey Deats case sealed, it's unclear if Burns will have access to the medical records and police reports.

The case was sealed by Judge Robert Balbick under New York Law that requires cases to be sealed when a criminal case is resolved in the defendant's favor. With the death of Jeffrey Deats, the charges against him were dismissed.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 7:19 pm

Naysayers aside, BDC gave city a return on its investment in 2014, coordinator tells council

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, bdc, downtown, economic development

The City of Batavia has realized a 500-percent return on its $360,000 investment in community development, Julie Pacatte, economic development coordinator, told the City Council on Monday night.

The Council has authorized $90,000 a year over four years to the Batavia Development Corporation- that's $360,000. In return, the BDC has generated more than $2.1 million in public-private investment in Downtown.

Several of the projects managed by BDC were building owners constructing renovated apartments, all of which rented immediately.

But perhaps the biggest win is the renovation of the old Carr's Warehouse in Jackson Square.

The property sat vacant and deteriorating for three years. The city marketed the building as a revitalization project and eventually found a developer.

With the help of a $115,000 state grant, Paul Thompson and his partners invested more than $500,000 in constructing four apartments and a first-floor office area.

The vacancies were filled as soon as construction was completed.

The property was assessed at $30,000, but since it was a city-foreclosed property, it was generating zero tax revenue. Now it's assessed at more than $200,000 and on the tax roles. (The developer has the option to apply for a tax abatement by March under a municipal program that works like a PILOT, offering tax relief on the increase in assessed value).

The nine new residential units, using current economic models, are worth about $5,000 each in extra consumer buying power Downtown, Pacatte said.

Pacatte's job has been funded in the past through the use of revenue generated by Batavia Downs and transferred by the state to the city on an annual basis.

Since this is not general fund revenue, it doesn't have any impact on local property taxes. Even so, there is some question as to whether the current council is willing to once again use city money to fund the development coordinator's position.

Pacatte's Monday presentation could be seen as a pitch to save her job, but that didn't stop her from getting a little feisty. She was full of energy during her presentation, and when she spoke about negative attitudes, Councilwoman Rose Mary Christian challenged the remark and Pacatte shot right back with her own view.

The topic of the exchange was the mall, which Pacatte had already called a travesty and an embarrassment and one of the factors weighing down economic development in the city.

"I think maybe people have a negative attitude because they have heard the same old thing year after year," Christian said. "How many years have we heard we're going to do something with the mall. I've sat on this board for 24 years and I've heard year after year we're going to do something with the mall."

Pacatte responded that she didn't say the BDC was going to do something with the mall, just that the issue needed to be resolved.

The negative attitude discussion harkens back to a consultant report from three years ago, which Pacatte referenced, that said one of the things hurting Batavia is a persistent, nagging culture of antagonism to new proposals.

From the report (pdf; page 29):

... many residents and business leaders alike are quick to say what is right about the place, but only after they or others have said how it is not the community it used to be. This habit goes to the core of the challenge for Batavia. Regardless of how effective the city government is, or how successful the schools are, or how homeowners keep up beautiful homes, there is always the perception that things used to be better. This sets up an impossible goal: Batavia needs to be as good as its finest past features, but without any of its previous problems, and certainly without any of yesterday’s resources. It allows critics to say, “see, I told you so.” It lives on phrases like “that can’t be done,” and “we tried that,” and “here’s why that won’t work.” Until the community addresses this problem, Batavia won’t achieve its full and substantial potential.

Pacatte has succeeded in helping to bring new development to Downtown Batavia despite the naysayers. Each new apartment development was met by a wave of criticism and endless predictions that nobody would rent such high-priced units.

Yet, there are no vacancies. Landlords rent the apartments as quickly as they become available.

The Carr's project was roundly criticized, yet it's successful.

The negative attitudes are just something to try and work though as a professional, Pacatte said after the meeting.

"I think it's important to listen to what the community is saying, but we also have access and in our profession we understand that these projects do happen and happen a lot in other communities and there's no reason it shouldn't happen in Batavia," Pacatte said. "We bring the folks to the table who can make it happen.

"It's important to hear some of the negativity at the time to maybe rethink how we approach a project," Pacatte added, "but it's important to be a professional and understand that it is possible and persevere to that end. I was hired to impact the economic community in Batavia and I believe that's what I'm doing when I push those projects forward."

In 2015, the BDC will look to advance the Batavia Opportunity Areas, such as the Della Penna property on Ellicott Street, and right next to it, the Santy Tires property.

The mall fits in there somewhere, as well, though that is a much stickier problem with all of the competing interests and ancient animosities. Pacatte believes there might be an opportunity to apply for funding in 2015 through the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council to pursue some sort of long-term solution.

She also sees as her job in 2015 an effort to foster a greater entrepreneurial spirit in Batavia, to coordinate and implement a new micro-enterprise grant program, and support an industry-specific incubator.

The BDC will also apply for more redevelopment grant money from the state.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 5:17 pm

Vibrant Batavia supporters point to successes, make pitch for third year of funding

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Vibrant Batavia

Between the public comments section at the top of the agenda and a presentation by folks with Vibrant Batavia, the City Council heard more than an hour of reasons to keep the city-created community promotion group.

Some on council sounded a skeptical tone about continued funding.

Vibrant Batavia is seeking $50,000 for 2015. City Manager Jason Molino is recommending $45,000, which is in line with the commitment the council made to Vibrant Batavia two years ago.

"I would be very disappointed and embarrassed if you were pulling back on your financial commitment to Vibrant Batavia, putting your reputations on the line," said Mary Valle, a local business owner and active member of the Vibrant Batavia Board.

The community's business owners donated their money for Batavia's centennial, committed to our community. How could things continue without a leader for Vibrant Batavia? If you do pull back, our business leaders, I believe, every one of them, would be very hesitant to donate and support projects in the future."

Councilman John Deleo said he's having a hard time justifying to himself and his constituents the expenditure of $45,000 or $50,000 on Vibrant Batavia when the city is talking about a tax increase.

"I did run as a fiscal conservative," Deleo said. "In fact, I may be downright stingy with taxpayer money and this is what I'm obliged to."

Last year, Vibrant Batavia was funded to the tune of $45,000 through unspent contingency funds from the previous budget year. Whether it's funded -- if it's funded -- through the same process this year, or from reserves, or through the general fund, or perhaps with video lottery money from Batavia Downs, is something for the City Council to discuss.

Funding or no, Vibrant Batavia won't necessarily have any impact on the tax rate.

Vibrant Batavia Director Leanna DiRisio (pictured) provided the council with an overview of what Vibrant Batavia has accomplished in its first two years.

  • Hosted coffee talks
  • Conducted neighborhood surveys
  • Hosted a fall frolic
  • Hosted home tours
  • Published the Vibrant Times
  • Organized neighborhood meetings
  • Sponsored beautification projects
  • Set up a community art project
  • Organized the city's ongoing centennial celebration.

One of the big accomplishments for Vibrant Batavia in 2014 was raising $124,000 to fund this year's Batavia centennial celebrations -- an ongoing series of events that started with New Year's Eve fireworks and parties in City Hall and on Evans Street.

Valle noted that Vibrant Batavia, by raising so much money, exceeded council expectations, and that Deleo in particular expressed skepticism that the group could meet its fundraising goals

Those funds can only be used for the centennial and can't be used for Vibrant Batavia operations. 

In year three, Vibrant Batavia, if funded, will focus on neighborhoods, particularly along the lines of forming three block clubs, DiRisio said. One on the Southside, one on the East End and one in the Central Park District.

Vibrant Batavia would also look pursue leadership development for community leaders and deliver programs that engage residents and build pride in the community.

All Vibrant Batavia is trying accomplish comes right out of a plan developed for the city three years ago by consultants with czb.

The consultants found that with greater civic engagement, Batavia could improve itself both economical and socially, spurring revenue growth and decreasing crime.

It all begins, the report said, in fostering a greater sense of community pride and more community engagement.

Those who spoke during public comments, such as Lisa Barrett and Paula Miller, said Vibrant Batavia has certainly hit that target.

After one neighborhood event, children who live near Barrett were asking her when they could have another block party. Next week, maybe? Not that soon, said Barrett, but soon.

"I think when youth see adults caring about their neighborhood, then as adults they will care about their neighborhood," said Barrett, not in person but on a video screened for the council, as was a video from City Church Pastor Marty McDonald, who is very active in Vibrant Batavia.

Miller said before their neighborhood gathering, she and some of her neighbors were concerned about one house on their block that seemed to be a source of ongoing issues with the tenants.

The opportunity to come together as neighbors with city officials, including police and code enforcement, helped lead to an eventual resolution of that issue, she said.

"We felt it was a unique opportunity to bring our concerns to them and through that developed a request with City PD and city administration to come around and hear our complaints," Miller said. "It wouldn't have happened if we each felt we were the only ones hanging out there. We came together as a united effort to resolve our issue."

Deleo said there has been a lot of good work by Vibrant Batavia that he supports, but his constituents aren't seeing the value, not when faced with a 1.7-percent property tax increase.

"If we had a flat tax rate, I think it would be great," Deleo said. "Voters are pounding on me. They understand the water rates, but they can't understand the 1.7."

Councilman Eugene Jankowski, who used a post on Facebook yesterday to generate feedback from local residents, said everybody seems to believe Vibrant Batavia does good work. Where opinions diverge is on whether it should receive city funding.

"If we fund it completely, then we're not listening to half the people who don't want it funded by the city," Jankowski said. "If we don't fund it, then we're not listening to the other half. I don't know if we could fund it to a different degree to please both sides."

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