The Highlands at Pittsford
The Highlands at Pittsford, a campus-style, non-institutional senior living community, is situated on 52 acres of prime real estate on the eastern border of the Village of Pittsford.
Today, it is clearly a community asset, helping to fill the increasing demand for senior services, stimulating the local economy, and providing an aesthetically pleasing and appropriate entrance to the Village. Area residents and municipal officials point to it with pride.
However, the project certainly was not embraced when first proposed by Highland Hospital in 1991. In fact, many developers had previously considered a residential project on this parcel, only to meet with stern opposition from various interest groups and municipal officials who sought to preserve the attractive, historic and agricultural gateway into Pittsford.
Working closely with Highland Hospital (now part of the University of Rochester Medical Center), BME helped to convince Pittsford officials that Highland’s vision could be implemented to the great benefit of all. Now, some 25 years later, the vision not only has been realized, but enhanced along the way with more to come.
Today, the Highlands at Pittsford includes a 196-unit Senior Living Center, a 122-bed Senior Living Facility, and 31 cottage style homes. The project has evolved and expanded over the past 25 years to now include a community building, a wellness center, and – completed in 2015 – improvements for memory care, passive recreation, and outdoor use. It has become a model for senior living communities in the region.
In an anti-development environment, we were advocating a
new concept that did not fit under any existing zoning district
Peter G. Vars, P.E.
Going into this project in the early ’90s, the challenges were clear. Although Town of Pittsford officials recognized a growing demand for senior housing, they weren’t sure this agricultural setting was the right place for such a development.
Officials in the historic Village of Pittsford were uneasy about a possible change in the appearance of the gateway to the Village. Still other groups had no uncertainty at all – they were just adamantly opposed.
Our task was to convince the powers that be that Highland’s campus-style vision could be accomplished in a manner that was sensitive and responsive to all concerns. And, the zoning mechanism for making it all work was an innovative concept known as a Planned Unit Development (PUD). As PUDs go, this could be a classic, combining appropriate architecture with a thoughtful land plan in context with the community of Pittsford, while also maintaining agricultural open space.
The implementation involved developing the property as two components. The primary structures were placed behind an old trolley bed, which was bordered by a wooded buffer, while the area along Pittsford-Palmyra Road entering the Village was left as agricultural open space. The Village preserved its attractive gateway corridor, the Town got a new style of housing for an aging population, and Highland was able to introduce a new concept for senior living.
The heart of the story, however, is how the Highlands at Pittsford evolved over the past two decades. Because the project was done right – the architectural style, land planning, engineering, operational aspects – Pittsford has recognized the Highlands as a fantastic asset. As a result, ten years after opening, the Highlands received approval from the Town – with support from the Village – to develop 15 acres of the agricultural open space lands. This parcel now features individual cottage-style homes along the western road frontage corridor. The land plan and homes were designed in a neo-traditional form to complement the historic Village, and the completed cottages form a compatible gateway to the Village.
Overall, we were able to take a unique concept, introduce it into a community that initially opposed development on that property, and, through design concepts, planning and engineering, to convince the local officials that it could be successful to the benefit of all. Then, by following through on what had been promised and achieving the goals as identified in the project planning, expansion and new construction of later phases have been well-received by public officials. The working relationship with the municipality has developed into one of complete cooperation to achieve mutually beneficial goals.
We are proud today that the Highlands at Pittsford truly is a cornerstone of the Pittsford community.