Park Point at RIT
When BME Associates was selected for the design team that created the development plan for Park Point at RIT, it was clear this could be an extremely beneficial project for both the college and the Town of Henrietta.
For RIT, it would address a huge demand for student housing, needed commercial services in an 80,000-square-foot, multi-story retail center, and create a highly attractive gateway to the campus.
And, as a privately owned and developed parcel by the Wilmorite Corporation, it would add 65 highly valuable acres to the Town of Henrietta tax rolls.
But it was also clear that some real challenges lay ahead, from New York State DEC approval for one of the largest wetland mitigation proposals ever considered to a keen focus on landscaping—and the need to advance the entire project very quickly.
Mitigating 4.3 Acres of Wetlands
Project Engineer / Wetland Services
For the RIT project, we began talks with the DEC about a year and a half before we designed anything. At first, the agency was highly skeptical, because our proposal directly involved filling more than four acres of State regulated wetlands. In most cases, the DEC will not approve filling more than an acre. In addition, we had created a mitigation plan for another 20 acres in the Red Creek watershed area.
Typically the DEC requires that two acres of wetlands be created for every acre of wetlands disturbed. In this case, we offered a ratio of more than 3-to-1, meaning we would create some 15 acres of wetlands nearby in the same watershed for the 4.3 acres that we would build upon.
Once we had approval, we had to meet the challenge of making our man-made area look natural. The acreage includes open water, deep and shallow marshes, wetland meadows, shrubs, trees and, today, a wide variety of wildlife. In fact, in one visit by DEC and Army Corps of Engineer representatives, a bald eagle made a surprise appearance.
Today, the area really looks as if it has been there forever, and RIT uses it for many different educational purposes for its students.
Clearing Hurdles, Moving Forward
Time is of the essence with every development endeavor, and at BME we pride ourselves on successfully completing projects on time and on budget.
In the case of Park Point at RIT, however, added pressure stemmed from the realities of the school’s academic calendar. The process of completing the environmental review and other required approvals would typically take 18 months and would have caused RIT to delay student occupancy another full academic year without benefit of the new, Collegetown housing.
By staying on task and attending to details, we were able to navigate the process and obtain Town approvals in just nine months, much to RIT’s delight.
Because of the 4.3 acres of wetlands on the parcel, we also had to prove to the New York State DEC that this was the only location that the project would work. In fact, the DEC suggested four other parcels and required us to review all of them as part of the application process.
Based on successful projects over the years, both BME and Wilmorite have forged a level of trust and an excellent working relationship with the DEC. Still, it took due diligence and many man-hours before we convinced the agency that the selected site would provide the mixed-use center and gateway to the campus that RIT desired, and would also provide readily accessible public access to the commercial portion of the development site that was needed to make the overall project plan economically viable.
In the end, the DEC agreed that the other alternative sites could not provide the critical socio-economic benefits. That left us free to move forward on the chosen site-and that brought us back to the wetlands challenge, where Martin Janda’s expertise played a critical role.
“BME’s ability to get DEC and Town approvals quickly allowed us to provide RIT with much-needed student housing at Park Point a year earlier than we might have hoped.”
— P.J. Wilmot, President, Wilmorite Corporation
Creating a Gateway to and Focal Point for the RIT Campus
Andrew Spencer, R.L.A.
Senior Planner / Landscape Architect
RIT wanted Park Point to be a lifestyle center for its students. That meant it had to be aesthetically pleasing as well as functional.
Throughout the process we also had to keep in mind that this would be the gateway to RIT-the first glimpse of the school for visitors coming to the campus. As such, it would be a key piece of RIT’s recruiting effort, and it had to live up visually to that high standard of aesthetic appeal.
“We always kept in mind that this would be the gateway to RIT.”
Accessibility was important, too, in order to assure that the retail businesses could be commercially viable.
We oriented the buildings in such a way as to create what amounts to an urban plaza in a relatively suburban area, and we surrounded much of it with natural stone walls that provide both aesthetic appeal and visitor seating. This courtyard gathering space doubles as an activity area for plays, concerts and, of course, Frisbee. The plaza area also became the defining element to create the Park Point “sense of place.”
Other project improvements included development of private roadways that meander adjacent to the natural wetlands, parking for both residential and commercial uses, public and private utilities and significant landscaping and site lighting. In addition, a system of trails and sidewalks was developed throughout the project site for pedestrian accessibility between the residential and commercial use areas.