Creating a vision for Penn Yan

Gwen Chamberlain
Penn Yan is a unique community, and some local business people are working to organize a process to develop a vision for the village’s future.

What does the Penn Yan of the future look like? No one can answer that question, but a group of community leaders and business representatives are hoping a new effort, called a Charrette, will result in a vision of the future of greater Penn Yan community.

About 40 people gathered in the auditorium of the Yates County Office Building Oct. 12 to see a presentation by the Rochester Regional Community Design Center. RRCDC Executive Director Joni Monroe and Roger Brown, both architects, said the Penn Yan community could benefit from an organized approach to identifying a vision.  

Monroe and Brown showed a series of photos from the Penn Yan area, pointing out a number of issues that could be changed to improve the community’s appeal.

Bringing all aspects of the community together in a planning process would produce a new design that could attract more people to visit, shop and do business in the area.

The RRCDC has helped other area communities develop vision plans. Pittsford, Churchville, Williamson, Fairport and Hilton are among the communities that have used the process to identify places to improve their community. The Corn Hill neighborhood in the City of Rochester recently completed the process.

Developing a plan for the future involves a lot of research work by the RRCDC before a day-long brainstorming session called a Charrette is held.  The entire process takes between six and eight months.

During a Charrette, people from the community participate in exercises to generate ideas unique to the community. Then, all the ideas are put into a vision, complete with drawings and a narrative and the community has a plan to direct the next 20 to 30 years.

The focus of the ideas is generally on the public realm - streets, parks, sidewalks, greenspace and other areas.

The result can then become the backbone of other policies and plans, such as a comprehensive plan.

“The Charrette helps people move toward reaching past diversity and coming out with something that celebrates Penn Yan and doesn’t try to be someplace else,” said Monroe.

Some of the issues that Monroe and Brown noted in their visits to Penn Yan were:

• They could only find one “Welcome to Penn Yan” sign - at the top of East Main Street.

• Phenomenal homes - Monroe pointed out one porch in particular that exists only in Penn Yan. It’s on a house that was nearly demolished for the construction of the Walgreens store. They remarked about the number of beautiful older homes that have been well-maintained.

• Great opportunities for bike lanes

• Lots of options for “themes” to work from in downtown. One example was the Hendersons Drug Store sign, which could become the basis of a theme of unique signs.

• Great natural amenities (Keuka Lake, Outlet), but they need to be connected to the heart of Penn Yan.

Brian Zerges, of Best Western and Finger Lakes Premier Properties, said he was interested in bringing the RRCDC group to the area because of their expertise. He met with other community leaders and the RRCDC representatives before planning the Oct. 12 meeting for a larger group.

By the end of the presentation, several in the audience were motivated to ask questions and make comments.

Now, the challenge to move forward includes finding a way to pay for the work. Monroe says since the RRCDC is a non-profit organization and much of the work will be done by volunteers, the cost could be kept to between $30,000 and $40,000. The original committee needs to recruit more participants and the movement needs to garner support from the community and municipal leaders.