A guide for the future

John Christensen
An artist's image of concepts that could make the Liberty Street bridge in Penn Yan more appealing.

The Penn Yan Area 2020 Vision Committee received the draft copy of the development plan created by their professional consultants, the Rochester Regional Community Design Center (RRCDC), at a public meeting Sept. 24 at the Penn Yan Middle School Auditorium. RRCDC architects and planners Roger Brown and Joni Monroe presented the plan to more than 50 civic and business leaders and interested members of the community.

The Steering Committee of PY 2020Vision maintains that with the Finger Lakes becoming an increasingly popular vacation destination, and the thousands of vacationers, tourists, outdoor adventure seekers and wine enthusiasts visiting year after year, many small villages in Upstate New York face challenges amid the activity. Their premise is that sprawl development is threatening the economic vibrancy of Penn Yan and the appearance of the village’s core, and the 2020 Vision Plan will help guide the future development of Penn Yan in a more desirable, healthy, and sustainable manner.

The stated “Guiding Principles” of the Vision plan are

1. Preserve, cultivate, celebrate historic ambience.

2. Provide, enhance, expand connectivity.

3. Demand good design.

4. Focus on the pedestrian.

5. Enhance the natural elements.

6. Promote appropriate growth.

7. Develop civic pride.

8. Make Penn Yan a destination.

With these principles in mind, the Vision Plan for Penn Yan addresses community improvement areas, including waterfront development, the downtown core, housing and mixed use development, new commercial and community development, architectural and environmental design guidelines, transportation and related connections, community gateways and signage.

Committee Chair Mary Zelazny said the RRCDC consultants and the creation of the Vision Plan have already helped the village “leverage” grants for their comprehensive plan now in the works, and will aid the village in long-term planning.

Brown outlined the plan for improved downtown development, creating more “mixed use areas,” combining commercial/residential/civic uses while also upgrading aesthetics, improving traffic flow and safety with bike/buggy lanes on major thoroughfares, and increasing net downtown parking spaces.

Plans include redesign and development of housing options for elders and young families seeking smaller, more affordable, and more walking accessible homes. Citing the success of Birkett Landing Apartments, Brown showed street design examples for Maiden Lane and Champlin Avenue to provide homes and increase the quality and desirability of living in mixed use areas.

One of the key features of the plan is a major tree planting campaign in parking areas and on village streets, especially along the main approach routes to the village called “gateways,” to lessen the visual impact of utility lines and poles. Along these gateway routes, improved and welcoming signs shall be placed, some qualifying as gateways in the true sense of the word, signaling arrival in the village and at the historic core of downtown. A striking element of the traffic plan was the construction of a roundabout or traffic circle at the intersection of Lake and Liberty Streets to improve consistent flow from the stop and go of the existing traffic signals.

Other improvement plans call for more agreement in scale and design with the historic character of Main Street on Lake and Liberty Streets, the other main business sections of the village. Monroe suggests that just as corporations place design requirements on their franchisees, communities can place design requirements on corporations. The planners provided ample proof of this with examples of fast food restaurants and chain stores which have complied with such plans. Realtor Stan Olevnik pointed to the Vineyard Inn and the new Microtel now under construction as local examples.

Penn Yan’s former Director of Public Works Dick Osgood pointed out some practical concerns regarding stormwater issues along Kimball Creek that will need more routine attention when that area is developed. He reminded the planners of the need for heavy equipment access at the floodgates near Main Street Bridge. He also had concerns about the NYS DOT approval of the roundabout. Monroe observed they are gaining acceptance by the state as their effectiveness is shown.

Asked for a show of hands if they liked what had been presented, the audience overwhelmingly agreed with the vast majority of hands raised. “There’s nothing in this plan in my eyes that shouldn’t come to pass eventually,” said Olevnik.

Now that the draft has been received, the Steering Committee will review it in detail and the RRCDC will incorporate changes they suggest as well as the input from the public meeting before the final copy is prepared.

Penn Yan Planning Board Chair Cliff Orr says the 2020 Vision Plan will be very valuable material for the master plan being developed. The planning board’s consultant John Steinmetz attended the meeting and told Orr he thought the ideas are good. The Penn Yan Master Plan Community Forum has been set for7 p.m. Oct. 15 at Penn Yan Academy.

“We wanted to wait for the Vision Plan draft to be done,” says Orr who adds that input is being sought from stakeholders such as the Chamber of Commerce, downtown businesses, the children of the community, Keuka College, and the Finger Lakes Museum about where they think Penn Yan should be in the next 10 years.

That input will be added to what is heard at the community forum as well as commentary from the Planning Board’s facebook page.

Saying how important it is to update master plans, Orr says, “We’ve made a lot of progress on the waterfront particularly from where we were when the last update was done. We’d like to include more illustrative examples for developers and property owners to draw from in this next update, and the Vision Plan will certainly be a big help in that.”