News comes that Wilmorite has teamed up with Rochester Institute of Technology to bring light unto the darkness of Jefferson Road. Now there’s a corporate marriage made in heaven, or more likely in a location due south.
The happy couple, which share prime responsibility for the long decline of the Genesee River-Red Creek watershed along the Brighton-Henrietta border, have launched a so-called “Collegetown” on 60 acres (now owned by Wilmorite) at the northeast corner of the campus, near the corner of Jefferson, John Street and B-H Town Line Road.
On May 1, as if to heap dirt on the very notion of spring as natural rebirth, the heavy equipment arrived to put the long-gestated plan into action. Within a few days, what remained of fallow pastures, including some significant hardwood stands, had been scraped clean of life.
It was sickening to see the rich soil bulldozed into high berms along Jefferson Road, soil that had been untouched for decades and thus was ripe for real development - as, say, part of an organic educational farm or a wetlands study area.
All over academia these days, you hear pious talk about “sustainability.” Collegetown is just one piece of evidence that in institutional terms, this is just hot air, the moral equivalent of a greenhouse gas.
A sheaf of permits from the Department of Environmental Conservation will minimally protect some of the beautiful wetlands on the Collegetown site – I say minimally because the uplands, paved and chemically landscaped, will feed a steady diet of toxic substances into whatever wet areas remain. Instead of being preserved as habitat for amphibians, reptiles, waterfowl and small mammals, the wet areas will turn into mere retention ponds.
You can see the result at the fringes of Marketplace mall or at RIT right now. The other day on campus, I passed a roadside “pond” that occasionally attracts geese and ducks; the water was a deep, almost painterly blue-green – I assume this was the result of run-off from the sports arena just uphill. (You often see the chemicalized ice scrapings from the arena piled at the edge of a nearby parking lot.)
I should also mention that the County of Monroe Industrial Development Agency is providing $7.9 million in tax breaks over the next ten years for the project. In a recent Democrat and Chronicle story, reporter Matt Daneman repeated a claim that Collegetown “is expected” (by whom?) to pump $10 million in tax revenue into local government coffers over the same period. Daneman made no attempt to figure if some or all of that $10 million would have been collected anyway. And he certainly made to attempt to discover what the manifold value(s) of a 60-acre preserve might be – over many decades, and well beyond dollars and cents.
Some are claiming that Collegetown will bring energy benefits by offering RIT students and staff an alternative to driving down Jefferson Road for a burger and fries. But the site is a long haul from the action – roughly a half mile from even the nearest portion of the RIT/NTID building complex. So most of the target patrons will end up driving over there anyway. Besides, there’s plenty of room within the developed areas of the campus for the kind of services Collegetown will provide. But of course, putting services there, within a pedestrian framework, won’t put cash into the Wilmorite account.
Such a shame. The Collegetown site had so many green possibilities until the white-collar destroyers descended. All RIT and Wilmorite (and COMIDA) needed to do was nothing – that is, to leave the site alone. But they just had to get their hands dirty.