Looking to create a “24/7” downtown environment, business owners in the Peekskill Business Improvement District have asked city officials to reform residential zoning to add a mix of white-collar professionals and other potential tenants to Peekskill’s downtown artists district.
BID officers, in a policy memorandum presented this month to Peekskill’s mayor and Common Council, said their proposal does not seek to replace the city’s Art Spaces program, which has promoted the development of artist live-work spaces and galleries, restaurants and entertainment venues in a once blighted downtown that was more avoided than visited by retail customers.
“We realize the artists live-work program has been a success,” said John Sharp, Peekskill BID president and owner of two downtown bar and restaurant businesses, Gleason’s and Birdsall House. “Our goal is to build upon its success and find ways to promote more investment and development downtown.”
BID board members in their memo wrote, “We believe that the most important step towards fostering a ‘24/7’ environment is to increase the total number and economic diversity of residents living downtown, creating a sustainable base for supporting current local businesses, attracting new businesses and continuing the revitalization of downtown.”
To achieve that, the board members recommended the city adopt a proportional housing strategy that would allow existing and new building owners to divide their residential units between live-work lofts available to artists only and units open to all residents. The new model would reduce the city’s regulatory burden in restricting downtown occupancy to certified artists, increase the possibility of new residential developments by opening the potential tenant pool and make it easier to market housing
BID officers said the new zoning policy should be similar to affordable housing policies adopted by other municipalities by requiring owners of buildings with a greater number of housing units to reserve a lower proportion of units as artist live-work spaces.
“This will provide an incentive for housing expansion within existing downtown buildings and reduce a major barrier to new housing development projects on vacant downtown parcels,” city officials were told.
The BID board recommend this proportional housing allotment for downtown buildings:
• Up to four total units: 50 percent artist, 50 percent open.
• Five to eight units: 25 percent artist, 75 percent open.
• Nine or more units: 10 percent artist, 90 percent open.
Under the proposed zoning changes, a current building owner with four apartments occupied by artist live-work tenants, for example, would not be required to change his or her tenant mix. If two of the units became vacant, the owner then would have the right to market those units to potential tenants from all professions, including artists.
BID board members said “a tension” surfaced in their talks with downtown stakeholders about zoning reform. “While there is almost unanimous support for some type of reform, many people also worry about what change might bring.”
Those concerns “could greatly slow down the process of implementing downtown residential reform now,” the memo noted.
To ease those concerns, the BID board recommended the city set a five-year expiration date on proportional housing zoning, after which the policy would be reviewed. The city could then consider other options, including reverting back to the existing artists-only policy or lifting all residential restrictions.
Peekskill BID Executive Director Jason Angell in a press release said, “We think if we can increase the number of people living downtown, it will benefit us all by strengthening our local buying power, making the streets active and safe and help fill up vacant storefronts.”