Research: Planning in Poughkeepsie
Through a grant from the Dyson Foundation and funding from the Empire State Development Cooperation, the Pace Land Use Law Center is helping revitalize downtown Poughkeepsie.
Over the years, the Land Use Law Center at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law has hosted several "Mayor’s Redevelopment Roundtable" events, with the aim of bringing together city officials to discuss important development and sustainability issues in the Hudson Valley region. It was at one of these roundtables that Pace began working directly with the City of Poughkeepsie.
“During a rountable focused on distressed property remdiation, the mayor of Poughkeepsie became interested in working with the Center to tackle similar issues that the City was being faced with,” says Tiffany Zezula, deputy director at the Land Use Law Center. “The City's vacant and abandoned properties were vulnerable to criminal activity and many of the city's vacant properties had experienced arson, vandalism, squatters, and other illegal activities. This resulted in increased costs for Poughkeepsie in the form of fire, public works, and police services."
Recognizing that they had the ability to help with this problem, the Land Use Law Center applied to the Dyson Foundation, with the hopes of providing technical assistance to find strategies to combat the city’s vacancy problem and enhance Poughkeepsie's distressed properties regulatory program.
The Center received a grant, and the process to revitalize Poughkeepsie began. To start, the Land Use Law Center brought students and staff from the Law School to the city, to get a better sense of the number of distressed properties, and to figure out what the best mode of approach might be.
“After doing a full assessment, we realized that the major concentration of vacant and abandoned buildings was in the city center core,” says Zezula. “We came up with a strategy called the City Center Revitalization Plan which would later grow into a Main Street Economic Development Strategy—which included six strategies for revitalizing Poughkeepsie through coordinated investments along its Main Street corridor from the waterfront to Arlington. The purpose of these strategies was to improve the quality of life for all residents, repair the city’s urban fabric, and enhance economic opportunity. By reasserting the Main Street corridor as the region’s primary mixed-used urban corridor, our hope is to reposition downtown Poughkeepsie as a robust economic center and channel new regional land use development to parcels that are walkable and transit-oriented.”
The Center suggested a dedicated bus service line on Main Street to improve public access to stores and restaurants, enhance access to public transit networks, and promote a more active street life. They also looked looked at another major street, Market Street, and advocated for making it a “complete street,” which is an approach in design and planning that enables the street to provide easy travel for all pedestrians, regardless of mode of transportation.
“You’re integrating a pedestrian experience into the circulation system of the city. You’re putting in design features like curb extensions, planters, and bicycle paths, so that more people can enjoy different ways of using a major street leading into downtown.”
Zezula notes that many of these actions are currently being tested in Poughkeepsie.
In addition, the Land Use Law Center is working on updating the City's zoning code. This is the major legal piece of the planning initiative, which will ultimately advance the possibility for sustainable urban infill development.
“The rezoning would ensure that land in this area is redeveloped to its highest and best use, maximizing not only the walkability of the downtown but also ensuring the greatest level of fiscal productivity,” says Zezula. “One of the major goals for the zoning code is to create a transit-oriented downtown, including enabling high density mixed-used development and ensuring that vacant lots are developed to their fullest extent. This also includes incentivizing the creation of mixed income affordable housing for current and future residents."
Zezula notes that one of the most important factors in potential rezoning and redevelopment, particularly in a city like Poughkeepsie, which was chartered more than 160 years ago, is community engagement and support.
“Much of the Center’s work has been accompanied by various public engagement efforts, making sure that local residents are part of the conversation regarding the redevelopment of the downtown. This includes giving everyone the same understanding and education on the various issues, connections, and possible solutions involved in the redevelopment. We’re trying to develop a community-based plan, not something that drives people out.”
Through connecting all of these pieces, the Land Use Law Center ultimately hopes to help instill increased fiscal productivity, create job opportunities, and generate cultural vibrancy in the downtown—thus enabling Poughkeepsie to thrive not just in the immediate future, but in the decades to come.
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