PEEKSKILL, N.Y. – Peekskill leaders have worked hard in the past few years to create an artist community downtown, but the city is now considering whether to make the downtown more welcoming for non-artists as well.
Business Improvement District (BID) Executive Director Jason Angell, who was joined by BID chairperson John Sharp and member Frank Catalina Monday night, explained to common council members that changes were needed to lure business and real estate investors to the downtown and increase economic diversity.
The city's downtown C-2 district allows three kinds of residential zoning: artist live/work spaces, senior and low income subsidized housing and grandfathered open residential properties. Artist spaces must be approved by the city and fall within defined set of specifications.
The men listed five options the city could take to encourage more downtown residencies, which were compiled after talking to 18 BID stakeholders. There was concern among artists that changing the zoning would drive up housing rates and thus drive out artists, but landlords are already free to raise rent, Angell explained.
"One of the fears is that lifting restrictions will push out downtown residents whether they are artists or low income residents through gentrification," Angell said. "But with the current law there's no affordability protection for the artist live/work residents. If you're a landlord and you have a lease with a tenant and the lease is up you are free to raise the rent as much as you want."
One option would be to expand the definition of the artist district, which would widen the number of people eligible for artist live/work space and open it up to professionals with higher incomes. That option would still make it difficult to lure some groups that don't fall into the new definitions, such as teachers or doctors.
Another option would be to implement a proportional strategy that would allow building owners to split properties 50/50 to open residential and artist live/work spaces.
The city could also move to phase out downtown artist live/work restrictions over time by first allowing new units to be open residential space and then eventually lifting all restrictions, which would lead to property owners being treated unequally for a period of time.
The final two options would be to lift all restrictions or leave the law as it is now.
"Not one person said, ‘Leave it as is,’" Angell said.
The BID plans to distribute information to members and seek input in the coming weeks, and would then work with the city to implement any recommendations.
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