How the City of Poughkeepsie Flunked its Own Test (Part 1)
Twenty years ago the City of Poughkeepsie debuted a Comprehensive Plan meant to be a road map for revitalization. If you look at Poughkeepsie today you can see, broadly, how well or poorly the City followed its own plan. Look around and there are indeed pockets of vitality — but also far too little of it. To spoil the plot, Poughkeepsie veered from the plan it devised for its own rescue, and it did so comprehensively. This three-part post seeks to grade these efforts. The first will evaluate Housing, Zoning and Transportation. The second will evaluate Cultural Resources, Parks and Recreation, and Historic Resources. The third will evaluate Main Street Revitalization, the Cottage Street Business Park, and Waterfront Strategies.
At the end of the 1998 City of Poughkeepsie Comprehensive Plan there is a list of initiatives listed for each of its recommended strategies, as well as a rating of their priority. The list also indicates if the initiative is an immediate goal, a short-term goal, a mid-range goal, or a long-term goal. It has been 20 years since the plan was adopted, enough time to have some impact. So we decided to grade the city’s performance. To do this we assigned 5 points to high priority initiatives, 3 points to medium priority, and 1 point to low priority. Let’s see how the city did. (Editor’s Note: The BenCen’s entire series, How the City of Poughkeepsie Fell Short, is now live and can be explored in depth, here.)
Homesteading: The comprehensive plan suggested that the city’s better quality vacant residential properties be acquired by it and resold to attract new families and help rehabilitate older neighborhoods. Unfortunately the city’s reliance on the tax forfeiture proceedings (tax lien auctions) as noted in section 3.3.1 of the plan, and the city’s reluctance to itself take ownership of vacant properties meant that this initiative never got off the ground. 0/5 points.
Renovate/remove abandoned and boarded up houses: This continues to be an issue. Since Poughkeepsie generally does not take ownership of properties with tax liens, and typically does not acquire vacant properties, it still deals with a large vacant property problem. Though some houses are renovated and removed, Poughkeepsie’s reliance on tax lien auctions (as noted above) also precludes it from receiving settlement monies from the State Attorney General’s office to be able to fund a land bank. The result is that Poughkeepsie still struggles with a large number of vacant properties. 1/5 points.
New multi-family and student housing: Poughkeepsie has managed to add luxury condos and apartments along the waterfront, but this is not the type of development outlined in the comprehensive plan. Still, the renovation of the Lucky Platt building into apartments, the Underwear Factory project, and others have added to the housing stock of the city, and contributed to affordable housing as well. The idea of creating student housing in the city for Marist students never came to fruition. With the college’s expansion of dormitories and apartments east of Rt. 9, it seems the time for that idea has passed. 2/3 points.
Housing Recap: Poughkeepsie scored in the housing section. The city has pushed for more housing over the past two decades, but the strategies for revitalization laid out in the comprehensive plan have been hamstrung by its reliance on tax lien auctions. 3/13 points.
Clarify zones: In 1998 there were 21 different zoning districts, including 10 separate residential districts. Today there are 22 different zoning districts, including 11 separate residential districts. There have been zoning changes since 1998. In 2003 the Waterfront District was created. In 2013 the Walkway-Gateway districts were created, and in 2014 the Waterfront Transit Oriented Development District was created. Other small changes were made over the past 20 years, but Poughkeepsie’s zoning was never overhauled, and the comprehensive plan’s criticism that the zoning districts reflect land use patterns established during the 1930’s – 1960’s still largely holds true today. This is particularly perplexing since one of the primary functions of a comprehensive plan is to drive and direct the overhaul of a city’s zoning. In fact, the Common Council made several attempts to overhaul zoning over the past 20 years. Those zoning plans, fiercely debated, were never adopted. 0/5 points.
Streamline permit process: It is difficult to say how much the permitting process has been streamlined since the adoption of the comprehensive plan in 1998. The suggestion that Poughkeepsie create “pre-approved” development packages for city-owned parcels has not come to fruition, but in 2010 changes were made to the zoning board of appeals to make obtaining variances and permits easier. On this point Poughkeepsie gets the benefit of the doubt. 4/5 points.
Performance standards: The comprehensive plan recommends that a set of regulations designed to resolve land use conflicts without setting arbitrary thresholds be established. Some examples of suggested standards were requirements for attractive landscaping, screening off-street parking (to obscure it from vision), and using of buffers between residential, and commercial and industrial properties. These standards were not created. 0/5 points.
Modify parking requirements: The plan recommended easing the requirement of 1.5 spaces for a one bedroom residential unit and 2 spaces for a two-bedroom unit to conform to the Institute of Transportation Engineers standards, and applying those standards to all of the city’s parking requirements. No changes were made. 0/5 points.
Home occupations and multi-family conversions by special permit: The plan notes that the restrictions on home occupations and the permitting process for them are relatively strict, and recommends improving the permitting process. On the other side of the spectrum, the plan recommends that conversion of single-family residences to multi-family residences city-wide be subject to a special permit use as a part of a city-wide zoning code modification. Neither recommendation was implemented. 0/5 points.
Zoning Recap: The plan took a significant hit in grades for its zoning section; it scored 4/25 points. This is particularly perplexing as this was the only section of the plan where the recommendations would have required no money to implement.
Permit Parking Districts: The plan suggested that Poughkeepsie create on-street permit parking districts. The general idea was to discourage on-street parking in residential neighborhoods for nonresidents. People who did not live in the district would have to buy permits in order to park there; people who lived there would receive their parking permits when they pay their taxes. But that idea has serious class implications, pitting property owners against renters. It may disadvantage people who rent, because parking permits would be left to landlords to dole out (or retain) at their own discretion. This would also disproportionately target less well-off residents. There would be no point in creating parking permit districts in the more affluent portions of the city since they are not walkable to the commercial center of and the county office buildings. The critique remains a moot point as these districts were not created. What was implemented was metered parking along Main Street which, while generating revenue for the city, has been viewed as onerous for some business owners and has effectively reduced daytime parking for residents who live on streets with meters. 0/5 points.
Post transit routes and schedules: This recommendation clearly reflects that the comprehensive plan was adopted well before the widespread the arrival of the Internet and cell phones. It is hard to imagine not having near instant access to something as simple as a bus schedule. That being said, this was a recommendation that was adopted readily by both the city and the county. 5/5 points.
Encourage new DC Loop for elderly residents: The idea for this recommendation was to enhance the transportation options for the elderly traveling between where they live and the main mall, waterfront, and train station. This was not only implemented, but after the opening of the main mall to two-way traffic, the service was further enhanced to provide transportation to the 44 plaza shopping center, and Adams Fairacre Farms on Dutchess Turnpike. 5/5 points.
Transportation recap: The transportation recommendations in the plan were not extensive, perhaps in part because there had been an extensive recent (1997) transportation strategy study. The plan sought to compliment, not supplant it. Interestingly the plan does say in passing that efficiencies could be achieved by consolidating the city and county bus services. Last year Dutchess County took over public bus service delivery in Poughkeepsie. 10/15 points.
The City is off to a rough start. In the first three categories it scored 17/53, or 32%. In the next post Cultural Resources, Parks and Recreation, and Historic Resources will be evaluated.