Looking to the Future:

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 Poughkeepsie followed its own plan. The past 4 posts, linked in the box at right, have looked at how the city envisioned itself in 1998, and graded the implementation of the 1998 Comprehensive Plan using the metrics contained within the plan. The final tally was a failing grade of 41%.

A BenCen Series
How Poughkeepsie’s

Past has Handcuffed its Future

Peer cities in the Hudson Valley have recovered from the Great Recession. Why not Poughkeepsie?

At the end of the last post I wrote that it is unfair to hold current policymakers responsible for failing to bring the comprehensive plan to fruition, nor is it fair to hold the current city leaders accountable for complying with a plan that is well past its expiration date. The solution though is not to give up. The solution is to create a new comprehensive plan to move the city forward, learning from the mistakes of the past. Residents and stakeholders need to reimagine a collective vision for the city, and a plan needs to be drawn up with realistic, actionable and measurable steps to achieve that vision.

This post will explore some of the more obvious areas that the Poughkeepsie may want to address, as well as some non-obvious things that might be included in a new comprehensive plan.

Zoning: Comprehensive planning and zoning overhauls go hand in hand.  Typically the zoning recommendations in a comprehensive plan are implemented after its adoption, and lay the groundwork for the further recommendations.  After the adoption of the 1998 plan, Poughkeepsie did not overhaul its zoning.  In the 20 intervening years, the city has incrementally changed its zoning laws, largely to create new zoning districts such as the Walkway Gateway District to address new developments in the city as they arise.  This means that current zoning is based on outdated, 1930’s concepts, and was last overhauled in 1979 to accommodate the newly created Arterial and Main Mall.  Poughkeepsie should consider looking into form-based zoning such as SmartCode.

Without the city determining a collective vision for the future, it would be presumptuous of me to make more specific recommendations. But by looking at area municipalities, such as Kingston, it’s easy to see where Poughkeepsie needs to improve:

Revitalization:  As I’ve explored in prior posts and as is common practice throughout the region, Poughkeepsie would be wise to implement an aggressive strategy to deal with vacant and abandoned properties. Options include the formation of a land bank, creating a small business incubator, creating and implementing a new strategy for the Cottage Street area, among others.

Complete Streets / Market Street: Complete Streets is a planning design concept that focuses on safe, convenient, and comfortable travel for all modes of transportation including pedestrians, cyclists, automobiles, and public transportation.  There are several options currently under consideration for Market Street including opening up two-way traffic and narrowing the one-way street to two lanes. Additionally, Poughkeepise might create more public spaces along the street and safer crosswalks.  This would demonstrate the “Complete Streets” planning concept, and go a long ways towards both beautifying and making avenues safer.

Transportation: Truck routes could be implemented to keep large trucks off of small streets. Portions of the Arterial could be made into boulevards to enhance pedestrian safety, and to reconnect neighborhoods that are separated by the Arterial. At Washington Street, for instance, the intersection could be redesigned to make it more pedestrian friendly and safer to drive on.  Traffic circles and roundabouts could be implemented (like the new roundabout on Smith Street) to increase the safety of intersections while maintaining the flow of traffic.  Though it would require the cooperation of the State, replacing the Route 9 left-hand entrance and exit “cloverleaf of doom” with a traffic circle could make that series of routes much safer and less confusing.

Other Areas: There are other areas Poughkeepsie would likely want to address:

  • Balancing public and private use of the waterfront while encouraging commercial development along with current residential development
  • Affordable housing: Creating guidelines for mixed-use residential development; establishing preferences for mixed income and subsidized housing; focusing on dispersion and density strategies

Here are a few less-obvious improvements Poughkeepsie leaders might want included in a new comprehensive plan.  Poughkeepsie could include goals for green infrastructure projects such as permeable pavement or solar electric generation on public buildings.  The city might consider resilience planning as lately it seems that 100-year floods happen every couple of years, and the city’s stormwater system is already easily overwhelmed in heavy rains, leading to flooded streets.  Portions of the electrical grid, particularly above-ground lines, are vulnerable.  Additionally the city’s water treatment plant (that provides water for the Town of Poughkeepsie as well) draws from the Hudson, and could be impacted by a hurricane similar to Hurricane Irene.

There is one particular point in the 1998 Comprehensive Plan that was not addressed and should be remedied immediately as it serves as a significant barrier to Poughkeepsie’s revitalization: the tax lien auction system. The 1998 plan states:

“The City’s Administrative Code incorporates an outdated tax forfeiture procedure that does not provide a basis for a clean title policy. The procedure interferes with the efficient disposition of properties and increases the costs and risks associated with a purchase of tax forfeit parcels. The City should consider the adoption of the statutory in rem procedure, and the compliance with procedures necessary to ensure clear title for purchasers or the transfer of tax enforcement activities to the County.”

The Benjamin Center has researched the effects of the tax lien auction system, and potential alternatives.  We released a Discussion Brief on the topic, and will be following up soon with a series of blog posts.