PITTSFIELD — A new zoning district that planners developed to help revitalize the city’s core passed the muster of a City Council subcommittee Monday.
The proposal to create the Downtown Creative District aims to encourage mixed-use development with a focus on the arts economy, and increase residential units to help address a local housing crunch. The subcommittee on Ordinance and Rules recommended the ordinance favorably back to the full City Council for approval, with councilors Nicholas Caccamo, Pete White, Earl Persip III, Patrick Kavey and Anthony Maffuccio throwing their support behind the plan.
By specifying design standards for those buildings and allowable uses according to location, City Planner C.J. Hoss said the regulations would spell out for developers the types of projects the city hopes to see downtown.
What does the city want to encourage? A more walkable and vibrant downtown core, home to businesses and housing, Hoss told The Eagle.
The proposed regulation’s purpose, according to language in ordinance, is to enhance the “vitality” of the downtown area by encouraging a mix of business uses with a focus on “arts-related development” while increasing “downtown housing opportunities,” encouraging pedestrian activity and combating urban sprawl.
“Ideally, we would like to see more residential units downtown, and more people in our downtown, because that’s good for our restaurants, good for our retail and good for our property owners,” Hoss said.
Work on the proposed district started in late 2017. Over the ensuing months, the city met and worked with stakeholders like Downtown Pittsfield Inc., as well as property and business owners, Hoss told the council subcommittee. Work on the ordinance stalled when the coronavirus pandemic hit, but it picked back up over last summer and fall.
The Downtown Creative District would extend the length of North and South streets starting around Clinton Avenue north to Tyler Street, bounded by Appleton Avenue to the east and Frances Avenue to the west.
Allowable building designs and uses would be governed by street type. For example, developers would be required to use ground-level spaces for an “active” use, such as retail, on the two “primary” roadways of North and South street, starting at West Housatonic and ending at Maplewood Avenue. The requirements differ across the remaining street categories of “secondary,” “transitional” and “residential.”
Reducing the maximum building height on primary streets to no more than six stories, but at least three, also is proposed in the ordinance, which the Community Development Board backs. Additionally, the proposed ordinance sets standards for requiring window transparency at storefronts, and requires developers to submit plans for how they will provide the required number of parking spaces, whether on-site, off-site or shared with an adjacent property owner.
The district would replace the existing Downtown Arts Overlay District, which Hoss told the council’s Committee on Ordinance and Rules has been guiding development in the area since 2004.
Because the ordinance details design and use standards, Hoss said it forms a road map for developers to pitch projects that align with the regulations, without needing a special permit.
“So you aren’t going through potentially multiple public hearings and the uncertainty that comes with whether your project will ever be approved by our boards,” he told the council subcommittee.
Downtown might become the first area of the city where development and redevelopment is governed by this type of zoning, but Hoss said similar changes might one day come to the rest of Pittsfield.
“This is something that, eventually, we would like to see replace much, if not all, of the city’s zoning,” said Hoss, speaking years after he secured a grant that funded much of the planning work for the zoning project.
“That’s a big task, though,” he added.