PUTNAM POSTING: Rethinking Regulations Could Spur Organic Growth in Putnam County

Jennifer Maher | February 17, 2021

Jennifer Maher

This devastating pandemic has resulted in so many lives lost, others negatively impacted, and businesses have taken a wallop. Landlords are struggling to fill spaces being left empty by businesses closing their doors. Each day yet another business announces that they are closing due to COVID-19.

Life will go on despite the terrible heartbreak, physical and emotional toll. New businesses will emerge and a “new” normal will emerge. However, we have seen that to thrive post-COVID, there is a need to shift. Municipalities must rethink antiquated zoning codes that are designed for big box retail, in order to thrive and preserve vibrant main streets. Entrepreneurs are begging for small scale retail opportunities, while residents desperately seek amenities. People want to play, shop, get quality health care and find employment within close proximity of their home in an affordable, accessible manner. It’s becoming increasingly clear that municipalities who can deliver the above are the ones who will enjoy a competitive edge as we emerge from the pandemic-induced economic crisis.

Mixed-use zoning is a viable solution for our hamlets. Kids once grew up in Carmel and walked around after school, visiting the variety of family-owned and operated stores and restaurants. What a magical time. I have even considered making an apartment in the 6,000 square feet that my real estate company and my husband’s law office occupy. A post-COVID world is inviting much contemplation of different models for life and work and many are retro in the ways of zoning.

On every “Main Street,” even if the proprietor doesn’t live in the residential space, having other dwellers in the commercial corridors supported by proper zoning enforcement (to ensure ample parking, etc.) creates a beneficial and affordable, mutually-supportive ethos. Why are we afraid of affordable housing? It’s not a symbol of class differences; it’s a lifestyle that many have adapted to, opting for travel or expensive hobbies instead of high housing costs.

Putnam County has so many corridors that are struggling because, with the exception of the villages of Cold Spring and Brewster, they do not have what Main Street needs to survive—residents with money to spend.

With so many businesses closing and job losses, wouldn’t homeowners have more opportunities for careers if they could start a business out of their home in a residential neighborhood? Wouldn’t encouraging this boost our own economy? When one starts considering commercial space into their budgets on top of housing costs, many just can’t afford to get started.

It’s time to rethink what needs to be regulated and what we can allow to organically grow in our beautiful county. I am not talking about allowing industrial use in residential areas, I am talking about low-impact, mom and pop, homeowner-driven businesses that could strengthen the social and economic fabric of our neighborhoods. Just food for thought. Please email me jenn@jennifermaher.com, I’d love to hear your input!

Jennifer Maher
Jennifer Maher is chairwoman, the Putnam County Business Council and currently serves as the president of the Putnam/Westchester Chapter of the New York State Commercial Association of Realtors. She is also the Chief Operating Officer, Managing Broker and Partner of J. Philip Real Estate.