This section provides examples of zoning policies, permitting processes, and incentives that are facilitating innovation and creativity and creating conditions for the arts and culture sector to thrive.

Zoning provisions that incentivize arts and cultural uses

Zoning provisions can enable the inclusion of arts and cultural uses and cultural facilities in smart growth locations.

In Lowell, Massachusetts, where the city seal bears the inscription “Art is the Handmaid of Human Good,” the city adopted provisions in Article IX, Section 9.2 of the Zoning Ordinance that defines the Artist Overlay District (AOD) in the downtown, which aims to encourage artist live/work space (City of Lowell, 2004; City of Lowell, 2016). The AOD provides density bonuses to developments in the downtown district as a developer incentive for the provision of artist live/work space; however, the adaptive reuse of a building or structure for such uses requires a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The City of Somerville, Massachusetts produced a 2009 zoning handbook for citizens, businesses, and city agencies that documented the efforts of the Somerville Arts Council and the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development. As of June 2016, the Somerville zoning code is undergoing an overhaul and the draft zoning includes several provisions that pertain to arts and cultural uses. The provisions include: a density bonus for artist housing in an article pertaining to community benefits for inclusionary housing (i.e., inclusion of affordable housing in residential developments of a certain size); creation of a new fabrication district that will accommodate a range of building types and mix of uses supporting the local arts & creative economy; and revisions to the zoning pertaining to the Brickbottom District, to facilitate a diverse mix of uses including fabrication, production, performing arts, and other non-arts commercial (e.g., office and research and development) and residential uses. Also, see the case study on Metro Nashville Arts Commission?s work on the passage of Artisan Manufacturing Zoning Ordinance.

Tax credits and tax incentives for arts and cultural districts

Arts and cultural districts can be defined in zoning in the absence of state legislation and programs guiding their certification or designation. Incentives can also be offered to promote adaptive reuse of structures for cultural facilities within designated districts.

State, regional, and local cultural district programs are supported through a variety of tax incentives that may be implemented at the city, town, county, or state levels. This includes exemptions and credits offered to creative sole proprietors and creative industries operating within a district. Examples of the types of incentives offered to established cultural districts include:

  • Sales tax credits or exemptions for goods produced or sold within the district.
  • Property tax credits or exemptions for qualified renovations or construction.
  • Income tax credits or exemptions for artists living and working within the district.
  • Preservation tax credits for historic property renovations and rehabilitation.
  • Amusement/Admission tax waivers for events within the District.
  • Eligibility for special loan funds.

The city of Providence, Rhode Island has pioneered innovative tax incentives for arts districts. City staffers, artists, and private developers have also worked together to reclaim underutilized space for artist spaces. Artists living in the ten designated arts districts have the sales tax waived on purchases of their original artwork and pay no state income tax on income from their art. The City’s planning department also provides below-market loans and technical assistance for the acquisition of spaces for artist studios and live/work space.

See the Cultural Districts page for information on the Massachusetts Cultural Districts Designation Program.

Zoning regulations and programs in support of artist housing

Chapter 575, Article V of the City of Peekskill, New York’s Zoning Code includes language in its C-2 Central Commercial District that permits the inclusion of accessory living spaces to individuals certified as artists. Chapter 169 of the Zoning Code, which was adopted in 2000 and amended in 2008, also created an Artist Loft Program, which is managed by the Department of Planning and Development (City of Peekskill, 2000). The program has helped to spur the revitalization of what was once a largely vacant downtown (Borrup, 2006).

Zoning language that defines and promotes the inclusion of cultural facilities in smart growth locations

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) produced a toolkit on arts and cultural planning that prompts municipalities to consider the needs of arts disciplines and industries and to consider including use definitions and provisions that can support the sector. CMAP has developed sample definitions of arts and cultural uses that can be include in the list of terms and definitions in zoning ordinances and bylaws. CMAP also recommends two regulatory tools: 1) adaptive reuse provisions that can incentivize the reuse and partial redevelopment of underutilized structures for arts and cultural uses, and 2) arts districts, which can be integrated as an overlay district or as a part of base zoning; CMAP provides a checklist of important components to consider when developing the provisions rather than a template, as such zoning is not one size fits all (2014).

Reviews of zoning regulations and permitting processes to remove barriers to the inclusion of arts and cultural uses and facilities

Arts and culture in the built environment is regulated in zoning code through several ways: by-right zoning, overlay zoning, and a series of permits and relevant documentation that comprise the menu of approvals needed for temporary and permanent arts and cultural activities and public art to happen. A thorough review and assessment on zoning regulations and permitting processes allows jurisdictions to identify various opportunities to remove barriers that may prohibit certain types of arts and cultural uses from locating in appropriate zoning districts. For instance, the institution of certain standards and requests for informational documents that accompany the submission of permit requests for temporary or permanent public art installations and activities may streamline the review and approval process. The CMAP Arts and Culture Toolkit (2014) recommends that jurisdictions consider asking artists to submit impact management plans and/or operations plans prior to the release of permits for events and activities as one measure for ensuring that the proposed activities do not generate adverse impacts on the built environment as well as businesses and residents. However, the CMAP Toolkit provides no examples of such plans in action and their efficacy in reducing burdens on both artists and government and streamlining approval processes (2014).

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