Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Public weighs in on N. Division St. project

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The scene inside Council Chambers Monday night before a public hearing. (Photo by Calvin Lom)

The five-story residential and retail building proposed for the corner of North Division and Howard streets was on the Common Council’s agenda for the fourth time in a year and a half during Monday’s public hearing where residents were overwhelmingly in favor of James Guerriero’s proposal.  They noted the likely benefits of increased diversity, tax revenues, economic activity, and downtown foot traffic. 

The Planning Commission reviewed the 201 N. Division Street proposal on February 14, and gave its positive recommendations to the Common Council. Monday’s hearing was a chance for the public to weigh in on the proposed development that has been revamped since it was first presented in September of 2022. 

City Manager Matthew Alexander was absent due to his father’s death. Councilman Dwight Douglas was absent from the meeting.

Public Hearing: 201 N. Division Street 

At the beginning of the hearing, Planning Director Carol Samol provided the council and audience a brief overview of the project. 

The 201 North Division Street proposal is for a five-story mixed-use building at the corner of Howard Street and North Division Street, which will include 125 apartments, 13 of which will be affordable and workforce housing units. Also part of this project is a 5,285 square foot ground floor commercial space. Updated renderings by Peekskill architect Joseph Thompson were shown to the council last December.

Rendering of the proposed building on the corner of Howard and N. Division Street.

This project requires site plan approval from the Planning Commission and a special use permit and bonus height determination from the Common Council. Guerriero is seeking parking waivers from the Planning Commision, for 22 residential spaces due to a potential jitney service to the train station, provision of eleven new on-street spaces, and the project being 500 feet from the James Street parking garage. As of August 2023, that garage had 184 permit parking spaces available. Off-street parking would be provided as well, at the rate of just over 1.0 space per residential unit where 1.25 spaces per unit are required.

For the granting of one story of bonus height, Guerriero is proposing to provide vegetation on site and on the roof and equipping five percent of the required parking spaces with electric vehicle charging stations. (Note: bonus height may be granted by the Common Council in exchange for amenities.)

City staff are currently awaiting a traffic study for this project. Samol stated that the Planning Department anticipates that any potential problems that might arise will not be unusual and will be solvable. 

Public comments on the project

The first audience member to take the podium and address the council in favor of this project was Conor Greene, co-founder of Peekskill Walks. 

“As someone who cares about the long-term success and health of Peekskill, I urge you to approve the special permit. I say this as a homeowner and on behalf of Peekskill Walks, whose mission includes safety, accessibility, strong healthy neighborhoods, and a vibrant downtown – all things this project helps advance. There are so many benefits to this proposal that we cannot miss out on. More housing, a large increase in tax revenue, jobs, foot traffic – something the downtown desperately needs, infrastructure, economic activity, more neighbors to contribute to our great community, safety upgrades on Howard. Having sat on the DRI committee, it’s clear that this is consistent with those goals,” said Greene.

“A one to one parking ratio, in line with what your experts in the planning department and on to commission, is absolutely reasonable. It’s a balance between needing cars and not saturating our streets with cars. Our downtown is already unique, a walkable place where you can take care of many daily errands on foot. People already live car-lite and car-free and people moving to this building can do the same. We need to plan for the city we want in 10 years and in this case it’s realistic and achievable. Our relative density, our walkability, and our downtown are some of our greatest amenities and advantages.” he added.

Greene’s wife Liz also spoke, on behalf of another resident who was unable to attend. (As emailed or mailed comments are no longer read out loud, some audience members decided to read comments from others who were unable to attend the public hearing.)

Frederick Dennstedt, of Ringgold Street, told the council why he’s in favor of this project,  “I support smart mixed-use development just like this proposal – to increase housing supply to fight our ever increasing housing costs due to high demand and to bring better land use to low productivity parcels, and to increase tax revenue and improve infrastructure, walkability, and to increase the density and diversity of our town so we can have more friendly neighbors to support our small businesses and bring their own creative talents to our friendly town.”

Dennstedt emphasized the need for more development. “201 North Division is nowhere near enough, but it’s a great start.”

Dennstedt noted that, according to his own calculations, since 2010 Peekskill has added “480 housing units 43 percent of these have been subsidized affordable”. He continued, citing the Westchester Housing Needs Assessment: “In comparison, 1,511 new units were added in the 20 years prior to that. 480 housing units in 14 years is nowhere near enough to keep up with the demand. In a recent article in the Peekskill Herald, our city manager was quoted as saying that in recent years the city has seen a population growth of five percent year over year. According to the website Data USA, this is true for the years 2020 to 2021. That’s over 1,600 new residents in a single year. It’s no wonder rent and home prices are dramatically rising.”

Pullquote Photo

“Across the street from this project is the half a million dollar Pugsley Park revitalization. It would be antithetical to the DRI vision and goals if we left the parcel right across the street unrevitalized while we revitalize the park.”

— Frederick Dennstedt

A few residents spoke of this project’s potential, others went as far as stating that developments and the city’s potential were factors in their decision to move to Peekskill. “When my wife and I decided to plant roots here – raise our family with our two young children, we didn’t just see what Peekskill is and was with its rich history, diversity, community but also what it can be, building off of such a strong legacy and community to grow even furthur,” said resident Michael Trapani of Summit Avenue. 

Steve Kollias of N. James Street said he was opposed to this project unless specific terms were met. “I like the project that is being developed. I ask that the Mayor and City Council actually not support the permit at 201 North Division Street, only if the developer meets two requirements should you approve the special permit. One, if they provide adequate number of spaces and two, if the developer includes more affordable housing units.” The city passed a law in January 2022 mandating developers set aside ten percent of total units for affordable or workforce housing.  

Brian Orsi, owner of Bucko! on South Division Street, addressed statements and concerns made by residents that he deemed were not true. “What we all understand is affordable units are income restricted units. Those are good. Those are great things. Those help people on lower incomes move into and stay into communities. They do not make communities more affordable across the board,” said Orsi. “People are being displaced right now. There are people whose families have been here for generations, who don’t live here anymore because they can’t afford it. And five more percent affordable units aren’t going to save these people.”

He added, “This project will help Peekskill. We need to build up the downtown. We need 30 more of these buildings. If you really care about people who have been in this community for a long time, we need to build more of these buildings to keep them here.”

Hudson Avenue resident Branwen MacDonald, who is president of the Board of Education,  expressed her support for this project while providing advice and questions for the council. “I share my neighbors’ belief that housing and development in that spot will be beneficial. My general caution in all development proposals is that the council, city manager, and zoning and planning boards, need to be the voice of current and future Peekskill residents so they can keep this city as wonderful place to live as possible. The developers, sincere a partner as they may be, have to have their goals oriented towards maximum profits, as it should be for any business. So we need to bring our needs to the table and come to an agreement that benefits all the parties involved.”

She asked if the water systems, sanitation systems, and roads will be able to handle this project without being an added burden. 

(The environmental assessment form, submitted by Guerriero to the city in January, noted that the current water and sanitation systems are equipped to support any additional demand. Further, at the January 16 council meeting, Superintendent of Water & Sewer David Rambo noted with a new development, residents worry that “they’re really going to tax our water system”. But he said that the city has “8 million gallons of water that we can produce,” and that toilets today use about 75 percent less water than in 1985.)

Mary Foster of Hudson Avenue, former Mayor of Peekskill, spoke in support of the project but also added to what MacDonald stated previously. Foster said that since a traffic study is underway, this may be a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to visit the intersection of Main Street and Division Street to eliminate the no left turn for cars heading east or west on Main Street. “If we’re going to put housing and retail a block up, not having a left turn from Main Street is probably going to drive the rest of the other residential neighborhoods crazy with unnecessary traffic.” She suggested that the intersection of Main Street and North Division Street be a part of the traffic study. 

The intersection of Main and Division streets, also known as Busy Corner, looking west. Construction work on the sidewalk was completed this summer. (Google image photo)

Cortlandt resident Michael Morey who has a piece of property on Orchard Street, in the neighborhood of the proposed development,  also spoke in support of the project, but asked the council to take into consideration Howard Street parking as parishioners of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church use it for Sunday service.

When Tina Volz-Bongar stood before the council, she took issue with the city not doing a comprehensive plan. She added that public transportation and the different groups of people who will be affected by this should be prioritized.

(In 2022, Peekskill received a $90,000 grant from New York State to support development of a new comprehensive plan. The city hopes to start developing a new comprehensive plan this year. Peekskill’s comprehensive plan has not been updated for decades.)

Many residents sent in or emailed comments. City Clerk Cassandra Redd informed council members that 10 comments emailed for the public hearing will be entered into the public record. That was in addition to the 16 people speaking in person and one resident on Zoom. 

After the public hearing came to an end, Mayor McKenzie thanked audience members for coming out and commenting during the public hearing, while also keeping their comments respectful. She stated that the comments received will go back to the Planning Department and city staff will have a discussion. The next step is for the Common Council to issue a special permit for the development. 

Professional Service Contracting of Pam Sgroi

During the passing of agenda items, the Common Council unanimously passed a resolution for the city to enter into a professional and technical services agreement with retired Peekskill Officer Pamela Sgroi. The Police Department requested the hiring of Sgroi to help with two major issues they are having: The need to train the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) and to help alleviate the overflow of requests for Discovery Evidence by the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office. 

A memo provided by the Chief of Police reads, “When it comes to training, there is no other person who would be able to train the CCRB for this task. She [Sgroi] is open minded and sensitive to the community’s needs. She is respected by her fellow Officers and the Community as a whole. Pam has almost 15 years of training experience. Training the Civilian Complaint Review Board is a task that needs to be done by an accomplished person. At the moment, the PD does not have anyone who has the training to take over this task.”

Officer Pam on her retirement day. Peekskill police Instagram photo

CCRB training will consist of 40 hours and will be conducted based on the availability of CCRB members.

Before her retirement, Sgroi was in charge of Discovery Evidence and in his memo, Chief Dylewski states, “Having her come to assist with this task for the short term would help immensely. It would give us an opportunity to catch up as well as give us some breathing room until we have adequate staffing in place.”

This temporary hiring was originally priced at $60,000 for a year but after discussion between the Chief and council members the amount was brought down to at most $35,000 for 2024. Dylewski states in his memo, it is the department’s intention to reevaluate the need for Sgroi in 3 months and determine if her services are still needed.

Black History Month Recognitions

Six individuals received recognitions from the City of Peekskill  in honor of Black History Month at the beginning of the Common Council meeting. The recipients were Lisa Alexander, Ted Bitter, Dr. Margie Daniels, LaRon Getter, Mark Godbee, and Edward “Pete” Peterson. 

 

About the Contributor
Peekskill native Jeffrey Merchan is a 2022 graduate of Peekskill High School. He is the Collegiate Journalist at Peekskill Herald, funded by a grant from the DJ McManus Foundation. He is currently enrolled at Westchester Community College where he is studying journalism. As the inaugural recipient of the McManus grant, he will be covering city government, schools and feature stories with a focus on Peekskill’s growing Hispanic community.