Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Council members discuss special permit for 201 N. Division St. project

Con Edison dredging starts this month
Peekskill+Bay+at+sunset.+Con+Edison+begins+the+dredging+the+northern+part+of+the+bay+this+month.+
Joseph Squillante
Peekskill Bay at sunset. Con Edison begins the dredging the northern part of the bay this month.

Those following the 201 N. Division Street development project will have to wait until after the March 11 Common Council meeting to learn if a Special Permit will be issued.  In the follow-up to the Feb. 26 public hearing on James Guerriero’s proposed 125-unit development.  Planning Director Carol Samol provided the council with a report detailing findings and recommendations. There will not be a resolution regarding the Special Permit for this project at the March 11 council meeting.

Based on Samol’s recommendation, the council will wait for traffic study results. The council requested that Guerriero provide additional information related to the types of units available in the building, parking availability, and vegetation on the property. Guerriero first presented this project to the council in September 2022. At the Feb. 26 public hearing, residents indicated their enthusiasm for this project.  

The council intends to move quickly to support applications for the eighth round of the Restore New York Communities Initiative Grant Program.  In 2022, as part of the sixth round, the Cosmo’s Fresh Market project (630 Washington Street) received  $2 million. With only until March 25, 2024 to submit a letter of intent for the grant, city staff are currently working around the clock to secure a project for their application. To meet the deadline, the council may review applications on March 11, or will hold a special meeting if necessary on March 18.

The council also heard updates related to Con Edison’s remediation dredging in Peekskill Bay, a New York State Archives Grant Application, Aid and Incentive for Municipalities (AIM) funding, and a voluntary life insurance benefit for city staff.

Mayor Vivian McKenzie and Corporation Counsel Michael Hartman joined the meeting virtually. 

Restore NY Grant RFP 

Economic Development Specialist Matthew Rudikoff spoke to the Common Council about Round 8 of the Restore New York Communities Initiative Grant Program. The round was launched on Thursday, Feb. 22;  $60 million is available for municipal projects. The maximum amount that Peekskill could receive is $2 million.

According to the Empire State Development (ESD) website, the Restore NY grant provides municipalities with financial assistance for the revitalization of commercial and residential properties. The program encourages community development and neighborhood growth through the elimination or redevelopment of blighted structures. 

Two buildings on South Street in need of economic development. (Photo by Regina Clarkin)

All municipalities that apply for this grant will need to hold a public hearing to discuss the application and the property assessment list. The ESD defines the property assessment list as a list compiled by a municipality after it conducts an assessment of vacant, abandoned, surplus or condemned buildings within its jurisdiction. Based upon the assessment, each site will be described in detail, including whether the building is proposed to be demolished, deconstructed, rehabilitated, or reconstructed. 

Applications will be scored based on how they meet the goals of the Restore NY program. Although municipalities may only apply for one project, municipalities that are classified as moderately or highly distressed by the ESD, can compete for a limited number of special project awards. 

Any municipality that is granted an award will need to provide a matching contribution of ten percent.

“The issue, of course right now, is that the city can only submit one application,” said Rudikoff. He emphasized the city is on a tight schedule. (The city will need to submit a formal letter of intent by March 25,  with final applications due by May 22.)

Rudikoff told the council that city staff has put together a list of potential projects. That list includes buildings that are known to be in need of repair and reuse, and buildings that could be suitable for this program if their owners wanted to redevelop them. City personnel have sent notices to the property owners of these buildings, and the grant information is on the city’s website. Those property owners must express their interest to the city by tomorrow, Friday, March 8. The city will review all projects that show interest with the common council.

When asked if projects have to already be in the works to be considered, Rudikoff noted, “The further along the project is, the better it scores in the grants review. So for example, when we did Cosmo’s two years ago, they were far along. They had been through their planning board review. But it’s clear, we’ve spoken to the grant writer who wrote the Cosmo’s application, it does not have to be a project that is approved by the Planning Commission yet. It just has to be well packaged in a way which demonstrates that the owner has the commitment, has the control of the property and has the intent to invest the resources necessary to make this a good application.”

Since Peekskill intends to apply for Restore NY, a letter of intent must be submitted by March 25, 2024. Rudikoff hopes to have candidates for this grant by the next council meeting on March 11. (The city may submit two letters of intent for two projects, but only one will be selected for the official application.) 

A resolution authorizing the city manager to submit the notice of intent will be on the March 11 meeting agenda. Council members noted that the timeline given to city staff might be unattainable so they agreed that if the city needs more time, the city can arrange a special Common Council meeting on March 18 if necessary. 

201 N. Division St Project Update/Follow Up

The proposed five-story mixed-use building at 201 North Division Street was back for discussion at the March 4 council meeting. The developer James Guerriero is seeking a special use permit and bonus height determination from the Common Council as well as site plan approval and parking waivers from the Planning Commision. The building will include 125 apartments, 13 of which will be affordable and workforce housing units, 5,285 square feet of ground floor commercial space, on-site parking, and landscaped outdoor spaces for residents. 

Samol noted in her memo that the 201 N. Division Street project represents an important project to the city of Peekskill. The project is the largest housing development since the city enacted an  affordable housing ordinance in 2022. She added that Peekskill residents will be given preference for all of the affordable units, but that was questioned later on by Councilman Brian Fassett. “I’m not sure we’ll be able to do that. We’ve had some concern with that in the past.” said Fassett. He asked Samol to look into whether this would be feasible. 

 At the Feb. 26 public hearing 25 participants spoke or wrote emails. All but two where overwhelmingly in favor of the development. Samol stated in her memo that the two speakers were not opposed to the project but wanted to see more affordable housing and more parking. She stated that overall, the speakers addressed a range of policy issues from housing, affordability, market pressures, project financing, urban design, amenities including parking, and growth of the tax base.

RAL property on Howard Street. (Photo by Regina Clarkin)

Those in favor of the project supported redeveloping the “derelict” property, the addition of housing, the addition to the tax base, the exceptional design of the project, the “human scale” of the project, and acknowledged that the affordable housing being offered will not solve the issue for the city but is an important addition to the housing stock. (For example, when cities build more housing, that not only attracts new residents, but rents all across those cities often decrease.)

In her memo, Samol noted that the project developer has met several requirements for the special use permit and bonus height. She also noted that council may require additional information on findings and staff recommendations detailed in her memo. . They include: Pedestrian and vehicular traffic through the residential zone, traffic and circulation, off-street parking and impacts on the neighborhood, bonus height provisions, more mix of unit sizes, and additional electric vehicle charging stations.

The city is currently awaiting a traffic study for this project, which would provide information on neighborhood circulation and pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Councilman Dwight Douglas expressed his desire to look over the traffic study, stating it’s a piece of the project for which he feels the council does not have enough information. 

Samol’s memo noted that in order to grant the special permit, the council must find that the surrounding street network is able to handle the traffic generated by the project without degrading levels of service at nearby intersections or through streets.

When the off-street parking and impacts on the neighborhood were raised, Samol stated that the council could make it a condition of the special use permit that Guerriero study the on-street parking in the area to inform the Planning Commission’s decision regarding the waivers. Depending on the findings of the study, the Commission could consider imposing a parking impact fee, purchase of parking permits, and/or improvements to the James Street parking garage. Guerriero is seeking parking waivers for 22 residential spaces. 

 

The James Street parking garage at the corner of Park Street. Google Maps image

Samol also informed the council that they could consider imposing a condition to provide a better mix of unit sizes, in particular including more two-bedroom units. This item would be discussed during site plan review and before certificate of occupancy is issued. Responding to the condition may require additional approvals from the Zoning Board to waive minimal unit size to introduce larger units within the same floor area. Councilman Fassett expressed his approval of this condition stating two bedrooms could ‘invite more small families to be a part of this [project]’. Councilman Rob Scott agreed with this. “The studios and the one bedrooms, we’re not really talking families with that. So if we can get some more space to really accommodate some families, I think that would be something that we would prefer.” 

For the bonus height determination, a mixed-use residential building must qualify for at least six points to receive a bonus of 15 feet or one story in height. These items are part of the point system offered in the city’s zoning. Guerriero chose to pursue the following six points –  three points: provide exceptional vegetation and landscaping on the property and vegetate 25% of the total roof area, while maintaining maximum building coverage at 70%. In addition, three points: equipping 5% of the required number of parking spaces with electric vehicle charging stations, located within 50 feet of the main building entrance.

Samol noted the council has previously expressed concern that these items are simpler to achieve than some of the other points offered in the zoning as allowable points. She suggested the council accept these points but should ensure these items are addressed to the fullest extent that is reasonable. Councilman Scott commented on this, “I know that we feel that he could do more, but that’s what we put in the zoning. We can maybe feel he took an easy way out but that was there,” said Scott.

She added that Guerriero should submit a detailed landscaping plan and streetscape for the project including the roof. Councilman Douglas asked Samol and the planning department to look into the maintenance system for the proposed vegetation and make sure it’s adequate for different types of weather. Councilman Fassett added to this by asking to make sure there is a long term management plan for the vegetation. 

In addition, Samol suggested the council should consider imposing a condition that Guerriero will provide 5 percent of electric vehicle charging for the full amount of required parking, which is 153 spaces and not just for the parking he is hoping to provide. Furthermore, it was recommended that Guerriero consider offering at least one Type 3 charger and consider including at least one charger in the open parking lot in addition to the garage.

After Samol finished explaining the staff findings and recommendations, council members responded with  comments and questions. Councilman Scott asked if the 18 commercial parking spaces were a part of the 135 spaces proposed by Guerreiro or if it will be in addition to that number. Samol responded it will be added to that number of 135, totaling to 153. Scott followed this by asking if residents will be able to park in commercial spaces. Samol responded that the idea was previously brought up and solutions are currently being looked at. Scott noted that could be something that’s done considering after a business closes, parking will be available. 

The council agreed that only after they receive the traffic study and landscaping plan, they will act on the special permit. Meanwhile, the Planning Commission and other parts of the project will continue to move forward and more discussions will be held, said Samol. The Planning Commission is expected to start site plan review in April.

Con Edison Remediation Dredging for Peekskill Bay

Samol informed the council that Con Edison is preparing for the remediation dredging project in Peekskill Bay. Her online memo stated that the site’s former manufactured gas plant (MGP) operated from 1899 through 1931 and an electric generating plant also operated there from 1905 to 1950. After the closure of the MGP, the site operated as a gas storage station until 1966. The primary contaminant of concern is coal tar and associated compounds.

The first phase of remediation work on the upland property was completed in 2022.

Samol noted that a kick-off meeting for the remediation work in the bay would be held on March 6. Mobilization will begin in mid-March to be completed by November 2024. The Army Corps/NYSDEC Permit for the work limits activity to April 1 thru November 30.

According to Samol’s memo, the work will dredge and replace an estimated 10,000 cubic yards of contaminated material and construct an in-water fully-submerged barrier wall and testing wells to limit and monitor future contamination of the waterway. The dredged material will be removed via barge and not via trucks. Part of the removal of debris will entail the collection of sunken barge elements.

The materials dredged from the river will be transported away from Peekskill Bay by barge not trucks. (istock photo:Brandbolding)

A site-specific Health and Safety Plan and Community Air Monitoring Plan will be in place and Turbidity Monitoring will be conducted to assess conditions in the river. A Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Fact Sheet will be released in March 2024 and information will be posted on the DEC website.

Councilman Brian Fasset commented that Con Edison should put up signage on site with information about the project. “I think it’s a really important process that’s going on so the more we can let the public know, the better we’ll all be.” Samol believed that will be a part of the plan but would confirm after the March 6 meeting.

NYS Archives Grant Application

City Planner Atticus Lanigan submitted a memo stating that the city is eligible to apply for grant funding and obtain technical assistance from the New York State Archives under the Local Government Records Management Improvement Fund. This is an annual program that is offered to local governments to encourage more effective records management. The maximum grant amount is $75,000 and there is no required local match. Rudikoff presented the memo to the council.

Lanigan wrote that numerous departments in the city have physical filings that require professional review and management, and some may require enhancements to their records management system for more efficient access to and retrieval of files, and more efficient storage. She added that records retention can be made more efficient by digitizing existing and new files, and by eliminating duplicate and obsolete files. This will allow for quicker access to all records, and it will assist in responding to Freedom of Information requests.

The grant application is due on March 11.  A resolution will be prepared for the March 11, meeting that authorizes the submission of this grant application, the execution of the grant contract with the state agency and the authorization of the release of a Request for Proposals for professional records management services.

Councilwoman Kathleen Talbot commented saying this grant is important for the city. Rudikoff responded, “I agree with you about the importance of getting a certain regimen regarding those records because we know that they have been problematic in the past and they are not that well managed at this point.” 

The city is applying for a grant to digitize physical files to assist in responding to Freedom of Information requests among other things.  (iStock image:jdwfoto)

Councilwoman Talbot also asked if the city currently has a program that allows for records to be available digitally. Alexander responded, “The city has done this on a department basis. Some departments are better than other departments. This is an opportunity to work on a large pile of stuff that we have that’s across many city departments.” He added the city will have to work with each department’s needs as some departments have more intense records. 

Councilman Fassett stated this is desperately needed for the city but added that although this grant is a good start, he fears $75,000 isn’t enough.

Letter of support for an increase in AIM funding

City Manager Matthew Alexander informed the council that the city has been asked by the New York State Conference of Mayors (NYCOM) to provide a letter of support for an increase in Aid and Incentive for Municipalities (AIM) funding. New York State has not increased AIM funding in 15 years. This has made it difficult for the city to sustain rising expenses and fund essential services for residents. Spectrum news (Central New York) noted that, “Cities can use AIM funding to pay for things like supplies and wages for police officers and firefighters.”

AIM is one of the largest revenue sources for the city, but its effectiveness has dwindled over the years as inflation has increased by nearly 45 percent, according to the online memo provided by City Comptroller Toni Tracy. Tracy noted that, “If the state were to approve an increase in AIM funding it would reduce the local tax burden and help revitalize communities.”

Mayor McKenzie revealed to the council that she had signed on to a letter by NYCOM, which asked mayors for support. She added the addition of the city signing on with a letter of support would help. A resolution authorizing the submission of a letter in support of an increase in AIM funding will be on the March 11 council meeting agenda.

Professional Services Agreement with New York Life for Voluntary Life Insurance Benefit

Human Resources Manager Joanna Duncan presented the council with a voluntary life insurance benefit for city staff.

Nearly 20 percent of city full time employees said they were interested in being offered a life insurance policy. (iStock photo: eyefocusaz)

“For the past few years the HR department has been getting requests, especially from new hires, about a voluntary life insurance benefit,” said Duncan. Her online memo stated that the city recently conducted an employee survey, which revealed that 19.4 percent of full-time employees wish to have a voluntary life insurance benefit.

To address this, Duncan presented New York Life Insurance Company as an option. She told council members they can offer a voluntary life insurance benefit to city employees at no cost to the city as premiums are made entirely through payroll deductions. Council members expressed their overall approval of this request.

A resolution authorizing the city manager to execute a professional service agreement with New York Life to provide a voluntary life insurance benefit to employees will be on the agenda at the March 11 next council meetings agenda.

Liaison Reports/Concerns and Issues

During Councilman Scott’s report to the council he spoke of an idea he and Superintendent of Schools Dr. David Mauricio recently spoke about. That idea is for the city to look into a school bus camera system that would help ensure students’ safety when they disembark from  the school bus by taking pictures of license plates of cars that ignore a school bus’s stop signal. He stated that in order to do that he believes the council has to pass a law. 

“They actually did this in some of our more affluent communities and it was pretty bad. Really really bad. Like the numbers are shocking. I don’t suspect that we have that type of issue here but it might be able to put a feather in our hat to see the difference.” said Scott.

The council came to a consensus that this would be beneficial for the city, so Mayor McKenzie asked City Manager Alexander to discuss this idea with Corporation Counsel Michael Hartman, who will go over the logistics and bring it back for council review. 

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.