Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Safety, security concerns persist at Peekskill Plaza

Courtyard of the 901-903 Peekskill Plaza complex on Main Street. (Photo by Regina Clarkin)

“I don’t want to have to move, I really don’t. I love my apartment.” – A Peekskill Plaza resident, speaking to the Herald this week.

Three weeks after a story in the Peekskill Herald reported on crime in a downtown Peekskill apartment building committed by homeless trespassers, including allegations of drug dealing and prostitution, new security measures have been added but some residents are still living in fear for their safety.

And, the Herald has learned that Peekskill Police average nearly one call a day to Peekskill Plaza, at 901 Main St., constantly investigating reports of unwanted people, suspicious activity, disputes, harassment and disorderly groups.

At the same time, the owner of the building is planning on selling the property to another group that intends to keep operating the site as subsidized affordable housing.

Focus on the unsafe conditions at Peekskill Plaza has drawn the attention of both City of Peekskill officials and the Peekskill Industrial Development Agency (PIDA). The PIDA helped the building owner win extremely favorable property tax reductions on the building beginning in 2005, saving the owners hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes that would have been paid to Peekskill, Westchester County and the Peekskill City School District.

Residents speak out at Common Council meeting

Frustrated by the building management’s lack of response to their complaints, residents of Peekskill Plaza went to the May 13 Common Council meeting and told the Council members of the dangerous conditions in the building.

“Our apartment building is overrun with drug addicts, prostitutes, homeless people, and drug dealers. I went to visit my neighbor downstairs – two days in a row, and saw used condoms on the floor,” a resident said at the public comment portion of the meeting.

Another spoke of her concern about constant intruders. “I shouldn’t have to be in fear of people coming in behind me. I’m not going to be able to stop a six-foot tall man.” Trespassers stealing packages and demanding money for them were also recounted.

The building’s superintendent spoke out about the deteriorating conditions. “We are having problems with the drug addicts and the homeless in the complex. Whenever we try to fix that gate – it lasts like maybe two days, they just break it. People are just nervous and upset.” The superintendent held up his hands, saying they were damaged because he had to fight with trespassers.

Call reports provided to the Herald by the Peekskill Police Department detail the constant response the department sends to reports of crime in the building.

Peekskill Plaza apartments on Main Street. (Photo by Regina Clarkin)

From January 1 of this year to April 30, police have responded to 108 complaints at 901 Main St. Many of the calls involve investigations of suspicious activity and “special checks” when an officer checks a specific location for any violations of the law they may observe.

Other police calls were in response to reports of disputes, assaults, larceny, unwanted parties in the building, emotionally disturbed persons, medical issues, domestic disputes and “person down.”

Security guards, cameras finally installed after story

Two weeks after residents spoke out and following the Herald’s story, ownership of the building held a community meeting for the tenants at 901 Main St.

The May 28 meeting was chaired by an official from Marathon Development Group, the owner’s management arm, an administrative assistant, and Chris Gross, Peekskill’s Department of Public Works chief, according to a resident who attended the meeting. Also attending the meeting were Peekskill Police Chief Leo Dylewski and City Manager Matt Alexander.

Given the chance to address management face-to-face, some tenants mentioned the ongoing security issues. Others registered complaints about their individual apartments involving kitchen leaks, painting, vermin and other maintenance issues.

In response to the complaints, security guards were hired by Marathon to patrol the building for limited times during a 24-hour period. Several security cameras were added to the garage entrance area and other places in the complex allowing guards to observe intruders.

Speaking to the Herald this week, a resident thanked the news outlet for publicizing their situation. “Okay, so after you printed the article, they’ve installed numerous security cameras. They’re running around like crazy and they spent a lot of money. There’s no doubt. We have a security guard. And if it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t be getting help,” the resident said.

But the new security staff is limited and unable to handle all the intruders who still persist in the building. They can’t watch the cameras constantly because they are conducting limited patrols in the complex, supporting residents, and even escorting some guests to apartments.

According to one resident, some intruders are learning when the security people are on-duty and entering the building illegally when the guards are not there.

Residents told the Herald that someone has made illegal duplicate keys and sold them, helping some of the intruders gain access to the building.

The management representative at the community meeting said the building will be changing over to a “pod” security system involving fobs to open doors. The current system gives each resident a master key that opens the garage and both side doors.

View of Peekskill Plaza complex from Central Avenue. (Photo by Regina Clarkin)

City Manager Matt Alexander told the Herald this week that he, “the Chief of Police and a representative from Code Enforcement joined Courtyard management for the tenant meeting. After meeting with the management company to discuss our concerns, we have found that Courtyard has responded quickly with some impressive fixes. Their addition of security, seven days a week has been a solid first step. Secondly, they stated that they are working on other infrastructure related security issues. And they met with and answered tenants’ questions in the first tenant meetings held. The city has offered to work with the management company and the security team to support them when needed. The city will continue to meet with the management company monthly to stay on top of tenant issues and concerns,” said Alexander.

IDA provides tax breaks, has oversight options

Peekskill Plaza is a 168-apartment complex consisting of a seven-story, high-rise brick building and three two-story garden apartment style buildings, with a courtyard in the center.

The building is owned by Courtyard Housing L.P., a limited partnership based at 1155 Northern Blvd. in Manhasset, N.Y.

Courtyard bought the property in 2005 with substantial financial assistance from the Peekskill IDA. Municipal IDAs in New York state can provide access to tax-exempt bonds and substantial property tax breaks to spur economic development.

In this case, the Peekskill IDA issued $12 million in housing revenue bonds to help Courtyard purchase the property. [The IDA does not hold the bonds or risk any losses if the bonds are defaulted. The agency generates fees for itself through the bond issuance.]

Courtyard also got a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes), issued by the IDA and ratified by the Common Council, that extends out for 40 years, expiring in 2046.

According to documents from the IDA, in 2022 Courtyard paid a total of $98,817 for the PILOT ($7,318 to Westchester County, $41,273 to the City of Peekskill and $50,226 to the Peekskill City School District).

However, the document seems to indicate that without the PILOT the actual tax would have totaled $602,042.19, creating a net exemption of $503,225.19. The school district would have received an additional $379,525.10, the county $67,88077 and the city $154,636.31.

The Herald made several attempts to confirm the figures in the IDA document regarding the PILOT. The city assessor said he did not know the figures and referred the Herald to city comptroller Toni Tracy who did not respond to two emails.

At the IDA’s June 3 board meeting, member Alan Kravitz referred the other board members to the original Peekskill Herald article of May 15 to make them aware of the problems at Peekskill Plaza. “It is a news article that took a property in which we have a PILOT and spoke about terrible conditions that were within the building. This is about trying to correct a situation.”

Members of Peekskill’s Industrial Development Agency at Tuesday’s meeting where they discussed the concerns of Peekskill Plaza.

 The attorney for the IDA told the members at the board meeting that he spoke with the lawyer for Courtyard and Mark Soja, of Courtyard and that they seem to be addressing the issues raised in the Herald article.

Justin Miller of Harris Beach, the IDA’s outside counsel, said if Courtyard failed to remedy any citations or violations that might be issued from Peekskill, the IDA would have recourse if Courtyard seeks to transfer the PILOT to new owners.

“I told them [the owners] one issue certainly affects the other so it’s certainly in their best interest to make sure that any issues at the facility are addressed quickly so the IDA remains a receptive agency to talk to in the near future,” Miller said.

Soja of Courtyard Housing L.P. did not return a phone message from the Herald requesting comment.



About the Contributors
 Jim Roberts
Jim Roberts has been in this business for more than 35 years (hard to believe) and still learning every day. A third-generation Peekskill resident, he started as a lowly researcher at the Westchester Business Journal in 1986 and learned how to be a reporter from many veterans in the field. He’s worked in private companies, Connecticut state government and wrote for the Co-op City Times for 10 years before retiring from full-time work in 2019. Roberts wants to contribute to building the Herald into a news website for residents who care about what’s happening in Peekskill.
Sinduja Srinivasan

Sinduja is Senior Editor for the Herald. In April 2020, Sinduja and her husband visited Peekskill on a whim; they fell in love with the city and two weeks later were in contract for a house. She plans to be in Peekskill for the long haul, but her journey to our friendly city was quite saltatory. She studied and worked in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Bangalore, India, and London, England, before moving to Los Angeles, California for her Ph.D. in Policy Analysis. Sinduja then worked as an economist for the United Nations in Santiago, Chile. With UN News, she started the podcast UNcomplicated, which distilled the behemoth bureaucracy into conversations that conveyed how the UN is relevant for everyone. She became a full-time podcaster, joining a science podcast on the day that the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 pandemic. She knits while watching the Peekskill Common Council meetings.

Jeffrey Merchan
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.