City considers returning cars to popular pedestrian plaza

Mayor cites parking, business complaints in plan to make closure part-time


By Regina Clarkin

Several Common Council members appeared taken by surprise during Monday night’s discussion regarding Esther Street, and the city’s recommendation to install bollards and open the street during weekdays for cars, deliveries, garbage pickup and access for emergency vehicles.  

Department of Public Works Director Chris Gross presented to the Council at its Committee of the Whole meeting the plan to install removable bollards on South Division Street and Brown Street, at the two ends of Esther Street, allowing cars, garbage trucks and emergency vehicles to access the pedestrian plaza that’s been open and car-free since 2020. 

Gross said City Manager Matt Alexander requested a plan to open and close Esther Street, much like N. Division Street is open and closed to traffic during specific times.  Gross proposed that bollards be up and the part-time street closure beginning April 30 of this year through December 31st. The schedule would have the street closed to traffic from 5 to 10 p.m. on Thursdays, 5 to 11 p.m on Fridays, 3:30 to 11 p.m on Saturdays and 12 to 10 p.m. on Sundays. 

Councilman Dwight Douglas said he was surprised to hear of this, since the Esther Street closure has been a success story, an interesting and popular place people come to, mentioning that advocates such as Peekskill Walks have been talking about de-streeting to make it a plaza.  “I had no idea to remove it as a functioning area. I’m totally at a loss as to how this came about and why there wasn’t any earlier discussion. I can understand the bollards – but I thought the intent was to permanently close the street,” he said. 

“I’m really surprised. We’ve always discussed keeping it closed and we just extended it for this year. I don’t like the idea. The New York Times mentioned it (the Esther pedestrian plaza) in their story about us,” remarked Councilman Ramon Fernandez. 

Councilman Brian Fasset admitted that he was a “bit surprised” also, and noted that the city did approve to extend the closure until the end of the year but could change that if they have to. “I would like us to study the parking on S. Division Street and add some spaces, by moving the [center] line a bit.” He also referenced that New York City has a hundred ways of closing streets, using rolling planters, etc.  “This really needs a lot more study.” 

Peekskill Walks is suggesting shifting the line closer to the west side of the street which would mean there’s room for parking on the east. Parking pictured here is illegal. Peekskill Walks is also suggesting a loading zone be created here for businesses on Esther. (Photo provided by Peekskill Walks)

Mayor Vivian McKenzie responded that she didn’t know why the Councilmembers were surprised, saying they’ve heard the police chief talk about the constant, nonstop complaints about parking. 

“The concept initially in 2020 was to have outside dining. We never said it was going to be permanent. Pedestrians want to have it permanent.  Businesses have no place to unload. Another business owner said her customers have to park in the lot by Subway and a lot of time she loses business because people go to another establishment before they get to her.  Another business doesn’t have access to their front. We’re trying to look at all aspects of this,” said McKenzie.

By installing bollards ($700 apiece) for an approximate total cost of $20,000 and opening it Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday when businesses get their deliveries and then closing the street on the weekend when it’s heavily used for pedestrians is presenting itself as a solution, the mayor explained.  

Rafaelina’s Beauty Salon, Mundos Fiesta and Bean Runner, have no other entry than their front doors. Bucko! on the other side of Esther has an entry on S. Division St. and Esther. Photo by Regina Clarkin

According to McKenzie, the complaints about the permanent closure include insufficient parking, insufficient storefront access, and illegal parking on the crosswalk along South Division Street at Brown Street. Sanitation pickup takes place at either end of the short  block, forcing businesses to move their garbage to either corner. Other reasons cited include the lack of proper delivery and loading and uploading zone for storefronts; hindrance to emergency, fire and police vehicles to the interior storefronts; and difficulty in removing snow. 

Gross said marking and locating underground utilities for bollard installation would have to occur, and Westchester County would need to sign off for bollards on S. Division Street, a county road. 

Alexander said there is more to do regarding this, such as talking to store owners and getting a better sense of what their needs are. “The main point of this request is to install bollards similar to ones at Bank and N. Division Street so they will have a similar look. We don’t know what the hours should be, but we’ll talk to the business owners. 

People enjoying an outdoor concert last summer on Esther Street. (Photo by Jim Striebich)

Drew Claxton, an owner of the Bean Runner Cafe said “We would be in favor of bollards. The closure works well in the summer, because we have created a space with tables, umbrellas, and plantings, including palm trees. But in winter, when people don’t want to be outside, and don’t want to walk too far to get to their destination, having the street closed does hurt businesses on Esther St. Having the street open from November through March would provide additional parking and easier curbside access in bad weather. The closing did remove a loading zone and we also need the ability to get deliveries and load in goods without having the police called to ticket us.” 

Sunny Cover, owner of Peekskill Coffee House, sees the community enjoying this space and she thinks it should remain closed. “I don’t see the reason for it to be opened and closed weekly. There is no safety issue that I have ever been aware of. In fact when it was open drivers would use it to try to beat the light – moving way too fast in hopes to shave a few moments.”

Regarding illegal parking, Cover said there was just as much when it was opened especially during church as they would utilize the loading zone. “If the city doesn’t want illegal parking then they should ticket the cars,” she said.  “

“We are extremely disappointed that the city is considering closing Esther Place and dismantling this incredibly popular public space. There is no question that the creation of Esther Place has been an amazing addition to our downtown and a huge success over the past three years, adding vibrancy, increasing foot-traffic, and giving people a nice, welcoming space to relax. Any issues or concerns can absolutely be addressed without ruining a great thing for everyone,” said a Peekskill Walks statement.

“Outdoor spaces shouldn’t just be for outdoor dining, they should also be available for the people of the town to just sit and relax. There are a very limited number of outdoor spaces in our city that are not already dedicated to cars. It would be a shame to close this one,” continued the statement. “There’s a reason why Esther Place won a planning award and was highlighted as the heart of our downtown by the New York Times. It just doesn’t make any sense to close this beloved public space to solve unrelated parking problems that started years before and can be addressed with better design. The city needs to recognize that the value of this space goes well beyond dining and events, and listen to the public instead of eliminating this important public space.”