Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Back and forth about residential development at edge of downtown

Public hearing for amendments to commercial zone
North Division and Howard Street, at the end of the commercial zone that is under consideration for an amendment to allow residential development.

Monday’s Common Council meeting was held in the morning at the Nutrition Center, coincidentally landing on National Senior Citizens Day. According to City Manager Matt Alexander, this annual change of location of the meeting is an effort to bring the bi-weekly Council meetings to a new audience who may be unable to attend at night, including but not limited to senior citizens of Peekskill. Due to an increase of COVID cases in New York, all attendees were required to wear masks including council members and city officials. The Common Council was unable to hold this annual meeting last year due to ongoing COVID cases. 

Common Council and city staff at the Senior Nutrition Center during Monday’s meeting.


During public comments on agenda items, Bill Schunk and Peekskill resident Jeff Lewis expressed their support for the C3 Zoning Text amendment which was the subject of a public hearing later in the meeting.

Members of the public attending the council meeting. (Photo by Jeff Merchan)


 “I have heard some concerns that large buildings will ruin the historic and quaint nature of Peekskill but this is why we have historic districts. If everywhere is a historic district, your entire city will fall behind. The country is full of ghost towns that resisted change and development. Peekskill is a city – a vibrant downtown area is the key to any city’s survival. Residential density is the key to a vibrant downtown area,” said Schunk, a principle with United Real Estate on South Street. 

After those remarks, Councilman Ramon Fernandez raised a question asking if the statements made by Schunk and Lewis would be included in the C3 Zoning Text Amendment public hearing later in the meeting. Corporation Counsel Timothy Kramer responded saying the comments would be included on the record for the public hearing. 

City Managers Quality of Life Report 

City Manager Matt Alexander gave his quality of life report to the council regarding topics discussed when the Quality of Life committee met on Friday August 18th. The committee has been working the past few weeks with complaints received by residents and issues that are evident to them.

Alexander told the council that the city continues to deal with a small number of intoxicated people in the downtown, open alcoholic containers, people sleeping in public, and littering. “Those are things the city police department has been working on. They’ve increased their presence and have been able to do more park, walk, and talks,” said Alexander.

Another point of concern discussed with the council was walkability for Peekskill residents. Alexander stated that the city and police department are working on speed enforcement at different areas in the city and are evaluating what areas need more enforcement. According to Alexander, in the last month 269 vehicle traffic stops have occurred resulting in 313 traffic tickets issued.

Alexander also spoke about the record number of street light fixtures done by DPW this year. “Prior to this year, we had fixed on average ten or so traffic lights a year. They’ve rounded out this year with over 160 traffic lights repaired. They’re now turning their attention to pedestrian lights,” said Alexander. He added that due to many municipalities using one main contractor for pedestrian lights, the Quality of Life committee recommended putting together a bid project with dedicated funding. 

Public Hearing: C3 Zoning Text Amendments 

During the public hearing on the C3 Zoning Text Amendments, developer James Guerrero, the applicant for a project in the area under discussion and Peekskill business owner John Sharp spoke in favor of the text amendments. “I know you guys know but I don’t know if the public always knows that this doesn’t approve any building. It greenlights the possibility for development,” said Sharp. 

“I have 200 plus employees and on a daily basis I get asked ‘John, where can I get an apartment? Where do I live?’ They want to live here. What happens when they can’t find a place to live?  They go to Mount Kisco or they go to Beacon. They get an apartment and then they leave and I lose an employee. Because we have no housing here. We have a housing shortage,” said Sharp. 

In response to Sharp’s comments, Mayor Vivian McKenzie said “In terms of us not developing, Mr. Sharp, you have to look around Peekskill. We are developing and we’re building housing. We’ve been having an issue and I’ve been fighting for this for a long time, for middle-income housing. You’re right we’re losing people who are working here in Peekskill. They can’t live here. So we need buildings where people can work and live that are affordable. There’s an affordable crisis throughout the country, not just in Peekskill. My own children, with master’s degrees, couldn’t live here and had to move out of the area. We absolutely see that. We are trying to find ways to encourage that type of development,” said Mayor Vivian McKenzie.

Guerrero expressed frustration with the delays his proposed building has endured. “I’ve been put in an impossible situation here. Six months delayed, new items brought up – not consolidated in a productive manner but strung out seemingly so as to delay the process. I’m now at a position where it’s time to move or this project will not happen.” 

“We’re talking about a zoning amendment that could clear the way for $80 to $100 million of private development in Peekskill. We’re talking about a tax revenue increase of a million dollars annually. We’re talking about a million dollars of park and recreation fees. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars of permit fees. This is a substantial investment at a time when investment is drying up all over the country. At a time when a housing crisis looms. Affordability is eluding most people, ”said Guerrero. 

Proposed zoning change would enable this development at North Division and Howard streets at the north end of downtown”

“Just as I was beginning to plan this project, the affordable housing ordinance was enacted which would allow or force projects to include an affordable housing component. But you can’t have affordable houses if you can’t build,” said Guerrero. 

After Guerrero finished his remarks, Mayor Vivian McKenzie wanted to clarify a few points based on comments received online. McKenzie stated that some people believe adding or including the community character portion of this project is a tactic to block multi-family housing or development at all.

“Please note that in the early 1990’s or 2000’s, there was a lot of negative feedback about the modern design of the arts loft which is behind this building now. So much so that it went back and forth and it was redesigned and what you have now fits the character of the community,” said McKenzie.

“In no way does saying ‘you need to fit the character’ stop us from building. We have been building and will continue to build. What we are trying to do is make sure we are meeting the needs of not only the developer but the residents who live here, who have been here, and the new people that are coming that have been attracted to our city of Peekskill. We are not saying we do not want to build. We cannot say that putting this in there has stopped us from building because obviously it hasn’t. We’ve got nine, ten projects that are almost done, or close to done, or are in the process and have been approved,” said McKenzie.

City Clerk Cassandra Redd told the council they received seven public comments for the public hearing that would be put into the record. Public comments emailed or mailed in are no longer read to the council. 

Shopping Cart Ordinance Passes 

After months of tossing and turning and revisions to the penalty section, the council passed a resolution that adopts the local law titled “Shopping Carts” to address shopping carts abandoned on public property. The penalties now mirror the penalty section of the city code for littering. 

Shopping cart on Bank Street. (Photo by Regina Clarkin)

A first offense nets a fine between $150 and $250, a second violation increases the penalty to $250-$500, and a third offense leads to a fine between $500 and $1000, and any other violation in the same three year period carries a fine of $1000 or 15 days in jail.  


About the Contributor
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.