The City of Peekskill is hoping to break ground for a central firehouse by the end of the summer, but does not yet own the land on which the firehouse is to be built, and now must amend a local law in order to demolish the old white house at the corner of Main and Broad streets.
“The city’s appraisal of my land would not even cover my mortgage,” said Gerrado Escandon, owner of 1141 Main St., built more than 100 years ago. Escandon said he does not want to sell his property for less than the $485,000 he paid for it almost six years ago, but that the city’s appraisal of the property presented to him in January was $325,000. The city also provided an appraisal to the other two property owners of land needed for the firehouse: Tony Huang, from Heights Real Estate, who owns the Crossroads Plaza and the Panio Liquor Store, and the owner of the Peekskill Furniture building on Main St.
The city estimates it would need to pay about $2,.75 million for land acquisition, and the estimated total cost of the 36,583 square foot, two-story firehouse, which would replace four of the city’s current firehouses, would be $15.68 million. The city would issue bonds to pay for the project and a transfer tax this January, that would also help pay for the project.
Bob Mitchell, the hired architect for the project, conducted a study last year on renovating and the existing firehouses and bringing them up to code. The total cost came to $14.3 million, only slightly lower than the price of a new one. Renovation would also require higher annual operating costs.
The city's plan is to close down all but the Washington St. firehouses, and have most of the 24 full-time and about 200 volunteer firefighters operate out of a central house. Studies show that response time would improve. The building would meet code. A modern facility, it could be used for training as well.
Mitchell gave the council a presentation earlier this month on LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for the central firehouse and the council approved plans to build the structure to fulfill LEED requirements, which would cost about $40,000.
Once the city buys the land it could begin demolition and then construction soon after. City Manager Rick Finn says that the process is looking positive.
“I’ve talked to all three property owners and told them if they care to have a second appraisal done and if that comes in at a high number the we will talk,” said Finn in an interview.
However, even if Escandon decides to sell the old white house to the city, because the house is part of the Historic District and is considered as contributing to the district, it cannot be knocked down under the current Historic and Landmarks Preservation law. As the current law is written, the city would be required to relocate the building in order to clear the land for construction of the firehouse, City Planning Director Anthony Ruggerio explained at the March 7 Committee of the Whole meeting.
“If we don’t go through with this and the process we will not be able to stay on the timeline of the fire station,” said City manager Rick Finn to the council. Council members expressed concern that rewriting the law could put future historic buildings at risk of being demolished for purposes less important than a firehouse, like a parking lot. They directed Finn to have the consulting attorney revise the amendment to specifically fit the plans for the firehouse.
“Basically, we are going to allow the city to do what most cities already have in their ordinance,” said City Manager Rick Finn in an interview. “Making the ordinance change gives the council the authority to make the decision (to demolish the building). The end result is that the house is going to be taken down anyway, so this saves us three or four months.”
If the city does not change the law then it would be required to go through the Historic and Landmarks Preservation Board, which would decide whether or not the building could be destroyed, a process that could take up to six months, Finn said.
Gerrardo has made improvements to the old white house since he moved in, including replacing the roof and improving the foundation, he said. But the improvements do not make the house ineligible as contributing to the Historic District though.
“When I went to the city and asked if I could change the windows they said I could not do it because it is a historic building,” Gerrardo said. “And now they want to tear it down.”
Gerrado’s building houses a hair salon, money wiring business and two tenants who live on the top floor.
“I don’t want to sell, this is for my kids,” he said.
The property owner next store at the Crossroads Plaza, Tony Huang, of Heights Real Estate, also does not want to sell for the appraisal price the city offered him.
“Their initial evaluation for the property is almost like they are trying to steal it,” said Huang. He said the city offered him one million dollars and that he paid two million dollars for the property almost 20 years ago. Huang plans to hire an appraiser to do a more comprehensive appraisal than the one the city showed him, he said.
“In this scenario, (the city’s appraisal) was very simple and used a basic sales approach,” Huang said. “All appraisals that we do have many types of analysis, most likely incorporating the income approach and the sale approach too.”
Huang plans to respond to the city with his appraisal and hopes to reach what he feels would be a fair evaluation of his property.
“If someone wants to buy us out for the good of the town or government our only ask would be that we receive what we feel is a fair evaluation,” said Huang.
If Huang, Gerrardo and the third property owner (who could not be reached for comment) refuse to sell then the city would have to use eminent domain, a condemnation process that claims property in the name of public service. The city would still have to pay them the current market value of their property. Both the City Manager and the Mayor Mary Foster have said several times they do not want to go into the process of eminent domain. This would delay the construction and delay owners from receiving payment for their property.
Once the attorney revises the Historic and Landmarks Preservation ordinance Finn will bring it back to the council, which will have to create a resolution to be accepted at a Common Council meeting. A public hearing would then be held to give the public an opportunity to speak on the amendment.
The property owners will have their properties appraised and continue discussions with the city. Check back with Patch for updates on the firehouse plans.