Proposed Firehouse Sparks Public Debate in Peekskill

Issues of cost, location and politics bedevil the plans for a new Central Fire Station to replace facilities that firefighters at a public hearing called “deplorable."

Everyone who spoke during last night’s public hearings on the central fire station project said they support Peekskill’s Fire Department. All extolled the lifesaving work of its firefighters. But not everyone liked the plans to construct a new $15.68 million station at the intersection of Broad and Park streets.

Proposed is a new two-story, 36,000 square foot building for the city's 24 career and 130 volunteer firefighters and equipment. It would replace outdated facilities that are too small for the fire trucks and too cramped for the people on duty and for proper training.

The two public hearings covered the Environmental Assessment Form for the project and a proposal to amend the Historic and Preservation local law, to give the city the authority  at the site. 

The authority is needed because the old, white house at 1141 Main St. has an official designation as “contributing to the historic district."

The hearings lasted about two hours as speaker after speaker addressed the audience and Common Council in the packed council chamber.

After two residents questioned the project and the Council's plans, the building’s architect, Bob Mitchell of Mitchell Associates Architects, described the overall plan, process and studies related to the project. Then the city’s consulting planner John Lynch explained the Environmental Assessment Form, and City Manager Rick Finn reviewed the city’s plan to issue a bond and finance the project. See attached PDF for these documents.

Mitchell said the new building would help the city keep its combined volunteer-paid firefighter force, which saves money.

“This building will enhance the community and bring a sense of pride for many years to come,” Mitchell said. “It will effectively invest the city taxpayers' dollars in a permanent building that will be able to serve the city for a very long time and enhance the likelihood that the volunteer fire department can continue to function.”

Residents, however, expressed concern over the price and timing of the project, citing bonds already issued for other projects, specifically the middle school, and the economic recession as reason enough not to move forward with the firehouse at this time.

Others objected to the city’s proposal to amend the Historic and Preservation local law, saying it would set a dangerous precedent and unnecessarily circumvent the Historic and Landmarks Preservation board.

Still others disagreed with the location chosen for the firehouse. And while the plan was first proposed in 2008 and city officials held several public meetings on the project last summer as well as last night, some said they thought the authorities were cutting the public out of the discussion.

Deputy Fire Chief John Pappas, Fire Chief Lenny Varella and Second Assistant Fire Chief Vincent Malaspina responded to public comments, described the unsanitary and unsafe conditions of the city’s current five firehouses and sympathized with concerns over the cost.

“I know it’s a lot of money, but this is something that is going to save the city money, make protection of citizens of this city much better and it is something that we need,” Pappas told the public in a lengthy speech.

Malaspina said modern fire trucks barely fit in the current firehouses. Chief Varella told the crowd that firefighters have resorted to sleeping on the current stations’ floors and pool tables due to lack of appropriate common space and sleeping quarters.  All firefighters who spoke addressed the need for training space, explaining that volunteer and career fighters currently have to drive to Valhalla for the necessary training.

“We are here to show the community the real need for this building, this is something that has to be done. We’ve looked at numerous sites, and this is the best site for what we need,” Varella said.  

A few people asked the Council why the site at Park and Broad streets—which covers part of the Crossroads Shopping Plaza, a liquor store, and the old white house—was chosen. It will displace six commercial tenants and two residential tenants, according to John Lynch’s EAF report.

The answer: getting fire trucks and firefighters quickly to emergencies.

“This location was very, very carefully determined; if you look at studies you will see diagrams that are response time maps that show ability to get locations in a timely manner…this is the ideal location,” Mitchell said.

Other locations that the public suggested, like the Gateway property by Hadden and Spring streets, were not fit for the station for reasons including location and neighborhood demographics, Mitchell said.

Resident Leslie Lawler asked why the fire station had to be built right now.

“(The plan is) wonderful but this is not the right time, unless you are growing a money tree someplace,” Lawler told the council. “Why does it have to be done now to the tune of this figure?” Lawler expressed concern that the cost of the project has increased since the original estimate of $15,685,024 in 2008.

Mitchell says that the figure has not increased because the bad economy has kept costs down. “We are getting numbers from contractors that make us feel confident the price will remain the same,” Mitchell told Patch. 

Republican mayoral candidate Tony Washington spoke out against the city’s plan to amend the Historic and Preservation law in order to demolish the white house, which would prevent the Historic and Preservation board members from making a judgment on the issue.

“This does not have to be done by amending our city charter,” Washington said. Resident Tina Bongar agreed with Washington, saying she was probably in favor of the fire station but worried about the cost and was certainly against amending the local law.

 “It’s never going to be a good time,” Varella said. "I can come back here five years from today and there is going to be opposition, it may not be the same people that are here today, but there is going to be opposition—there always is.

“I would just try to urge the people to sit down, think the process out a little bit, see what we are talking about and that there is a real need for this in the City of Peekskill.”

 City officials will accept comments and questions on the project until July 5 and then create a document of responses to be added to the proposal. Contact the city clerk's office to send a question or concern. Let us know what you think in the comments of this article.

Read more on the city’s plans for the firehouse in a Patch article on the land acquisition  and on the city’s website here.


Editor's Note: This article has been changed to report the Peekskill Fire Department employs 24 career firefighters, not 36.

leesther brown June 29, 2011 at 04:09 AM
Let the Voters decide...What are they afraid of?!!!
Barbara LoPrete June 29, 2011 at 11:55 AM
I agree with Leesther - this enormous expense should be put to a public referendum - let the people who are footing the bill decide if now is the time for this great expense. Liz, you failed to mention in your article the cost of the bond for the Karta property - which will only pay for the property - not its remediation. Another enormous burden for the taxpayers of this city. Also, it should be mentioned that Mr Finn's calculations have consistently proven to be overly optimistic, which was evidenced by the fact that they project a revenue stream from the transfer tax that has no basis in reality.
Patty Villanova June 29, 2011 at 01:05 PM
Mr. Mitchell is currently working with the Put Valley FD to construct one of these Taj Mahals in our town. The truth is that the Peekskill project is nothing more than a disgusting ploy by Foster & the other politicos for votes from the emergency services voting bloc. There is NO good reason for a new firehouse other than to create a country club for the "brave heroes." Does anyone know the truth about how many fires there are, how many buildings saved? Where is the justification for violating the laws, eminent domain, further destroying the Downtown and confiscating people's money through an illegal transfer tax? Why aren't the people being allowed to vote? Just as in PV- Foster & Co. have concocted a back-door borrowing scheme that violates the most basic constitutional principles. Make no mistake about it- this is a pure, unmitigated power grab by Foster and the big government elites who view Peek. as their own personal feeding trough. Within 5 years there will be no more retail and very few privately owned businesses Downtown. They are being pushed out by the Poverty- Big Government industry-- Health Center, Preservation Comp., Fire Dept., Social Services, senior & low income housing, et al. That's where the $$$$ is.
jo July 01, 2011 at 12:39 PM
wow..it seems behemoth.. so out of character of the area..can not a less intrusive design have been formulated.. ugh.. just on the look of it I am against it..
suzanne July 01, 2011 at 01:22 PM
I 'd like to know the fire stats in Peekskill. Do they warrent the construction of a massive new fire station? This decision should definitely be put to a public referendum. As for the site chosen...why not build it on Washington Street where there is already a fire house and unused land? A massive FH does not belong in the artist district.


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