In a recent opinion column (in PeekskillHerald.com), Peekskill Council Member Dwight Douglas voiced concerns that Ginsburg Development Companies’ recent proposal to develop a mixed-use development across from the train station on Railroad Avenue was too high and dense, and did not fit in to the current context of the area.
I am an architect and a master planner who has always placed a high priority on a project’s scale and context. GDC’s projects in Peekskill, which include Chapel Hill, Riverbend, The Gateway Townhomes, Fort Hill Apartments and The Abbey Inn & Spa have all been sensitive to the environments in which they have been built. Context is a priority focus of our designs.
The existing context of the Railroad Avenue site is that there is no “there” there.
To be candid, it’s a mess – with surface parking lots, an auto repair shop, and architecturally undistinguished buildings that contain some popular restaurants. Absent quality historic fabric to respond to, this presents an opportunity to create a new contemporary context that speaks to Peekskill’s economic revival in the 2020s – and can create an exciting gateway to those arriving to the city by rail or from the Hudson River.
As to height and density, this location is a challenging site to develop because its topography creates real obstacles to designing an economically feasible development. The rear of the site on South Street is 40 feet higher than the Railroad Avenue frontage.
You simply can’t construct a successful building where all of the east-facing windows look into a retaining wall. To have a viable project, the apartment building’s units must begin at the South Street elevation – approximately 40 feet above Railroad Avenue.
To address this unique challenge, our design places the apartment building on top of a much-needed garage that, together with improved on-street parking, will provide the necessary number of spaces to service commuters, waterfront retail and the new mixed-use development.
Because no one wants to look at a garage, we have proposed to hide it by placing it behind a single-loaded corridor of hotel rooms that would only look to the west. This is very costly but reflects GDC’s commitment to quality design.
It is the site that is driving our design, and the current zoning is in conflict with the site. If we had a flat piece of land, we would propose a different building, but we don’t.
As Councilman Douglas stated in his column, this site “in its current rundown condition cries out for redevelopment and the whole area along Railroad Avenue would benefit from an improved streetscape.” We agree. However, only a project of a critical mass that works economically and that can get construction financing can achieve that shared goal. Otherwise, it’s just an unrealized vison.
We know that what we have proposed can get financed and built — resulting in a train station plaza worthy of the gateway city to the Hudson Highlands.
We are, of course, willing to sit down with city officials and discuss modifications to the design, such as setbacks at the garage level to break up the building’s massing — or perhaps replacing the hotel with studio apartments or live-work spaces.
At the end of the day, we just need a real-world project that works for the community and the developer because this project can only happen through a public/private partnership.
Finally, GDC is most known for having been a pioneer in the rediscovery of the Hudson River in its post-industrial era, by creating successful special places along its banks for people to live, work and play.
We create magic on the Hudson River, as we have atop Fort Hill. I would love for my last project in Peekskill to bring some of that magic to the train station plaza and the waterfront for the benefit of all.