The Kingstonian Project PILOT Needs Independent, External Analysis to Review Economic Assumptions Before Approving $30.6m over 25 years

The Kingstonian is a proposed $58 million dollar project. It promises 129 high-end units (to date, rents will range from $1,500 – $2,850), 14 affordable units (with Area Median Income (AMI) based on Ulster County, nearly ⅓ higher than the City of Kingston), a 32-room luxury boutique hotel (across from the Senate Garage which hosts “…dozens and dozens and dozens of wedding events each year”), 9,000 square feet of retail space and a 420 parking space complex.

The developer is asking for a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement where they will pay nominal taxes for 25 years; a subsidy worth approximately $30.6M, in exchange for a temperature controlled parking garage that will primarily serve its high end tenants and luxury boutique hotel guests.

Over and over again, the Mayor of Kingston, members of the Common Council and the developers tell us that Kingston needs this parking garage and that, with a PILOT, it could be built at “no cost to taxpayers.”  If a PILOT allows a developer to defer their real mortgage, property, school and sales tax, how does their project come at no cost? 

The City of Kingston missed both of its opportunities to request an independent, external analysis of the Kingstonian developers’ economic assumptions. The first came during the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) that ended last December and the second during the recent common council special finance committee meeting in July.  The developers’ revenues which they call ‘trade secrets’ were not disclosed to the public, when the PILOT terms were approved by the full council in August.  The public needs to know the profit margin or the “trade secrets” in order to determine whether to approve the PILOT.  

With two agencies still left to vote on the council’s PILOT terms, the developer is making another attempt to persuade members of the Board of Education (BOE) and Ulster County Legislature (UCL) to support the PILOT, with a public action form letter crafted without any real substance.  “The PILOT will provide tax relief and public benefit at no cost to taxpayers.” There it is again.  “No cost to taxpayers.” The developer also claims that “…they have worked with Kingston City officials and the IDA Board to ensure that the dollar value of the public benefits of the Kingstonian outweigh the PILOT at zero cost to taxpayers.” But without an independent, external analysis to review their economic assumptions, the tax paying residents of the City of Kingston and Ulster County will never know. 

In their letter, the developer claims “…that the benefits of the project include twice the public parking, 129 market rate apartments, 14 affordable apartments, 30 hotel rooms (when it is actually 32), an outdoor public pedestrian plaza/gathering space, long-desired public restrooms, 300 + new consumers to the marketplace offering immediate relief to the business district and generating much needed sales, occupancy, and property tax revenue, and an estimated 153 new jobs.” But the developer still isn’t able to pin down the number of parking spots they need for this project, even though the City of Kingston’s zoning code says that nearly 313 of their 420 newly created parking spots will be required to serve their high-end apartment tenants and luxury boutique hotel guests leaving us with approximately 107 public parking spots, fewer than the 144 parking spots that we currently have now.  Even with a waiver to allow them to provide less, there will now be an influx of people –  tenants, hotel clients, uptown businesses and residents all vying for parking.  They assert that the overflow can park across Schwenk Drive if their garage is full.  So why is the public being asked to fund a parking garage when they may be losing parking spaces, charged higher fees and possibly not able to find a spot to park in the temperature controlled lot anyway.

As for affordable housing, the 14-units that various politicians claim credit for was due to the hard work of advocates that pressed the matter and won. The developer ended up making the concession but expanded the size of their complex, making their original 129-unit project even larger, with a whopping 143-units in the center of Kingston’s historic uptown.  As reported earlier, it appears that the developers are following the Area Median Income (AMI) not for the City of Kingston ($48,186) but for all of Ulster County ($69,539) that could make those starting rents nearly ⅓ higher.  

As for jobs, they promised 40 full time positions in their application. However, 84% of them were based on a single person’s salary, at $20.73 per hour. This is insufficient income for anyone raising a child, and certainly not enough to rent a one-bedroom apartment in the Kingstonian (or nearly anywhere else in Kingston.) 

The developer claims that “…this project comes at an opportune time when our local economy is in need of job creation, both affordable and market rate housing, and sales tax revenue.  The project also creates an immediate economic boost from the construction phase and revenue from the new taxes that will be generated.”  But we know that the PILOT request is coming at the worst possible time, in the midst of a global pandemic, and when our local, county, and state economic futures are unclear.  In early summer, the City of Kingston, in preparation for a hit to their budget, began furloughing and cutting some of its workers. Tax revenue for Ulster County is unknown and the state may hold back state aid for the City of Kingston School District by 20%, while residents’ school tax bills have increased.  Our Mayor and Common Council endorsed the loss of revenue at one of the worst economic moments in the City’s history without requesting an independent, external analysis to review the developers economic assumptions to understand whether or not the immediate or long term benefits are worth the PILOT investment.

The developer says that “…this project was initiated by the City of Kingston, and is a true partnership between the City, School, County, State and the citizens of our community and that without this partnership the project is not fiscally feasible and the taxpayers will lose the multitude of community benefits and added revenues it brings.”  But in our opinion, a true partnership includes a developer who stands to make a windfall in the City of Kingston paying their fair share of taxes.  Some community members have asked if it’s even wise for a project to proceed when a project like this isn’t ‘fiscally feasible’ without a $30.6 million dollar PILOT.  The proclaimed community benefits are a temperature controlled parking garage (that the developer needs more than we do to serve their high-end apartment tenants and luxury boutique hotel guests), a couple of public bathrooms, a pedestrian plaza with a water feature, an internship to train their future $15.00 per hour wage workers and a walkway over Schwenk Drive. Is that the way we want to invest our hard earned, finite tax dollars?

As a public/private partnership, we think our community deserves more information before it decides on the $30.6 million dollar PILOT. We encourage our elected officials at the BOE and UCL to be responsible and request that an independent, external analysis is performed to review the Kingstonian’s economic assumptions to be reviewed in turn by all tax paying residents living in the City of Kingston and Ulster County. 

CALL TO ACTION:

We encourage all community members to draft their own letters to decision makers of the Kingstonian PILOT asking for an independent, external analysis of the Kingstonian’s economic assumptions and the feasibility of a $30.6 million dollar PILOT.

City of Kingston Board of Education

jshaughnessy@kingstoncityschools.org
sspicer@kingstoncityschools.org
ccollins@kingstoncityschools.org
hlamb@kingstoncityschools.org
plowe@kingstoncityschools.org
rjacobowitz@kingstoncityschools.org jmichael@kingstoncityschools.org
sjordan@kingstoncityschools.org
nscherer@kingstoncityschools.org ppadalino@kingstoncityschools.org

Ulster County Legislature and County Executive

Chair@co.ulster.ny.us
vfab@co.ulster.ny.us
Mary.Wawro@co.ulster.ny.us
Albert.Bruno@co.ulster.ny.us
Dean.Fabiano@co.ulster.ny.us
Brian.Cahill@co.ulster.ny.us
Abe.Uchitelle@co.ulster.ny.us
Peter.Criswell@co.ulster.ny.us
Laura.Petit@co.ulster.ny.us
HLitts3@aol.com
MaryBeth.Maio@co.ulster.ny.us
Thomas.Corcoran@co.ulster.ny.us
Kevin.Roberts@co.ulster.ny.us
Ken.Ronk@co.ulster.ny.us
Craig.Lopez@co.ulster.ny.us
John.Gavaris@co.ulster.ny.us
Tracey.Bartels@co.ulster.ny.us
James.Delaune@co.ulster.ny.us
Heidi.Haynes@co.ulster.ny.us
MannaJo.Greene@co.ulster.ny.us
Eve.Walter@co.ulster.ny.us
Lynn.Archer@co.ulster.ny.us
John.Parete@co.ulster.ny.us
LegislatorHeppner@gmail.com
exec@co.ulster.ny.us

JOIN US. Please ‘like’ our facebook events to keep up-to-date on Kingstonian PILOT public hearing and potential votes in October. 

Thursday, 10/1/20 @ 7:00pm   FACEBOOK EVENT
The Ulster County Industrial Development Agency  (UCIDA) Kingstonian PILOT Public Hearing 

Wednesday, 10/7/20 @ 7:00pm  FACEBOOK EVENT
The City of Kingston Board of Education may vote on the Kingstonian PILOT. 

Tuesday, 10/20/20 @ 7:00pm  FACEBOOK EVENT
The Ulster County Legislature may vote on the Kingstonian PILOT. 

Missed the Kingstonian PILOT press conference event? Here’s a recap and next steps

WATCH:
“Say NO to the Kingstonian PILOT: A History of the project” and Press Conference

LIKE
Our Facebook Event and get up to date information on the October Ulster County Legislature Meeting

On September 15th at 5:30pm, KingstonCitizens.org, Kingston Tenants Union, Mid-Hudson Valley Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), TownOfUlsterCitizens.org and the Kingston News hosted a press conference event in advance of that evening’s Ulster County Legislative meeting. It was our goal to raise awareness about a $30.6 million dollar tax incentive for a development project which proposes to build high-end housing and a luxury boutique hotel in exchange for a parking garage in the City of Kingston’s historic Stockade District.   

READ:  The Ten Things we Know about the Kingstonian PILOT

To start, the Kingston Tenants Union debuted their short film “Say NO to the Kingstonian PILOT: A History of the Project“ in an effort to help the public connect the dots in a four year saga. “This is a case study of steamrolled gentrification and suppression of marginalized voices in the process.” said Village of New Paltz Deputy Mayor KT Tobin after watching the film.

Speaker testimonies followed the film from the Village of New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers, former City of Kingston councilwoman and Legislator Dr. Lynn Eckert, Kingston Tenants Union Juanita Velazquez-Amador, City of Kingston resident Larissa Shaughnessy and local comedian Duval Culpepper, all of whom encouraged the Ulster County Legislature and Board of Education to say NO to the Kingstonian deviated Payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT).

In scheduling the press conference on this date, it was our goal to help coordinate as many members of the public to speak during open public comment to the full 23 member Ulster County Legislative body during their remote meeting that evening.

What happened to public comment during the Ulster County Legislature on Wednesday?

Public comment during an open meeting provides community members the opportunity to exercise their First Amendment rights. The vitality of government is measured by the level of public interest and involvement, and community members are empowered when they make their views known. 

Prior to COVID-19, the public would arrive at the legislative chambers and sign up to speak on any item, whether it was on the agenda or not. On contentious issues you could predict an overflow of the public spilling out into the hallway in order to have their two minute opportunity to speak to their elected officials in a public setting. 

Since COVID-19, the Ulster County Legislature has been meeting remotely.  To our surprise on Tuesday evening, with nearly 62 people waiting in a queue to speak on the PILOT for the Kingstonian, the clerk reminded the legislature of their new policy initiated in April which limits public comment to agenda items. The decision to enforce the public speaking rule was made by Chairman David Donaldson (D/District 6, City of Kingston) who is known to be in favor of the Kingstonian PILOT. 

Unfortunately, the new public comment policy has not been clearly or consistently communicated to Ulster County residents. Although it is within the Legislature’s purview to set those speaking parameters (unless the public challenges it), we don’t recall the clerk making an announcement of the new policy at the start of past meetings, nor are we able to locate where they amended their presentation slide regarding the call-in number or, describing their procedure on the website legislative calendar where the public could intuitively find information about public meetings.

Even one of the legislators at the meeting spoke out about the Chair’s decision to reinforce the April rule change on the very night when community members had carved out time to speak on a contentious topic before the legislature. “I feel obligated to state on the record that we have many times heard people speak on items not on the agenda…” said Legislator Abe Uchitelle (D/District 5, City of Kingston).

The challenges in following the Kingstonian PILOT process. 

Like the number of public parking spaces the Kingstonian project has offered, the rules and governing procedures around the Kingstonian process are constantly changing to accommodate the developers interests. Rarely has any level of government – the city or the county – provided good lead time or clear instructions that would allow the public time for speaking preparation.  In fact, several weeks back, we received information that the Ulster County Legislature’s Chairman Donaldson accepted a late communication on the Kingstonian PILOT (that came in after the August 21st deadline).  In an effort to enable the legislation contained in the late communication to be considered at the September legislative meeting, long-standing rules would have had to be somehow interpreted or altered for an accommodation to be made.  That plan never came to fruition yet it demonstrates the unfair terrain on which those opposed to the Kingstonian PILOT must operate. 

During the September legislative meeting, the clerk announced to the public that they anticipate the Kingstonian PILOT resolution to come in front of the legislature in October. Yet the public will only be able to confirm that following the Laws and Rules Committee, which occurs the evening prior to the full legislative meeting. The agenda will only be made available the morning of October 20. If the Kingstonian PILOT resolution is listed as an agenda item, then the big night would be Tuesday, October 20 at 7:00pm.  If so, we hope that not only will the public come out in force like they did this month, but the Ulster County Legislature will continue with remote meetings in order to accommodate every single voice.  If Chairman Donaldson decides to make October the month that the legislature returns to legislative chambers, the result would limit the number of residents who are able to attend due to current Covid-19 restrictions on public gatherings.

TAKE ACTION

WATCH the film and recorded testimonies to learn about the history of the Kingstonian project and listen to a range of opinions from people who courageously spoke during the press conference.

READ “The Ten things that we know about the Kingstonian PILOT” and spend some time asking more questions in order to prepare your testimony for the next public comment session at the Ulster County Legislature.

CLICK HERE TO SEND A LETTER  to all of the representatives in the Ulster County Legislature and ask them to assure that their October 20 meeting (or whenever they are scheduled to discuss and to vote on the Kingstonian PILOT), remain remote to accommodate all Ulster County residents during COVID-19’s restrictions on public gatherings and, to vote NO on the Kingstonian PILOT.

Census 2020 Self Response Rate low in Kingston. Here’s how you can help before 9/30 and why we need you.

By Rebecca Martin

It’s been ten years since the last Census Population Count. Locally, while in the midst of COVID and deep unrest, 2020 presents us with another challenge to assure that community members take the census.

TAKE THE CENSUS NOW

Why is the census important? “The census population count determines how many representatives each state will have in Congress for the next 10 years and how much federal funding communities will receive for roads, schools, housing and social programs.” For Kingston, beyond critical infrastructure needs, it means important funding that flows through the Ulster County and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) in support of programs for our community and those in need such as our Library, the Everett Hodge Community Center, the Boys and Girls Club of Kingston, the Center for Creative Education, the YMCA and others. What might not be well known, is that every person in our community that takes the census helps to provide a formula that equates to $1000s of dollars per person and that is allocated to support these important initiatives and programs.

Some ignore the census request concerned with records not being secure. But our constitution requires a census and protects all of the critical information collected as confidential, where it is not allowed to be used for law enforcement or other government agencies of concern.

Some say that the current president and his administration is using methods to deliberately diminish count and particularly in Democratic areas like the City of Kingston. It’s another reason why in Kingston, responding to the census must be counted as one of our important civic duties.

As of September 8, the Self Response Rate of Kingston community members taking the census is down from 2010 by a little over 11%, and that’s not surprising given the climate in our local community. Although there is a push to extend the census deadline, we have until September 30 to get as many of our community members as we can to take the census, and KingstonCitizens.org wants to help.

TAKE THE CENSUS NOW

WHAT CAN YOU DO? Take the census today!

“PILOT agreements are harmful to local governments and school districts, especially now.” The Village of New Paltz Pass a Position Statement on the Kingstonian PILOT.

At tonight’s Village of New Paltz Joint Board meeting, the village board passed passed a position statement on Housing and Payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOTS).

The Position Statement was split into two pieces. “First, a comment on the formula as to why PILOTs are problematic because of the NYS tax cap law, and a housing project like this does a great job at illustrating just how problematic the way the law is currently written.” said Village of New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers. ” It’s such a problem that over the last several years, there have been many bills to try to fix it. Several years ago, it was passed by the Senate and Assembly, but was vetoed by the Governor Cuomo. It’s a formula problem and harms the taxing authorities, and is why a municipality would never agree to a PILOT…when you construct new housing, you are going to end up with additional responsibility and expenses as a taxing authority, especially if you are a school district.”

Mayor Rogers went on to explain, “If you build 100 new units that have “x” number of bedrooms, you’ll have “y” K-12 age children. It’s just math, it’s what happens when you add units to any community. The way sales tax law is currently formulated, you end up with new units and the schools district has no way to increase their budget to accommodate the additional demand on their school district. It’s a fundamental flaw.”

Deputy Mayor KT Tobin agreed. “Unless it’s for affordable housing, I don’t think PILOTs are good public policy. I thought five years ago that they’d be dead by now, because promises for jobs did not materialize. The lack of clawbacks and systematic accountability mechanisms has well demonstrated the failures of PILOTS. And now that we’re in COVID – a pandemic – I can’t even wrap my head around asking for buy-in from property tax payers right now given the cuts we are looking at and the fiscal cliffs that school districts and municipalities are facing. It appears to be a combination of denial and lack of awareness that this is not the right time for this and my municipality will be impacted as well.”  

During the meeting, Ulster County Legislator Eve Walter (District No. 20 – Town of New Paltz, Village of New Paltz) confirmed that “…typically the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (UCIDA) has the capacity to approve or disapprove PILOTs on their own unless the entity is seeking a deviated pilot. In this case, the Kingstonian developers ARE seeking a deviated PILOT and that means that all three agencies would need to approve the terms (the City of Kingston, Board of Education and Ulster County Legislature). If any one of them do not, it would be a stop.” Legislator Walters later added, “This is about equity and taxes. This is about being one community.”

Read more…

The Ten Things We Know about the Kingstonian PILOT and Remote Press Conference on 9/15/20

“Say NO to the Kingstonian PILOT” is a remote press conference on Tuesday, September 15th at 5:30pm.  Get ready and CLICK ON OUR VIDEO LINK to join us and to learn what you can do.

Or, visit our FACEBOOK EVENT for up-to-date information on the Kingstonian PILOT process.

The Kingstonian is a proposed $50M, 143-unit luxury housing complex with a 32 room boutique hotel, 8,000 square feet of retail space and a 420 parking space complex. It also includes a walking bridge to the Herzog’s Plaza, which is owned by one of the developers. In exchange for closing a public street to create a “pedestrian plaza”, the developer promises a couple of public toilets. 

The developer is asking for a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement where they pay no taxes for 25 years; a subsidy worth approximately $30.6M.

The Kingston Common Council unanimously approved the PILOT’s general terms. Although the Council may believe that the tax-free deal for luxury apartments is a good bargain for Kingston, it is only one of the three involved agencies that would be impacted by the PILOT and have to agree to the terms in order for the PILOT to go through. The other agencies include the Ulster County Legislature (UCL) and the Kingston City School District Board of Education (BOE).

A tax-free deal for luxury apartments in Kingston would be felt beyond the Kingston city boundary. Municipalities that pay Kingston City School taxes include the Towns of Esopus, Hurley, Marbletown, New Paltz, Kingston, Rosendale, Saugerties, Ulster and Woodstock.  As a result, it’s not just Kingston that will be left with higher school taxes. PILOTs result in less tax revenue, which requires everyone else to make up the difference for a developer that stands to make a windfall in profits with a $30.6 million subsidy courtesy of the City of Kingston’s Common Council. 

At a time of financial crisis when the coronavirus pandemic has led to cuts in city services and jobs, loss of tax revenue on this scale could be simply devastating. The proposed Kingstonian PILOT deal could potentially harm the least well off in the city as well as hardworking taxpayers who already struggle to pay high school and property taxes while wealthy real estate developers get a free pass. For county legislators advocating for social justice in housing, services for the poor, and children in need, the PILOT should be particularly worrisome. While not all PILOTs are exploitive, they must be balanced against the potential gains an investor or industry may bring to the area.

There is still an opportunity to stop the giveaway that Kingston’s Common Council shamelessly endorsed. CLICK ON THIS LINK to send a letter to the Ulster County Legislature and say no to developer welfare and tell the Kingston City School Board that education is a public good. Everyone should pay their fair share of school taxes, including wealthy real estate developers.

The Ten Things We Know about
the Kingstonian PILOT

Read more…

Can Ulster County Commissioners run for Party Chair?

By Rebecca Martin

In early March of 2020, we sought out Ashley Dittus, Democratic Commissioner at Ulster County Board of Elections and Roger Rascoe, Chair of the Ulster County Republican Committee, to ask a series of questions regarding the process of running for chair of the Ulster County Democratic and Republican parties. 

This was of particular interest after learning back then that Ashley planned to run for the Democratic county chair seat while holding the position of Commissioner for the Board of Elections. It struck me as being potentially riddled with conflicts.

Now in September and with the upcoming county party leadership organizational meetings, a conflict emerged between the old and the new.  Larissa Shaughnessy, chair of the Ulster County Young Democrats, put out a public statement, “…a spreadsheet document owned by Ashley (Dittus) was shared with our sitting Congressmember’s campaign staff and labels several Young Democrat members whom she suspects of not supporting her candidacy for Chair with the comments “kill” and “maim”.

Following the discovery, Ashley was asked by many influential party members to step down from her bid to lead the Ulster County Democratic party and instead, to continue to focus her efforts as Commissioner for the Board of Elections.

In a letter written by Pat Courtney Strong, a member of the County Democratic Committee who has run for both State Senate (2018) and Ulster County Executive (2019), she outlined many shared concerns. 

“When I ran for the State Senate in 2018, I had the opportunity to meet many terrific, hard-working Democrats from the five-county area that comprises the 46th Senate District…In one of the counties, the Democratic Elections Commissioner was also the Democratic Party chairperson….it was not a good situation—both in “optics” and reality. It makes the party leadership appear to be a small, insular group that doesn’t welcome new voices. And it was plain to see that there is an inherent conflict in one person holding the two positions. It means that this individual has the responsibility of recruiting candidates—encouraging people she/he believes can win—as well as disseminating information to all candidates in a fair manner. It means that, as a county employee, the commissioner presents a budget to the county legislature—and then holds influence over those same people as party chair when they are candidates. These are just two of many conflicts that can arise…”

On Thursday of last week, Ashley withdrew from the race.

Read more…