By Rebecca Martin
Community members who have been following the Kingstonian project’s payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) request have asked for more detailed financial information to understand the potential impacts (including developer’s “trade secrets” which are fair game for a public/private partnership). Others are up in arms that a wealthy developer who wants to create high-end housing and a luxury boutique hotel in Uptown Kingston would have the audacity to request a 25-year, 100% tax exempt PILOT agreement worth $30.6 million dollars. Nearly seven months after the SEQR process concluded (where the full value of public subsidies were not and should have been revealed), the developers publically revealed their PILOT request to the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (UCIDA) threatening the board that without their approval of the PILOT, they would not secure the financing that they need and that the City of Kingston was at risk for the project (and the Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) grant) to go away.
According to Rose Woodworth, the CEO of the UCIDA, the ground rules for a deviated PILOT (meaning that it’s not a standard PILOT under the unified tax exemption policy) include the consent of the involved local jurisdictions and in this case, the Kingston Common Council, Ulster County Legislature, and the Kingston City School District’s Board of Education. She also noted that the UCIDA “…could, if it so determined, to move forward without the consents of the local jurisdictions.” The process that Woodworth nonchalantly describes reminds us of the worst part of top down culture. It is not meant to be fair or inclusive, but only to provide the illusion of participation. Those “in charge” may override a decision if it runs counter to their desired and in many cases predetermined outcome.
There are still steps remaining in the process for the Kingstonian PILOT, one of which is an independent, third party cost benefit analysis of the Kingstonians’ financials requested and paid for by Ulster County. The National Development Council (NDC) was hired only last week as an unbiased third party. The report, that the City of Kingston should have requested last year, should be available any day now. If released to the public (and it should as a taxpayer funded study for a public/private partnership) we will be able to learn its legitimacy based on the materials the NDC has solicited from the developer.
Earlier in October, when Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan announced plans for this study, the Board of Education tabled its discussion on the Kingstonian PILOT until they could review the report. The Ulster County Legislature’s (UCL) Economic Development, Tourism, Housing, Planning & Transit Committee chaired by Legislator Brian Cahill on the other hand went on to pass the Kingstonian PILOT resolution to “…be fair to the developers.” The PILOT resolution appeared next at the Legislature’s Ways and Means Committee chaired by Legislator Lynn Archer, where they wisely chose to table the discussion for the same reasons as the Board of Education.
The next bit may move very fast, with the Ways and Means committee meeting for a second time this month on Tuesday October 20 at 5:00pm. If the Kingstonian PILOT is on their agenda and it is passed out of committee, it goes to the Democratic caucus at 5:45pm and most likely to the floor for a full legislative vote at 7:00pm.
We’ve laid out a timeline of all of the events that have led us to this moment that you can review below. We conclude with “what’s next” for the remaining meetings regarding the Kingstonian PILOT in October.
The Kingstonian PILOT:
A timeline of recent events
February, 2019 – The Ulster County Industrial Development Corporation listed as an involved agency in SEQR (Page 2 “Government Approvals”)
When the Kingstonian project’s Environmental Assessment Form (EAF) was submitted to kick off the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process, the Ulster County IDA was listed as an Involved Agency indicating a PILOT for the project. We had thought that the value of the PILOT would be revealed during the SEQR process (and in hindsight, the public should have been told that without it, according to the developers, the project could not proceed). That information was never made available to the public and in fact, the developers and our city officials went to great lengths to keep it secret.
March, 2019 – Camoin Associates Study “We estimate that 100% of the…units would be occupied by households who would be considered ‘net new’ to Ulster County.”
The developer paid for an Economic and Fiscal Impact Analysis study in March of 2019 by Camoin Associates. It’s where all of those perplexing estimates derived from that provided fodder for the developer’s missives. The study was never publicly revealed during SEQR or challenged by our Kingston elected and appointed officials. They went on to pass the PILOT terms unanimously.
Nearing the end of SEQR process, with neither affordable housing or the value of public subsides revealed, KingstonCitizens.org created a petition to nudge our council members to uphold the city’s affordable housing mandate and provide constituents with a full accounting of Kingstonian public funds. “Step up to your fiduciary responsibilities and provide the community with a full accounting of the public subsidies expected by the Kingstonian project. Ensure that all decisions requiring Common Council approval, including discretionary approvals and funding awards, have been identified and included in the SEQR review. “
Although the community succeeded in making the case fo 14 affordable units (after being told for months that “affordable housing wasn’t affordable” for the Kingstonian project), a request to see a full accounting of the public subsidies for the project went unanswered.
February 5, 2020 – The Ulster County Planning Board: “We want transparency here – what the applicant is asking the public to participate in as the project goes forward…in a public/private partnership, you should put everything on the table to fund your garage.”
During the Ulster County Planning Board’s review of the Kingstonian zoning petition, the board discussed the Kingstonians’ request for public funding and lacking the transparency that is should as a public/private partnership.
“We’ve seen a lot of positive economic data put out by the applicant. The negative declaration indicates a deviated PILOT by the UCIDA, meaning that it’s not a standard PILOT under the unified tax exemption policy and we don’t know what it will be. No discussion of the PILOT appears as the economic data released to date. We want transparency here – what the applicant is asking the public to participate in as the project goes forward. The IDA has a matrix, and they are going to propose that the IDA goes outside of the Matrix. In a public/private partnership, you should put everything on the table to fund your garage. The board agreed that it should be included in their comments as it’s in the Neg Dec determination and therefore a part of the SEQR process after discussion.”
“This is the PILOT! If the answer is no, then it all goes away. There is nothing to be built. The DRI goes away, all of that stuff (public benefits) it all goes away…” – Joseph Bonura, Kingstonian project developer
On July 8, the Kingstonian developers accompanied by Mayor Steve Noble presented the Kingstonian PILOT terms publicly for the very first time at the July UCIDA meeting. A 25 year, 100% tax exempt PILOT valued at over $30.6 million dollars in exchange for a parking garage. As parking now the centerpiece for the PILOT, we learned that the project needs would result in a net loss of public parking spaces according to the City of Kingston’s zoning code.
When questioned by board member Faye Storms “…the plans allow for one space per unit. What if families have more than one car?”, the developers responded “…tenants are welcome to use the other spaces in the structure or (park) at the Kingston Plaza.” It was suggested by a member of the IDA that the Kingstonian developers PILOT for a public parking garage in reality half will not be used by the public but by their tenants.
On July 28, the Kingston Common Council Finance and Audit Committee met to discuss the Kingstonian PILOT nearly tripping over themselves in support of a $30.6 million dollar PILOT agreement even though there were critical gaps in the information presented (such as a lack in clarity on parking figures or the necessary variances). The resolution passed through committee with lackluster push back anyway.
Some highlights for constituents:
- Ward 5 Alderman Don Tallerman
- Ward 3 Alderman Rennie Scott-Childress
- Ward 6 Alderman Tony Davis Part II
- Ward 2 Alderman Doug Koop
August 4, 2020 Ulster County IDA Governance Committee Meeting
The UCIDA’s recent process change is troubling for several reasons worth analyzing. Through this policy change, the UCIDA has empowered and entrusted itself to unilaterally give away $30 million to wealthy real estate developers during a pandemic irrespective of the judgements of the very elected officials representing the jurisdictions impacted by the subsidy. The IDA itself is an appointed body and, therefore, democratically unaccountable, making their rule changes and subsidy granting power all the more offensive to the principle of procedural fairness.
August 4, 2020 Kingston Common Council meeting
On August 4, the common council passed the Kingstonian PILOT terms unanimously.
Some highlights for constituents:
- Ward 1 Alderman Jeffrey Ventura-Morell
- Ward 3 Alderman Rennie Scott Childress Part II
- Ward 6 Alderman Tony Davis
- Ward 7 Alderman Patrick O’Reilly
- Ward 9 Alderman Michelle Hirsh
- Unanimous vote
“PILOT agreements are harmful to local governments and school districts, especially now.” – Mayor Tim Rogers
During the Village of New Paltz board meeting, Mayor Tim Rogers called on the Kingston Common Council, Ulster County Legislature, and the Kingston City School District Board of Education to be mindful of the other neighboring 23 municipalities. “We all contribute and must continue to work together to generate sales tax revenue for our county’s approximately 180,000 residents. Kingston should not unilaterally forfeit property tax revenues via PILOT schemes while municipalities like the Town and Village of New Paltz, as well as high-need places like the Village of Ellenville, are expected to provide more than their fair share of county sales tax.
Until the State’s Tax Cap Law and County’s Sales Tax Agreement are amended, the Village of New Paltz Board of Trustees declares its opposition to any PILOT agreements that result in a reduction of real property taxes versus full taxation based on a full market value assessment determined by local assessor offices.
Kingston needs and deserves it’s property taxes and should not be padding a developer’s profit margins at the expense of the rest of the county. Trading property tax revenue in exchange for building a poorly conceived parking garage that compromises uptown Kingston’s uniquely desirable pedestrian-focused character is also just short-sighted planning. There are better ways to serve more residents like investing in public transportation to more effectively support local businesses and serve community members across the county.”
September 15, 2020 – Press Conference: KingstonCitizens.org, Kingston Tenants Union, Mid-Hudson Valley Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), TownOfUlsterCitizens.org and the Kingston News host a press conference event in advance of that evening’s Ulster County Legislative meeting
A press conference organized by KingstonCitizens.org, Kingston Tenants Union, Mid-Hudson Valley Democratic Socialists of America, TownofUlsterCitizens.org and the Kingston News. Their goal was to raise awareness about the $30.6 million dollar PILOT and to ask the UCL to reject the PILOT with a short film and speaker testimonies that included 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.
“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.” – KingstonCitizens.org
October 1, 2020 UCIDA Holds a Public Hearing on the Kingstonian PILOT
“In contradiction to what Dan Baker said (City of Kingston Assessor), PILOTs do not have a positive impact on school district finances. The school district is subject to tax cap legislation with limits the growth of our tax levy…when the new construction is under a PILOT, the growth factor is zero at the beginning of the agreement and it is not included in the growth factor at the end of the agreement. So the district’s tax levy limit is permanently reduced…the developers published a flyer yesterday that claims that the Kingstonian will yield its school district more than 41 million dollars in new revenue over 50 years and that is categorically wrong. The developers don’t seem to understand school district finances. They don’t seem to understand the impact of a PILOT on school district finances and frankly, the Mayor and the Common Council and perhaps Dan Baker don’t seem to understand the impact of a PILOT on school district finances.” – James Shaughnessy, City of Kingston resident
“I have spoken with several of my fellow legislators and we are all in agreement…we strongly encourage the UCIDA to engage an independent third party firm to undertake a cost-benefit analysis of the Kingstonian project and to present the results of these findings to the various taxing authorities. We are currently relying on the people benefitting from the project to provide the projected costs of the project without validation from an independent third party who has the knowledge of these types of complex endeavors….we all have a fiduciary responsibility to the residents of Ulster County and that an independent review should be undertaken immediately by a firm which routinely does these types of reviews for other IDAs.” – Ulster County Legislator Lynn Archer (District 21)
In response to the ongoing discussions about approval of a PILOT agreement for the Kingstonian project, Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan issued the following statement:
“Before a decision of this magnitude is made, the public deserves an impartial assessment of the costs and benefits of the project. Therefore, I am calling on the project developers to disclose their financials to an independent evaluator so that we can have a full picture of the project. This level of transparency is critical given the scale and impact of the proposed PILOT agreement.”
– Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan
October 6, 2020 Ulster County Legislature Economic Development, Tourism, Housing, Planning & Transit Committee passes the Kingstonian PILOT resolution.
“At this juncture, I don’t think we should move on this until we get the results of the third-party review. To vote before receiving the report would be making a decision without all the facts.” – Legislator Lynn Archer
Following County Executive Pat Ryan’s announcement ordering an independent cost benefit analysis for the Kingstonian PILOT, the UCL’s Economic Development, Tourism, Housing, Planning & Transit Committee, chaired by Legislator Brian Cahill (Towns of Ulster/Kingston), passed the Kingstonian PILOT resolution.
Legislators Cahill and David Donaldson (Chairman representing the City of Kingston) agreed that it would be unfair to the developer to hold up the resolution.
October 7, 2020 Kingston City School District Board of Education
The Board of Education decided that in light of the UCL and County Executive request for an independent third party consultant to review the financials for the Kingstonian PILOT, they would not discuss the resolution until after they had reviewed the report.
October 13, 2020 Ulster County Legislature Ways and Means Committee
The Ways and Means Committee tabled the Kingstonian PILOT resolution while waiting on the Ulster County Executive’s independent cost benefit analysis by the National Development Council (NDC). The legislators anticipate the study to be complete prior to its next meeting on Tuesday, October 20.
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
The UCL will host three important meetings on this evening:
@ 5:00pm: UCL Ways and Means Committee
Public Attendance by Phone (646) 558-8656, Meeting ID: 926 2320 1027
As long as the independent cost benefit analysis is complete with time for legislators to review, the Ulster County Legislature Ways and Means Committee may vote to accept or reject the Kingstonian PILOT terms during this meeting.
@5:45pm (or immediately following Ways & Means Committee)
Public Attendance by Phone (646) 558-8656, Meeting ID: 919 1913 5495
Whether or not the Kingstonian PILOT passes out of the Ways and Means committee, we expect the Democratic caucus will discuss the resolution further.
IMPORTANT. PLEASE ATTEND
@7:00pm Ulster County Legislative Session
PUBLIC COMMENT will be restricted to agenda items
Public Comment: Dial 205-ULSTER-0 or (205) 857-8370 to be connected. Written comments may be submitted to the Clerk via email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
We won’t know whether or not the Kingstonian Resolution will be on the agenda until sometime during the day on the 20th, and not knowing what’s on the agenda until the day of the meeting is not in the public’s best interest.
This meeting is very important to attend, for if the Kingstonian PILOT resolution appears on the agenda – it’s going to be the most important evening to use your voice and hold your county legislator (and legislature) accountable.
We will be providing up-to-date information about the agenda on our FACEBOOK event.
The Ulster County IDA lists the Kingstonian as a pending project on their 10/21 agenda.
According to an email that we acquired through a FOIL request, Rose Woodworth, CEO of the UCIDA wrote on September 17, “It is my understanding (glad this is confidential email) that the School board is going to vote yes although they may try to squeeze more money from god knows where. It is also my understanding that the legislature should be a slight (15 vote) YES. The applicant is looking to get all of this to move ahead very rapidly. They want to be on our October 21 agenda for our approval. I believe the school board is “supposed to” vote on 10/07 and then the legislature is 10/20. Can we have this back on the October agenda with the assumption that this will be a yes? How does that work?
Thursday, October 21, 2020 @ 7:00pm
Kingston Board of Education
WATCH on YouTube
The Board of Education is scheduled to meet this evening. We do not know whether they will be voting on the Kingstonian PILOT resolution, although they could be ready by then.