The Complication of the Ulster County IDA Recent Policy Change and Public Hearing Date on October 1.

There has been some confusion about the process for the proposed Kingstonian deviated PILOT, regarding whether or not the agencies (the Common Council, City of Kingston School District Board of Education (KSCD), and Ulster County Legislature (UCL)) must all agree on the PILOT terms in order for it to proceed. The source of that confusion stems from an expedient decision by the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (UCIDA) to change its rules in ways that benefit the Kingstonian.  

Rose Woodworth, CEO of the UCIDA clarified the question about the process and the Kingstonian deviated PILOT in a recent email: 

  1. In general, the UCIDA has the power to grant PILOT Agreements (and real property tax abatements).
  2. In connection with the granting of tax abatements, the UCIDA has adopted a Uniform Tax Exemption Policy (the “UTEP”).  Under the UTEP, the UCIDA may grant certain levels of real property tax abatements to project applicants.
  3. As has been described both in the IDA Application and in media reports regarding the Kingstonian Project, the real property tax abatement being requested by the project applicant is a deviation from the normal real property tax abatement provided in the UTEP.
  4. As provided in the UTEP, in cases of deviations the UCIDA is subject to the following requirements:

(D) Review by Agency with Affected Tax Jurisdictions. Before the Agency shall enter into a PILOT Agreement that deviates from the policy set forth herein, the Agency shall (1) notify each affected Tax Jurisdiction in accordance with Section 8(A)(2) hereof, and (2) attempt to obtain the written consent of all the affected Tax Jurisdictions to such deviation. In the event that the Agency is not able to obtain the consents of all the affected Tax Jurisdictions to such deviation, the Agency may enter into such a PILOT Agreement that deviates from the policy set forth herein without the consents of such affected Tax Jurisdictions. The provisions of this Section 8(D) shall not apply in situations where the Agency holds title to property for its own account.

As noted in the above excerpt from the UTEP, the Agency is obligated to get the local approvals regarding the PILOT deviation.  And, as noted in the excerpted language, the UCIDA could, if it is so determined, move forward without the consents of the local jurisdictions.

In other words, even if the three impacted agencies –Kingston’s Common Council, KCSD and UCL — don’t all agree to support the PILOT and its substantial tax breaks for the developer, the UCIDA may proceed to approve this anomalous PILOT request on their own. In short, the UCIDA – an appointed and democratically unaccountable body – may make a lone decision to approve the PILOT without the consent of all of the impacted tax jurisdictions like the School Board. 

Back in July, the City of Kingston and Ulster County Industrial Development Agency received a letter from Victoria L. Polidoro, Law Offices of Rodenhausen Chale & Polidoro LLP.  Polidoro represents several property owners in Uptown, Kingston. The Polidoro letter informed the IDA that the law did not authorize them to grant the PILOT application.  As a threshold matter the IDA does not have authority to consider or grant the Application for the Project which includes residential housing units. The IDA’s Housing Projects Policy, which was reaffirmed on January 8, 2020, only allows IDA financing in limited circumstances. It provides that:

A. The Agency will only consider the granting of any “financial assistance” (as defined under the Act) for following projects that provide housing:

  1. (1)  a project that satisfies the definition of a continuing care retirement community project under Section 859-b of the Act; or
  2. (2)  a project by an industrial, manufacturing, warehousing, commercial,research and recreation facility (as defined in the Act) that provides workforce housing for its employees.

With new information from the Polidoro letter, the IDA appeared to hastily approve a revised policy change a month later on August 12 authorizing their agency to grant tax breaks to “any housing project, or any mixed-use project that includes a housing or residential component, that has received the prior approval from the governing board of Ulster County and each town, village, city and school district in which the housing project is located.”

The UCIDA’s recent process change is troubling for several reasons worth analyzing. Through this last minute 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. The damage done to due process by public officials who pledge to uphold the public interests is deeply corrosive, undermining a sense of trust at the core of good local government. We should demand more from those who represent us. At a minimum, citizens should expect that governing rules are clear, consistent and fair to all parties. Any changes to procedure should never benefit one party over another in the middle of a highly contentious process.

To make matters worse, the UCIDA has scheduled their required public hearing on the proposed Kingstonian PILOT, on October 1st, prior to the KCSD vote, which may take place on October 7 (or the 21). The UCIDA’s public hearing is also scheduled ahead of the UCL vote on October 20.  By scheduling the public hearing before the other agencies (KCSD and UCL), the UCIDA prevents concerned taxpayers from addressing their members should either of the two remaining agencies reject the PILOT agreement for the Kingstonian.  The UCIDA members have effectively foreclosed public comment following the votes of those other affected agencies, precluding an opportunity for the public to question them and advocate for fairness. 

Take Action

Thursday, October 1st at 7:00pm
The Ulster County IDA public hearing on the Kingstonian PILOT will occur remotely. Please LIKE our facebook event to learn more about how you can participate. 

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.

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…

Next Steps: Kingstonian PILOT and the City of Kingston Common Council

By Rebecca Martin

Last night, the Kingstonian deviated PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement passed through the Kingston Common Council Finance and Audit committee by a 3-1 vote.

Yes: Tony Davis (Ward 6); Rennie Scott-Childress (Ward 3) and Doug Koop (Ward 2). 

No: Michelle Hirsch (Ward 9)

Recused: Steve Schabott (Ward 8). A recusal is an automatic ‘no’ vote.

There’s been some chatter about whether or not a recusal (not to be confused with an abstention) equals a “no” vote, and indeed it does. Here’s an example: During the proposed shooting range project vote in 2016, an alderman had to recuse himself because of a conflict resulting in a “no” vote. “James Noble said a recusal by Davis would be recorded as a “no” vote.” The same will be true next week when Alderman Schabot recuses himself from voting on the Kingstonian PILOT.

READ: “Kingston council president will ask Laws and Rules Committee to discuss proposed shooting range”

READ: “Recusal and Abstention from Voting: Guiding Principles”

Thanks to both Alderwoman Hirsch and Council President Shaut for asking the only real substantive questions during the meeting. The Oscar goes to Ward 6 Alderman Tony Davis for his riveting performances.

Although the parking garage is the centerpiece of the PILOT agreement, it succeeded to move through committee even without a clear number and explanation of parking spaces that would be made available to the public (the developer stated that he couldn’t give the parking space variance numbers ‘exactly’ before making an apples / oranges comparison between the Uptown Kingston proposal and a project of theirs in Poughkeepsie).

Next Steps

The Kingstonian PILOT will now go to the Kingston Common Council caucus meeting on Monday, August 3 at 7:00pm where the full council will discuss the PILOT and what happens next. The public can call their council representative and request that during caucus, the PILOT be sent back to committee in order for all of critical questions that have been raised to be answered and put in writing. Without it, we won’t have a clear understanding of what the community is being asked to provide and what we can expect in return.

If the council decides not to send the PILOT back to committee that evening, then it will go on to the floor for a full council vote at the Kingston Common Council meeting on Tuesday, August 4 at 7:30pm.

Counting Votes

TAKE ACTION: We encourage the Kingston community to reach out to the following council members before August 3 to request that the Kingstonian PILOT either be sent back to committee or denied until all of the critical QUESTIONS THAT HAVE BEEN RAISED are not only answered but put in writing so that there is a clear understanding of what the community is being asked to provide and what we can expect to receive in return.

In counting votes, the PILOT has four solid ‘yes’ votes that include: Ward 2 Alderman Doug Koop, Ward 3 Alderman Rennie Scott-Childress, Ward 5 Alderman Don Tallerman and Ward 6 Alderman Tony Davis.

At this time, there is only one publicly known ‘no’ vote for next week’s council meeting: Ward 8 Alderman Steve Schabot (who has recused himself as he works for one of the developers. A recusal is an automatic ‘no’ vote as described above).

The passage or denial of the Kingstonian PILOT agreement therefore hangs in the balance of the following council members:

Ward 1 Alderman Jeffrey Ventura-Morell
ward1@kingston-ny.gov

Ward 4 Alderwoman Rita Worthington
ward4@kingston-ny.gov

Ward 7 Alderman Patrick O’Reilly
ward7@kingston-ny.gov

Ward 9 Alderwoman Michelle Hirsch
ward9@kingston-ny.gov

Other Involved Agencies

As a deviated PILOT, keep in mind that the Kingston City School District Board of Education and the Ulster County Legislature both need to approve the conditions of the Kingstonian PILOT request before the developer can move forward with the UCIDA. The timing of this is anyone’s guess.

What we do know, is that the next Ulster County Industrial Corporation Agency (UCIDA) meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, August 12 at 9:00am.

Outstanding Lawsuits

So far, the Kingston common council, in their discussion about the Kingstonian PILOT, have not referenced the litigation that is pending on the Kingstonian Negative Declaration SEQR decision by the Kingston Planning Board.

However, in a recent letter (submitted on July 17) from the Law Offices of Rodenhausen Chale & Polidoro LLP by Victoria L. Polidoro, who represents several property owners in Uptown, Kingston, the UCIDA was reminded of the following:

The IDA Should Not Consider the Application Until the Pending Article 78 is Resolved

The IDA should refrain from acting on the application until the pending SEQRA litigation is resolved, as any decision it makes may thereafter be invalidated.

The IDA is Not Authorized to Grant the Application

As a threshold matter the IDA does not have authority to consider or grant the Application for the Project which includes residential housing units. The IDA’s Housing Projects Policy, which was reaffirmed on January 8, 2020, only allows IDA financing it limited circumstances. It provides that:

A. The Agency will only consider the granting of any “financial assistance” (asdefined under the Act) for following projects that provide housing:

  1. A project that satisfies the definition of a continuing care retirement community project under Section 859-b of the Act; or
  2. A project by an industrial, manufacturing, warehousing, commercial,research and recreation facility (as defined in the Act) that provides workforce housing for its employees.

Last but not least, the conflicts of interest

On January 8, 2020 in our letter to the Kingston Common Council Laws and Rules committee, we requested that Ward 5 Alderman Don Tallerman recuse himself from any decision-making pertaining to the Kingstonian project. Not only did he appear in a promotional video on the developer’s website (which they have since taken down) he has also delivered public testimony in favor of the zoning change (while opposing the call for affordable housing for the project and supporting the PILOT its parking garage). His testimonies occurred months after he had already declared his candidacy for the council (Daily Freeman 2/20/19: Kingston Democrats Choose Slate of Candidates for November Election). Because he operates an event venue, the Senate Garage, that is directly across from the project site, he stands to significantly benefit directly financially from the development which represents a conflict of interest.

An image taken from the video of support of Don Tallerman (prior to his run for office) that was featured on the Kingstonian project’s website. It was taken down almost immediately after the city received our letter on January 8 letter pointing out the conflicts of interest.

PROMISES WITH NO DATA: The Mayor of Kingston Comments on the Kingstonian PILOT

Photo credit: Paul Kirby, The Daily Freeman

By Editorial Board

The Mayor of Kingston sent out a press release today, one day before the Kingston Common Council’s Finance and Audit Committee is set to review the Kingstonian PILOT request of 25 years at 100% tax exempt in exchange for an air conditioned / heated parking garage that will primarily serve luxury housing tenants and boutique hotel guests.  This is certainly not the first attempt by the Mayor to try to influence the legislative branch in their decision-making at a time when they should have autonomy.  

Below is a breakdown of the Mayor’s communication, paragraph by paragraph, that includes some of what was omitted, misleading or missing from his statement.  

“The Kingstonian project is of great importance to our City – not only will it bring desperately needed housing stock to our community, along with much-needed parking, the hotel and retail spaces will bring visitors and tax revenue. The developers have committed to paying a living wage for all new jobs created to operate the apartments, hotel and garage complex, and the public plaza will be a welcomed addition to Uptown. A PILOT for this project will have no negative tax implications, only positive!”
–  Mayor Noble

The Kingstonian luxury housing project offers apartments where the rents would be market rate (+) and unattainable to most of the Kingston community.  In the PILOT application, the Kingstonian applicant is only asked to provide a living wage for a single adult. They state that 84% of their jobs would pay $20.73 per hour, which is not nearly enough for that single person if they were raising a child in the community.   Such a worker will not earn enough to live in the Kingstonian luxury apartments and will most certainly have a hard time finding an apartment at an affordable monthly rent with a $20.73 per hour wage. It may end up being a second job for that single person who might end up living outside of the Kingston community due to the lack of affordable rentals in a county that has nearly a 0% vacancy rate.  

Read more…

The Kingstonian PILOT: There is more at stake than just parking

Editorial

CLICK, SIGN AND SEND!  Demand that the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (UCIDA) require the Kingstonian applicant release financial data for independent assessment and to place a value on their PILOT request prior to any scheduled public hearing:   CLICK ON THIS LINK, SIGN AND SEND TO ALL DECISION MAKERS.  Please include your name, where you live and any additional message you’d like to include. 


What the Kingston community needs to know up front

The Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (UCIDA) this week considered a $30.6 million tax subsidy to real estate developers in exchange for 277 parking spaces. In the midst of a financial crisis, the substantial loss of $30.6 million in tax receipts will have a profound effect on the community. A subsidy to the Kingstonian real estate developers for parking spaces means less money to invest in City schools, streets, public housing, and infrastructure. It increases the likelihood that already overburdened taxpayers will cover any fiscal gap with increased school and property taxes. 

What happened at the July 8th Ulster County IDA Meeting Regarding the $57.8 million Kingstonian Project?

The specific agenda item on the Ulster County IDA docket involved the question of a deviated payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) request for the Kingstonian proposal, a $57.8 million dollar luxury apartment project in Uptown, Kingston. If granted, the Kingstonian investors pay for the value of what’s already there and not what they improve for the next 25 years. The estimated amount of the PILOT subsidy under consideration for a portion of a parking garage is roughly $30.6 million in addition to $6.8 million in tax-payer funded grants.  We have not seen a parking assessment (an estimate of how many parking spaces the project will actually need) nor do we know the true value of the PILOT request.

After the developer’s joint presentation with the Mayor of Kingston, the IDA expressed significant concerns, and sent the proposal back to the pre screening process.  The deviation and the delay will allow the developers to go back and discuss the PILOT agreement with the involved agencies (City of Kingston, Ulster County Legislature and Board of Education) to confirm their commitment before returning to the IDA board in August. If the IDA is satisfied with the progress at that point, they will schedule a public hearing.  In the meantime, without the release of vital financial information, the public is unable to assess the true value of the PILOT.  To date, neither the developers, the IDA nor the City of Kingston has agreed to release that financial information.

What’s the IDA and a deviated PILOT? How does it affect the Kingston Community?

Read more…

The State Preservation Office does about-face for Kingstonian project amid political pressure

By Editorial Board

Rendering by Mackenzie Architects

Without any significant changes proposed by the developers, the New York State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) has chosen to unsee the adverse impacts that it had identified in September 2019 in the course of its review of the Kingstonian. The only rational explanation for this unexpected and illogical about-face is that this is the result of political pressure exerted by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and by extension, Governor Andrew Cuomo. 

According to a February 14 letter to the ESDC from John Bonafide, Director of the Technical Division Bureau at SHPO, “After considering the material presented at our meeting and the subsequently submitted information, we have found that the evolution of the proposal has addressed many of the open preservation issues raised by this office.” However, the only change that has been made since his office last reviewed the project in September is that the Schwenk Drive portion of the development grew another story. Impacts that were identified in the agency’s September 19 letter, such as the project’s size, its monolithic scale, and its eradication of Fair Street Extension, have not been mitigated in the least. 

SHPO’s comments on the Kingstonian are part of a consultation mandated by Section 14.09 of the New York Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Law. It is required for projects that are funded, licensed or approved by state or federal agencies. The Kingstonian is set to receive $3 million in funding from the ESDC. The majority of the project site lies within the National Register-listed Stockade Historic District.

We do not know yet how this will impact the active Article 78 suit filed by a consortium of Uptown business entities against the City of Kingston and the developers. SHPO’s latest findings do not detract from the main premise of the lawsuit—that the Kingston Planning Board failed to take a “hard look” at the facts of the project during the State Environmental Quality Review. 

SHPO’s findings also do not negate the project’s pending review by the local Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission, whose responsibility it will be to scrutinize the design details big and small, something that SHPO does not do in its review. 

As KingstonCitizens.org has reported in the past, the developers of the Kingstonian are the beneficiaries of substantial taxpayer-funded state grants. In addition to the $3 million from the ESDC, they have been awarded $3.8 million from Cuomo’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative Grant. They are also likely to seek an unknown sum of municipal tax breaks through the Ulster County IDA. In addition to all of that and perhaps of most value, they have a political leader like Mayor Steve Noble for a partner, who over the course of the past year, has seemingly gone out of his way to use the powers of his office to influence the outcome of the project’s regulatory review, whether by having his corporation counsels mislead and bully individuals, removing members of the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission, or by seeing to it that the zoning law is disregarded. 

From the recent effort to merge departments and provide his spouse a new position with increased pay to creating positions for housing initiatives, this mayor’s determination to muscle through his agenda with or without the Common Council’s consent—and sometimes at the expense of others—is infuriating. The pressure on the Council to unquestionably support the Kingstonian is great. We hope they hold the line for our community. 

Note: For an excellent in-depth background on the developers of the Kingstonian and the origins of the project, listen to the August 16, 2019 episode of “The Source with Hillary Harvey” on RadioKingston.

The Need for Charter Reform Becomes Obvious and Urgent

Editorial Board

In a surprise February 3 press release, Mayor Steve Noble announced a major proposal to restructure the Departments of Public Works (DPW) and Parks & Recreation, which would greatly expand the current role of the Superintendent of DPW to oversee both departments. The Mayor’s proposal also creates a new Deputy position who would oversee several divisions, including parks maintenance, recreation programming, environmental education programs, along with sanitation. He even had a person ready to provisionally fill this new position immediately: his wife, Julie Noble, who is currently a city environmental education and sustainability coordinator.

Not surprisingly,  his proposal has not been received well. There have been cries of nepotism and ethics charges have been filed. Members of the Common Council, who had little or no warning of this proposal before it was announced to the public, have expressed unusual hesitation. However, there may be a silver lining in this mess.

READ: Kingstoncitizens.org’s “City Government is not a Mayor’s Oyster: The Restructuring of DPW, Parks & Recreation and Nepotism”

Kingston’s city charter in its current form gives the Mayor considerable power. He alone appoints all commissions and boards. He hires and fires officials, not all of whom have the credentials necessary for the particular role. The silver lining? His egregious heavy-handedness has a lot of people talking about the need for charter reform. The Mayor himself has supported charter reform in the past, and at the Common Council’s Laws & Rules Committee on February 19,  he admitted that the charter was outdated and expressed his desire to work in partnership with the Council to update it in a comprehensive manner.   

VIDEO of Laws and Rules Committee meeting on February 19, 2020. 

Why charter reform now?

According to the New York Department of State’s ‘Revising City Charters In New York State’ technical series, a city charter, …is the basic document that defines the organization, powers, functions and essential procedures of the city government. It is comparable to the State Constitution and to the Constitution of the United States. The charter is, therefore, the most important single law of any city.”

Those who have followed KingstonCitizens.org know that for the last decade, reforming Kingston’s charter has been a major goal of ours.  That’s because in 1993, after many years of hard work by citizens with support from folks like the local Chamber of Commerce and League of Women Voters, there was a referendum to change Kingston’s form of government to a City Manager form.  It passed overwhelmingly. However, Kingston’s newly elected and popular Mayor, T.R. Gallo (who had also served briefly on the charter commission but stopped showing up some say in protest of the City Manager discussion) was unhappy with the new charter as it would diminish the powers of his office.  Swiftly, Gallo put together his own charter commission only a few months into the new charter’s passage. As Tom Benton describes it in his commentary “How Kingston got its ‘strong mayor’” in the Kingston Times, “As for the proposal itself, it was rather ingeniously constructed by taking the newly adopted charter and merely replacing the words “city manager” with “mayor” throughout. There were some other modifications, of course,  but that was the essence of it. And here was the effect: Under the adopted charter, the city manager was given very broad and powerful executive authority, the governmental check on that authority being control and supervision by the Common Council. Under the new proposal, an elected mayor would have the same broad authority, but would be entirely free from any such control or supervision by the council. Strong mayor, indeed!”   Kingston voters approved a “strong mayor” form of government by a narrow margin.  “…The city manager charter adopted a year earlier was consigned to history without ever having been tried and the era of the strong mayor was ushered in.”      This is the reason why—by design and by accident—Kingston’s executive branch has the power that it has without sufficient checks and balances.  

Charter reform introduced by Kingston Common Council in 2019.

As recently as  June 2019, Ward 9 Councilmember Andrea Shaut—who now serves as the Council President—introduced the subject of charter reform to the Laws & Rules Committee, which she then chaired. It was her desire that there be a collective effort to educate themselves and the community about the value of revising the charter to reflect the current needs of Kingston. 

While it was a welcome first step, her Council colleagues did not see a pressing need for action and the effort did not advance.  We are optimistic that its time has arrived.

READ: KingstonCitizens.org, “Education is Key. Common Council Takes Up Charter Revision Discussion”

Next steps

There are a host of reasons, all simple and sensible, why we have always thought that Kingston should return to a City Manager form of government.  Because it is unconstitutional to require that candidates for Mayor to have certain qualifications to hold the office beyond being a U.S. citizen and above a certain age,  our local government is led by individuals who learn on the job (hopefully) and who can restructure the administration to suit their agenda and biases. With a City Manager or administrator form of government, there are still officials popularly elected to represent the community.  The advantage of having a City Manager is that they have skills and experience specific to government administration. If they do well in their position, they can remain no matter who is elected. The same would be true for any department head.  

As practical-sounding as our opinion may be, it’s only one in a city of 24,000 people. To change the form of government is serious business. It has to be a community-based conversation guided by an unbiased facilitator. The product of this effort would be a revised charter for voters to adopt by referendum.  

We appreciate the Mayor and Council members’ support of charter reform. If they are at all serious about it, then we believe that the Mayor’s proposal to merge departments should be thrown out. An acting Superintendent of Parks & Recreation can be appointed and they can spend the next few months working with the Superintendent of the Department of Public Works to identify any tasks under Parks & Recreation that are better suited for DPW. Together, they can submit a list of recommendations to the Mayor for his consideration. 

It’s been 25 years since our city charter was last examined in a comprehensive manner. It is the responsibility of the community at large to insist that it happens. The time has never been more right.

City Government is not a Mayor’s Oyster: The Restructuring of DPW, Parks & Recreation and Nepotism.

By Rebecca Martin

On January 25th, Kevin Gilfeather announced his retirement as Superintendent of Kingston’s Parks & Recreation Department after 23 ½ years in the position.  Just six days later, Mayor Steve Noble, who for many years worked under Gilfeather as one of two environmental educators, submitted the following communication to the President of the Common Council with the hope of getting special business added to its February agenda. It read:

Dear President Shaut, 

With the impending retirement of Kevin Gilfeather, Superintendent of Parks and Recreation, I have been working with my staff to develop a long-term plan that supports the continued operations of our incredible parks and programming and identifies opportunities for improvement. As part of this process, I have been in discussion with not only the leadership of Parks and Recreation, but also of the Department of Public Works. While each Department serves critical and unique functions, I believe wholeheartedly that these departments can and should work closer together for the benefit of our community. By collaborating together, we have the opportunity to improve our system so that the services to our community and taxpayers are delivered in an economical, efficient and sustainable manner. I am respectfully requesting that this matter be referred to both the Finance and Laws and Rules Committees. I will be in attendance at both of these meetings to present my proposal and answer any questions the Council may have. Additional documents supporting this proposal will be sent under separate cover, prior to these meetings, so that the Council members may familiarize themselves.  

Mayors and citizens alike can submit communications, by letter or email, to the Common Council requesting that it take up a certain issue. From stop signs to Department requests, the Council President will assign the matter to whichever Council Committee she deems appropriate.  In Kingston, these communications are made publicly available as hyperlinks in the online agenda for the Council’s regular monthly meeting. This helps the public to anticipate forthcoming issues that may be taken up by the Common Council. 

In this case, the Mayor’s communication arrived without any detail as to what he had in mind, only the promise that “additional documents supporting this proposal will be sent under separate cover, prior to these meetings, so that the Council members may familiarize themselves” and a request to be added to both the Finance and Laws & Rules Committee agendas. 

Then, late in the afternoon of the following day,  the Mayor got more specific in a press release, announcing his plans to “integrate leadership teams” of the Department of Public Works (DPW) and Parks & Recreation Department by creating two new positions and expanding the role of the current Superintendent of DPW.  Serving as the new Deputy Superintendent of Environmental Services would be his wife, Julie Noble, who would be “provisionally selected” until she sits for a New York State civil service examination. According to a recent news article,  Julie Noble’s new salary would rise by as much as $23,000. The Mayor’s plan also calls for the creation of a new Recreation Director position, which would be filled by his former Confidential Secretary.  (Please see clarification below)

The Mayor’s announcement occurred before the Council knew the details of his proposal. His press release was likely news to most of them, as it was to the public. 

The Mayor’s rush to accomplish his desired Department restructuring creates a messy situation for everyone. It might very well jeopardize a possibly sensible idea. Examining its merit is the responsibility of the Common Council, beginning with its Laws & Rules Committee and later, the Finance Committee. According to Kingston’s Charter, reorganizing Departments calls for a local law process.  

The most perplexing part of this whole thing is the Mayor’s intention to fill the new positions with a family member and a friend—the very definition of nepotism. The Deputy Superintendent of Environmental Services, a position intended for Julie Noble, would report to the Superintendent of Public Works, who serves at the pleasure of the Mayor without any protections in place for his own job. If he takes issue with the Mayor’s wife down the road, who is more likely to have the Mayor’s ear?  Needless to say, this structure creates a conflict of interest and could violate the City of Kingston’s ethics law (see 49-3 Standards of Conduct).

We reached out to Council President Shaut today to ask if the Council had received any more information outside of the posted agenda packet from last evening’s Council meeting on the Mayor’s proposal and whether or not the item would be sent to two Council Committees at once. 

“The Mayor has not submitted any more detail to the Council at this time. The Mayor did request the communication to be sent to both the Finance Committee and Laws & Rules Committee for February,”  wrote Shaut.  “Originally, I did assign it to both Committees for the month; however, after learning more about his request and the fact that it does need to be a local law process,  I have determined it would be inappropriate to discuss at Finance before it is vetted by Laws & Rules.”  

Shaut also included her response to the Mayor’s communication.  “After gathering more information on the specific process that will need to take place with the Council regarding your communication of a collaboration between DPW and Parks & Rec, I am taking off the communication to the Finance & Audit Committee for the month of February. According to our Charter, restructuring departments can only happen through a local law by the Common Council. The appropriate Committee to address your proposal first would be Laws & Rules. The Finance Committee’s decisions will happen only once, and if, the Local Law is shaped.”  

The Council President’s clarity in these communications helps to outline the proper process that should be followed. 

City government is not a Mayor’s oyster. It belongs to the public, and a good government has a strong system of checks and balances to protect the public interest.  In this case, the merging of Departments, the immediate creation and filling of new positions, and the reorganization of current DPW staff should be placed on hold until after the Common Council has had the opportunity to weigh the Mayor’s proposal and hear from the public.

Clarification:  Although the executive branch has not provided more detail about plans to restructure the DPW and Parks & Recreation, we have learned in the meantime that Lynsey Timbrouck who would be hired as the Director of Recreation took the civil service exam in 2018, prior to any knowledge of Gilfeather’s plans to retire. On the exam, she scored a 90, making her 2nd on the list.

Do you remember? 2007: Kingston Historic Stockade District placed on ‘Seven to Save’ list. What KingstonCitizens.org will be following in 2020

By Rebecca Martin

“We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.”
George Bernard Shaw

With the Kingstonian project’s State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR)  behind us, KingstonCitizens.org is in the midst of creating a detailed timeline of the process  to be part of the public record. Doing so has taken us back nearly 20 years to the early 2000s when the Mixed Use Overlay District (MUOD) was created. While digging through the archives, we have come across items like the one below from 2007 when the Kingston Historic Stockade was nominated for and selected by the Preservation League of NYS as one of its “seven to save” preservation campaign.  

That successful effort was largely thanks to the late Avery Smith, then the chair of the Friends of Historic Kingston (FOHK) board, and others including Ed Ford, who led a coalition of partners who advocated for new construction “designed in a manner that would not detract from the unique aspects of the Stockade Historic District.”  The 12-story mixed-use building with a parking garage, proposed by the NJ-based Teicher Organization, has a lot of similarities to today’s Kingstonian project in size, location, and uses. Smith was also strongly opposed to the Kingstonian design as he believed the scale and architecture is incompatible with the Stockade. 

In addition to mapping the Kingstonian SEQR process, we are creating timelines for ten (10) other controversial campaigns that we were also deeply engaged on, including Niagara Bottling, Water Sales Referendum, Shooting Range/Gun Shop, GlidePath/Lincoln Park Grid Support Center. Each one will be collaborative so that members of the public can include  things we may have missed. 

LANDMARK STATUS:  LOCATED IN A NATIONAL REGISTER HISTORIC DISTRICT. 

THREAT: INAPPROPRIATE DEVELOPMENT

“A 12-story condominium project including parking garage and retail spaces is proposed for a site on the boundary of a National Register and local landmark district. The project is completely out of scale with the historic district which includes the Senate House State Historic Site, the first capital of New York State. Advocates are seeking a full environmental impact review, denial of height variances, and formal review role for the project by the local historic district commission. Friends of Historic Kingston, a Preservation Colleague group, joined other nominators to form the Citizens Concerned for Planning Kingston’s Future. The nominators are not opposed to development on the site and are advocating for a building designed in a manner that will not detract from the unique aspects of the Stockade Historic District.

Objectives: Advocates hope to implement the established review process to guide alteration of design for a more appropriately-scaled project.”

What KingstonCitizens.org will be following in 2020

These are our top three items to follow in the new year.

1. Kingstonian project’s discretionary decisions.  A project (or action) like the Kingstonian is subject to SEQR when any state or local agency has authority to issue a permit, license, or other type of approval for that action.  SEQR also applies if an agency funds or directly undertakes a project, or adopts a resource management plan, rule or policy that affects the environment. It’s only after the SEQR process is complete that involved agencies can move forward with their decision-making. On December 16, the Kingston Planning Board as Lead Agency of the Kingstonian SEQR process made a negative declaration. The developer will likely not waste any time seeking agency approvals.   

Key decisions include (please check the agendas attached from the City of Kingston for updates on discussion items or contact Elisa Tinti, City Clerk at (845) 334-3915 or email cityclerk@kingston-ny.gov):

Kingston City School Board of Education
Approvals:  Deviated PILOT review (rumored to be 25 years)
Next meeting: Wednesday, January 8 & 22 (details remain unclear)
Contact: James Shaugnessy, President at jshaughnessy@kingstoncityschools.org

Kingston Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC) 
Approval: Preservation notice of action
Next meeting: Thursday, January 9 at 6:30pm  AGENDA
Note:  Currently, the date on the city’s HLPC agenda says January 2, but the meeting is confirmed to be January 9. 
Contact: Mark Grunblatt, Chair at grunblattesq@aol.com

Kingston Zoning Board of Appeals
Appeal: Mixed Use Overlay District (MUOD) Interpretation
Next meeting: The next meeting is not yet listed on the City of Kingston’s website, though it is typically meet on the second Thursday of the month at 6:00pm. Please contact the board chair for more details.
Contact: Tony Argulewicz, Chair at aaargulewicz@aol.com

Kingston Planning Board
Approvals: Site plan, special use permit, lot line revision
Next meeting: The meeting is not listed on the City of Kingston’s website yet, though they typically meet on the third Monday of the month at 6:00pm.
Contact: Kyla DeDea, City of Kingston Planning Office at (845) 334-3955 or email kdedea@kingston-ny.gov

Kingston Common Council Laws and Rules Committee
Approvals: Closing of a city street (Fair St); sale of land or easement conveyance (parking garage): a deviated PILOT agreement (rumored to be 25 years); and zoning amendment (MUOD)
Next meeting: Wednesday, January 15 at 6:30pm
Contact: Ward 1 Alderman Jeffrey Ventura-Morell, Chair at ward1@kingston-ny.gov
Read:  Rezoning Request for Kingstonian Project Slated for January 15.

Ulster County Industrial Development Corporation (UCIDA)
Approval: Deviated PILOT agreement (rumored to be 25 years).
Next meeting: TBA
Contact: Rose Woodworth, Executive Director at 845/943-4600

2. City of Kingston Charter Reform In June of this year, Alderwoman Andrea Shaut who chaired the council’s Laws and Rules Committee in 2019, introduced city charter reform. According to the Department of State’s Division of Local Government Services ‘Revising City Charters in New York State’ it explains, “Why should cities undertake charter revision? There are several reasons, generally stemming from the fact that a charter affects everything the city government does. It provides the basis for most municipal regulatory functions and for the delivery of municipal services. An obsolete charter can be responsible for many municipal problems. lf it contains provisions which are unworkable under current conditions, municipal officials may have to make a difficult choice between being responsible for inferior service delivery or inviting legal challenge for deliberate, albeit well-meaning, deviation from the law. Until such provisions are eliminated, the most competent officials will be unable to carry out their responsibilities both efficiently and legally. Even though a charter may not be so obsolete as to present dilemmas of conscience, revision may well lay the basis for improved governmental operations. A good charter should provide a clear distribution of the powers of city government and clear descriptions of the duties and powers of municipal officials.”

Now, as president of the Common Council, Shaut will be in charge of appointing leadership and membership of all council committees, which includes Laws and Rules. We hope that she, and our council as a whole, will place this matter as a top item to set forth in the coming year (s).

3. City of Kingston Comprehensive Plan Zoning. In his 2018  “State of the City” speech, Mayor Steve Noble said that his “…administration will be focusing on overhauling our Zoning Code. …I will be launching the second stage of the zoning update and will be recruiting local volunteers to delve into such complex subjects as affordable housing, urban agriculture, parking and parking waivers, form-based codes and much more. This work is necessary in order to ensure that our zoning is consistent with our Comprehensive Plan, spurs responsible economic development and preserves our community’s high quality of life.” 

Later, in early 2019, he created a Comprehensive Plan Task Force. Over the summer months, the group drafted a “Request for Proposals” (RFP) for a professional planning consultant. The selection committee of the task force is now reviewing the handful of proposals that were submitted. They will make a recommendation to take to the Common Council in early 2020.

###

2020 promises to be an intense year with a presidential election.  But it is at the local level where key decisions are made.  Going forward into the new year, we wish for you to remain engaged, inquisitive and fearless.

SIGN THE PETITION: Kingston Common Council must uphold its affordable housing mandate and provide constituents with a full accounting of Kingstonian public funds

Kingstonian
View of the Kingstonian and its private swimming pool. Rendering by Mackenzie Architects.


Dear Members of the Kingston Common Council, 

We write regarding the zoning amendment request for the Kingstonian project. The Ulster County Planning Board has reviewed the proposed amendment and has determined that, as presented, it is inconsistent with the City’s zoning and Comprehensive Plan. If the amendment is to be adopted, the County has required changes, particularly the inclusion of affordable housing. We urge the Council to make the changes the County requires. Affordable housing is a critical need in Kingston, and there is no reason that a project receiving substantial public subsidies should escape the responsibility to supply affordable units.

Ulster County and the City of Kingston have an affordable housing crisis, with 55% of residents county-wide spending over 30% of their income on rent. When the City adopted the Mixed Use Overlay District in 2005, it called for 20% affordable units per project. Kingston’s 2025 Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2016, took the mission city-wide, calling for affordable units in all new residential developments throughout the city. Kingston is the only city in the Mid-Hudson region currently pursuing coverage under New York State’s new rent control laws to rein in its spiraling housing costs.

Applying the City’s affordable housing requirements to the proposed 131-unit Kingstonian project would bring much needed affordable units to Kingston families. In contrast, allowing construction of a luxury housing development with no affordable units would only worsen the housing crisis by further gentrifying Uptown and Kingston overall.

If the Common Council has determined that every developer in the city should provide affordable units at their own expense, then the heavily-subsidized Kingstonian project cannot be excused from providing the same.  

The Ulster County Planning Board warned in its letter that “it is disquieting that there is little disclosure of the public investment needed to bring the project to fruition.”  

The community is aware of at least $6.8 million in taxpayer-funded grants:

* $3.8 million from Governor Cuomo’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI);

* $2 million has been granted by the Empire State Development Corp; 

* A $1 million Restore NY Grant.

Here’s what our community remains in the dark about:

* The value of tax breaks through the Ulster County IDA, which may excuse the developer from paying sales and mortgage taxes, as well as portions of its city, county and school taxes;

* The value of all municipal real estate that will be contributed to the project, including Fair Street Extension, which will be eliminated, and the city parking lot parcel on North Front Street;

* The municipal parking revenue that will be lost once the public lot is sold. 

* The cost of any infrastructure upgrades the City will undertake to accommodate the project. 

* Any other public grants, tax credits, or subsidies the Kingstonian is seeking.

Therefore, we make two requests of the Common Council:

1. Do not amend the zoning map without also making the changes to the text of the zoning that the County requires. In particular, clarify that new multi-family housing must include affordable units.

2. 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 SEQRA review. 

We look forward to your response.

SIGN THE PETITION: Kingston Common Council must uphold its affordable housing mandate and provide constituents with a full accounting of Kingstonian public funds (via change.org)

KingstonCitizens.org Challenges Kingstonian Applicant’s Zoning Interpretation and Citizen Action of New York Submits FOIL Request to City of Kingston

City of Kingston Zoning Map. The boundaries of the Uptown MUOD mirror those of the Stockade Historic District shown in gray.

By Rebecca Martin

For months, many concerned citizens have asked the City of Kingston to provide its interpretation of the Mixed Use Overlay District—an overlay that adds a 20% affordable housing requirement to any adaptive reuse project with five or more residential units—as it relates to the Kingstonian project, a new construction that does not include affordable housing. This interpretation should have been provided to the applicant in writing prior to the start of the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process.

Presumably, it should be easy enough for the City to upload this existing document to the Planning Office’s project page for the Kingstonian. If not, then the public can FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) it. If such a document does not exist, then the City ought to provide an explanation about how it assists applicants with complicated zoning interpretations.

On August 16th, in a letter oddly addressed to just three private citizens, the City of Kingston Corporation Counsel’s office outlined its process for the current Zoning Officer to issue a formal interpretation of the “relevant sections of the Code.” The letter states that any additional submissions or written arguments regarding the proper interpretation may be sent to the Zoning Enforcement Officer on or before the close of business on August 30th. 



Click on image to read the Corporation Council’s formal zoning interpretation process letter for the MUOD and the Kingstonian Project.

On August 28th, the attorney representing the Kingstonian applicant, Michael Moriello, submitted his written interpretation of the MUOD, concluding that “…there has been no waiver or violation of any zoning law 20% affordable housing requirement with respect to issuance of a Special Use Permit, as affordable housing guidelines do not apply to new construction within the Mixed Use Overlay District under the City of Kingston Zoning Law.”      


Click on image to read the Kingstonian applicant’s interpretation of the MUOD as it pertains to the Kingstonian Project.

On August 30th, the City forwarded that interpretation via email to the same three citizens with the instruction that “…written responses to the arguments submitted will be accepted for a period of one additional week.” That deadline is today, September 9th. 

So today, KingstonCitizens.org, assisted by attorney and counselor at law Emily B. Svenson, submitted a letter to the City of Kingston’s Zoning Officer rebutting the applicant’s attorney’s interpretation.  


Click on image to read KingstonCitizens.org and attorney Emily B. Svenson’s letter to the City of Kingston’s Zoning Officer rebutting the applicant’s attorney’s interpretation

What follows is a condensed version of our letter:

“KingstonCitizens.org is a non-partisan, grassroots, volunteer organization. Its purpose in commenting is to advocate for fair and proper application of the City’s zoning code, in accordance with the group’s ongoing advocacy for equitable housing, historic preservation, and environmental protection to benefit the Kingston community. Particularly for a project that is receiving significant public funding, it is vital to ensure that the project truly benefits the community.”

“In response to the applicant’s recent submittal, we respectfully ask that you expand your interpretation to determine whether the code authorizes new construction of residential uses at the proposed Kingstonian location. As this letter will show, it does not.”

“The applicant’s strenuous argument that the provisions of the MUOD do not apply to the Kingstonian raises an important question: Does the MUOD support the project at all?”

“The only authorization within the MUOD to establish a residential use is by converting an existing structure into apartments or live/work spaces. As the applicant agrees, that type of adaptive reuse would be subject to affordable housing requirements.”

“If the City of Kingston Common Council had intended for the MUOD to allow construction of new housing complexes, it would have written that into the overlay district. It did not. The Council was clearly attempting to facilitate the adaptive reuse of outdated buildings, while ensuring the resulting apartments would include affordable units. It defies logic to posit that the Council intended to simultaneously allow new construction of apartments without affordable units. Indeed, nothing in the code authorizes that use.”

“Because there is no authorization within the zoning code for new construction of housing at this location, we ask that you issue a determination that the project does not conform to the zoning code. The applicant would have multiple options to proceed, including pursuing a use variance or zoning change, or modifying the project to conform to the code.”

Citizen Action of New York submits FOIL to City of Kingston 

Meanwhile, on September 6th, Citizen Action of New York submitted a FOIL request to the City of Kingston for all communications between  the applicable City staff identified in the Kingstonian applicant’s Environmental Assessment Form and Addendum letter: 

“…copies of all records and documented communications, including written correspondence and emails between former City of Kingston Building and Safety Division Deputy Chief Tom Tiano, City of Kingston Fire Department Fire Chief Mark Brown, Kingston Planning Director Suzanne Cahill, City of Kingston assistant planner Kyla Haber and the Kingstonian applicant and development team from January 1, 2018 – May 1, 2019.”

Citizen Action also requested a 45-day extension of the review process for the Kingstonian applicant’s zoning amendment application in order to give the organization time to review the forthcoming information provided by the City. These communications may shed light on any discussions that the City had with the applicant regarding the interpretation of the zoning for the Kingstonian project site prior to the commencement of the project’s SEQR process.

Click on image to read Citizen Action of New York’s FOIL request to the City of Kingston and 45-day process extension.

What’s next?

On Wednesday September 11th, the Planning Board will convene for a special meeting to discuss the studies and comments it has received in relation to the Kingstonian project’s potential environmental impact. While it is unlikely that the Board will issue its SEQR determination at this meeting, the discussion should shed some light on the viewpoints of the individual members.  

VIEW Facebook event

Decision Makers Need To Clarify Zoning Petition Time Frame and Request Written Record of Zoning Interpretation for Kingstonian Project.

PUBLIC REQUEST: Please request that the Kingston Common Council Laws and Rules Committee collect the official record from city staff (zoning officer, city planner and/or corporation council) to show – in writing – the city’s interpretation and application of the Stockade Mixed Use Overlay District (a zoning law created for adaptive reuse projects and affordable housing) to the Kingstonian Project (a new construction with market rate housing.)

By Rebecca Martin

Over the past many months upon discovering the Stockade Mixed Use Overlay District (MUOD) listed in the Kingstonian project’s application, we have asked how the overlay, created to encourage adaptive reuse to existing buildings for housing and including a percentage of affordable housing, could apply to a new construction without the affordable housing requirement.  The answer to that question has been virtually ignored by the City of Kingston so far. 

VIEW the original 2005 SEQR Findings Statement and Resolution that established the Stockade and Midtown Mixed Use Overlay district

Then, on June 4th, the Kingstonian development team delivered a zoning petition to the city requesting a zoning amendment to the MUOD to include a portion of the project property lot (about 0.313 acres, approximately 12% of the project) that was currently outside of the MUOD for inclusion.

Read more…

VIDEO: Special Kingstonian Meeting 6/3/19

“The purpose of tonight’s meeting is for the planning board to determine specific areas/studies which we believe will be critical for the decision making process with regard to the Kingstonian” – Wayne Platt, Chair of the Kingston Planning Board

At last night’s special Kingstonian meeting, the mood was oddly calm.  In about 1 1/2 hours, the planning board and applicant moved through their plans of what studies would be required in order for the board to make a determination of significance (pos or neg dec).  Outside of the planning board chair, only two members of the board posed any questions to the applicant, though they voted unanimously to pass a resolution for studies.  The applicant will provide its studies to the planning board for distribution in early July. A meeting will be scheduled for September for the planning board to make a determination or, to request more information from the applicant.

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