Fair Street Extension Stipulation Does Not Prohibit Virtual Public Hearing

“But Shaut said that the city’s hands were effectively tied by Mott’s order. ‘We have to do it in person because that’s what the judge told us to do,’ said Shaut, who said she consulted city legal attorneys about the issue. So unless the judge tells us something different, it will be in-person.’”  Council to Take Back Fair Street Extension, For Now (Kingston Wire)  

By Rebecca Martin

Yesterday, KingstonCitizens.org launched a petition to request that the City hold the upcoming Fair Street Extension public hearing as either a hybrid or virtual meeting in order for the community to have the opportunity to participate during a time of high Covid infections. In 24 hours, 88 residents have signed. 

In a recent news story, President Andrea Shaut says that the city’s “hands are tied” and that the public hearing must be in person due to a directive by Judge Mott. However, there is nothing in the stipulation that suggests the meeting should be in-person only. 

In the transcript of the meeting during which the stipulation was settled, it is clear that the City of Kingston’s Corporation Counsel requested the in-person meeting, not Judge Mott, who would go on to provide an opinion, not an order: “Look, it’s you guys who are complaining about it. If there is going to be any potential for a problem in this next one, I think that can be totally averted if it’s in-person.”  

The public shouldn’t be punished at a time of high Covid infections by being denied the option to participate virtually.   Please SIGN THE PETITION to request a hybrid or virtual Fair Street Extension public hearing on January 12.

New Temporary Restraining Order On Fair Street Extension Vote Unless Legally Compliant Public Hearing on the Proposed Road Abandonment is Held

In a LETTER DATED DECEMBER 3rd submitted by attorney Victoria Polidoro from Rodenhausen Chale & Polidoro, a request was made to the Common Council regarding the public hearing for 9-17 & 21 N. Front Street and Fair Street Extension.

“On December 2, 2021, the City attempted to hold such a public hearing which took place at a hybrid remote/in-person meeting pursuant to the modifications to the Open Meetings Law (the “OML”) by NYS Chapter 417 of the Laws of 2021 (the “Chapter 417”). However, due to various issues, including but not limited to technical issues, the purported Hearing violated the Open Meetings Law, did not afford the public an adequate opportunity to meaningfully participate, and cannot form any basis for a Common Council vote on the discontinuance of the Street. For these reasons, the Common Council must schedule a new public hearing during a proper meeting conducted in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations.”

Polidoro said that the meeting failed to comply with the current Open Meetings Law. “Throughout the meeting, the audio broadcast over both Zoom and YouTube dropped repeatedly, and often during public comments. Entire speakers provided comments in person that were never broadcast over Zoom or online. As a result, the many members of the public that chose to attend the Hearing remotely were deprived of the opportunity to contemporaneously listen to what occurred at the meetings in direct violation of the OML. Despite having been promised that those online would be called intermittently with those testifying in person, the Common Council instead chose to remedy their technical issues by calling all commenters present in the Council Chambers first. Those physically present in the Common Council Chambers disproportionately consisted of the developers spearheading the project, their close associates, and union members in the region who stand to gain from the Project being constructed. The overwhelming testimony in favor of the closure of Fair Street Extension and in support of the project likely had a chilling effect on the many speakers who testified via Zoom against the proposal who were mostly relegated to the last hour of public testimony as a result and had a disparate impact on their ability to participate as a result. This deprivation materially affects the legitimacy of the public hearing because the public was unable to meaningfully participate.” she wrote. “As a result of, among other issues, the hour-plus of technical difficulties and delays, the Hearing commenced much later than was scheduled to, was paused several times, and ultimately dragged on late into the night with no apparent end in sight. We observed multiple remote participants leave the meeting before they were given an opportunity to participate because the Hearing was being unreasonably delayed and because it was unclear whether they would ever actually be given an opportunity to speak.”

“We appeal to the Council’s sense of decency and equity,” wrote Polidoro. “Its members know that what occurred at the Hearing was a technical disaster and that it directly affected the ability of the public to participate. The Councilmembers are public servants that have an obligation to act for the benefit of the residents of Kingston and that obligation has not yet been fulfilled with respect to the abandonment of the Street. Basic principles of fairness should lead the Council to schedule a new public hearing in order to solve these issues and prevent a tainted meeting from purportedly supporting the decision to give away a public street for private development with minimal, if any, benefit to the public. The Project is months, if not years away from ever receiving final approvals and would not benefit from the Street being closed in the interim. There is absolutely no need for the Council to rush to vote on the abandonment at this time. Any decision to plow ahead with the abandonment despite a patently deficient public hearing raises obvious questions regarding the Council’s intent in doing so.”

If the Council moves ahead with a vote at its next meeting, an action will be filed at 3:00pm on Monday, December 6, 2021, at the Ulster County Supreme Court seeking, inter alia, a temporary restraining order enjoining the City of Kingston Common Council from considering the Resolution to Discontinue Fair Street Extension at their meeting to scheduled to be held on December 7, 2021 or at any time until a new and legally compliant public hearing on the proposed road abandonment is held.

“Hybrid” Public Hearing on Fair Street Extension Leaves Residents out of Discussion. Testimony Includes Peer Review for Traffic Study

The image above is a page from the LETTER submitted by Victoria Polidoro (12/2) that includes a peer review of the original traffic study that guided, in part, the Kingstonian environmental review process. The peer review begins on page 47.

On Thursday, the Kingston Common Council held a public hearing on a proposal for “partial abandonment” of Fair Street Extension. The hybrid meeting (held both online and in person at City Hall) was over three hours long due to technical problems that created big gaps in the audio and streaming service. Many of the public in attendance gave up and logged out of zoom (there were nearly 100 people on zoom earlier in the evening).

City of Kingston’s lack of preparedness for Hybrid Meeting

The lack of preparedness by the city for such an important public hearing has got to be highlighted. In September, Governor Hochul extended virtual public meetings. Education Council Consortium Co-Chair Shino Tanikawa said “Conducting hybrid meetings has been extremely challenging for Citywide and Community Education Councils and participation by the members of the public has plummeted since the OML waiver expired in late June. To exacerbate the issue, the infection rates have climbed to over 4%…making many parents weary of in-person meetings. I am deeply grateful for Governor Hochul’s initiative to allow public bodies to return to virtual meetings. We will be able to enhance participation and fulfill our responsibilities more effectively and without compromising our health.”

Why is the city hosting hybrid meetings before they are able, and why go back to hybrid right now anyway with new infections on the rise in Ulster County?

At least one member of the public, Kingston City resident and President of the Board of Education (an elected position) James Shaughnessy, read his comment while the streaming system was down. It lead to his testimony not being captured on video. Upon learning this, Jim called into zoom and asked for the opportunity to re-read his comments so that they were recorded and was denied.

We were able to get a copy of his testimony where he writes:

“I would like to make a few general comments about the Kingstonian project.  It was one year ago today that the Kingston city school board voted against approving the Kingston PILOT.  I personally had aspersions cast against me by the developers and several prominent politicians for my vote.  I would like to say that I have always silently objected to saying this project is by local developers.  I am of the opinion that the Bonura Hospitality Group is the prime behind this project.  I have often wondered if Joe Bonura, Jr has ever slept a night in Kingston. Thankfully, the IDA didn’t approve a 99 year PILOT like the Bonura Group was granted for a Poughkeepsie apartment complex.”

New Peer Review for Kingstonian project Traffic Study

What was important and new that evening was a peer review of the first traffic study, that in part guided the Kingstonian environmental review process, created by Brian Weinberg, PE of Langan Engineering. Weinberg brought to light several important key points during his testimony on Thursday:

1. “The traffic impact study by the Kingstonian developers only looked at one peak hour, while you would typically study the two peak hours, that would typically include both the morning and evening peak hours, but the study only looked at the PM peak hour”

2.   “Key intersections were left out of the study area and thus the intersection capacity analysis was not completed. Along these corridors include certain intersections along Green Street, John Street and Clinton Street that would see between approximately 35 and 100 additional vehicle trips per hour….left out assessments of critical links such as Frog Alley and North Front Street where there would be a substantial number of diverter vehicles that would turn left from Schwenk Drive onto Frog Alley. Along Frog Alley there’s a fire station, and with the high volume of additional diverted traffic that would be sent onto Frog Alley could potentially affect fire station operations.”

3. “During construction of the project while Fair Street is closed and before any other pedestrian accommodations are built, pedestrians would have to travel a longer way to get between Schwenk Drive and North Front street which could be difficult especially for pedestrians with disabilities.”

Public comment period open until Monday 12/6 at 5:00pm. Council set to vote on Fair Street Extension on Tuesday

The council left the public comment period open through Monday, December 6th at 5:00pm, a standard practice. The legislation is on their agenda to discuss during Caucus and then the resolution is likely going to be up for a vote during their full council meeting on Tuesday. There is an open public comment period during the full council meeting where the public will have a final opportunity to advocate. Good Cause Eviction is also on the agenda, with a first reading of this local law (a vote would follow after its second reading in January).

Facebook Event: Fair Street Ext. Public Hearing Comments Open until 12/6 at 5pm.
Facebook Event: CoK Council Caucus 12/6 at 7pm.
Facebook Event: CoK Full Council Meeting and Open Public Comment 12/7 at 7:30pm.

Public Comment Highlights

Jennifer O’Donnell
“How many of you saw the film The Lost Rondout made by our friends and neighbors? It was a beautiful and sad story about our community being torn apart by big interests, bigger than ourselves. Spaces that we all shared and paid for through work, through taxes, through our small family businesses, and by the promises of economic development were destroyed by some very powerful government actors.”

Cheryl Schneider
“If the Kingstonian can’t make a buck doing it the legit way without us giving away our streets and our schools and our tax money, then maybe they have a sucky business plan and they need to reconsider and move out of the way and make room for somebody who can…this is not about the people of Kingston it’s about profit for a handful of people who happen to be real cozy with a lot of elected officials.”

Tanya Garment
“This development is going to be a pretty sweet deal free land and not only the parking lot also a public park and now a public street…they will get money to rebuild the warehouse that Herzogs changed from a building and made it to a warehouse. They’re going to get money to pay for the foundation of the structure above the free land. They’re going to get money to build a bridge to funnel people into Jordan’s other (Herzog’s) property. They’re going to get excusals from offering the amount of parking that our code currently requires. They’re going to get tax breaks to cover the parking that they are building and then it’s also in an Opportunity Zone so theoretically the Kingstonian project could be a 100% covered by public funds….We are just talking about this now, towards the end of the process, as this is the way that the city determined the process. The process did take a long time, part of that was the DRI process and people did try to talk about the closing of the street at that time but the elected officials that were questioned about it refused to disclose it.”

Patrick Logan
“The traffic that currently uses Fair Street Extension will necessarily be routed elsewhere, and the associated traffic impacts will be felt throughout the Stockade and cause congestion that will diminish the historic ambiance of the neighborhood. In particular, traffic along Clinton Avenue, a quaint street that served as the city’s very first historic district, will be increased fourfold.”

Sarah Wenk
“Issue of fair street is being brought up now after so much time well some of us have been raising questions about this for years I brought pictures of backed up traffic on North front street to more than one hearing the traffic implications of this closure are enormous and the traffic study was laughable and is quite roundly rebuked by the new study…”

Jennifer Armstrong
“During the November 11th Dover Kohl (Form-Based-Code) presentation, Dover Kohl discussed several big ideas to inform the new zoning code after collaboration with city residents in a series of community engagement events. Included in these core concepts were small scale as of right developments, relationships of buildings to streets and surrounding buildings re-evaluating how much parking we really need, and improved public transport walkability and more complete streets. The progress presentation also highlighted the importance of maintaining small block size and avoiding street closures. Closing Fair Street at this time would be a disservice to the taxpayers investment and rezoning.”

Ilona Ross
“I feel compelled to debunk a few misconceptions about this project. It is not privately funded, it is publicly funded with cash from New York State, property tax breaks and the Opportunity Zone boondoggle. The developer’s own application puts their investment at around six million dollars and the tens if not hundreds of millions that a few rich individuals will take home comes from the pockets of the people of Kingston, Ulster County and New York.”

Rose Quinn
“…I don’t understand why anyone would look to Brad Jordan or anyone at the plaza for any expertise on pedestrian or bicycle safety…”

Justin Hoekstra
“There’s a lot of good development spots where you can build a bunch of luxury housing. Having to tear down an old warehouse and having to shut down and give away a public street in order to build this luxury high-rise in uptown is nuts.”

Victoria Polidoro
“In 2011, the City of Kingston supported a plan which identified the fair street extension as an important roadway connection to uptown Kingston and a potential catalyst for smart redevelopment along Schwenk drive. You are now foreclosing these future smart growth opportunities at the same time that you’re doing a zoning revision by discontinuing the connection between the stockade area and the area immediately outside of it…how can you as members of the common council sworn to act in the public interest approve of this without knowing exactly what will be discontinued and without a plan for what happens between now and potential construction 15 years in the future?”

Rashida Taylor
“Tonight’s meeting should have been postponed as there was a lot of technical difficulties and a lot of people who wanted to make statements who were unfortunately unable to stay through the meeting…this project has never been centered in the community and it doesn’t meet our needs. It’s not for us the real residents of Kingston. The real Kingstonians are being asked to bankroll this project…”

Rebecca Rojer
“I want to express my vehement opposition to the abandonment of Fair Street Extension, as it continues to be the safest and most direct bicycle route to the plaza allowing cyclists to access groceries, UCAT, and the Midtown Linear Trail…I fear our leaders are making a terrible mistake handing this public asset to private developers and for free no less.”

Phil Erner
“Once there was a wicked wicked plan, Kingstonian was its name. To house the wealthy and the few while poor folks could not stand…”

ACTION: Request that the City of Kingston Council President postpone Thursday’s Fair Street Extension public hearing until more information is available

By Rebecca Martin

The public is tired of the Kingstonian project. But the meaning of the Fair Street Extension public hearing on Thursday of this week stretches beyond that, and is another blatant example of our local government not doing its job to protect the interests of the community at large. Over the course of many years we’ve watched lawmakers orchestrate the Kingstonian project process to get the result it wants to appease some pretty powerful interests.

Earlier this month, the council was ready to pass a resolution that would allow all of the approvals for a public street to become an entrance ramp to a parking garage (that will be open to the public, but owned privately, though funded with public dollars) for luxury apartments in Uptown Kingston. It was only when an outside lawyer stepped in to present a real legal threat to their business-as-usual that they aborted that plan to find some other way to outwit a potential future lawsuit with teeth. In the meantime, they passed the items that they could last month and waited to tackle the real hardship of ‘abandoning’ a public street (which may or may not even be what they are doing) for a time when they had a new plan in place. Our council president set up a public hearing (Twice. First on 12/9 and then it got moved up to 12/2, likely to accomodate a full council vote on 12/7. Tricky and complicated. How would the public ever know?) without being able to explain what the city was doing.

The public won’t have any clarity until next Monday – or someday in the future when a resolution shows up in the council’s agenda packet – following the public hearing. At which point, the only thing the public can do (if their plan differs from what we know today) is to show up again during the full council meeting to speak during the general public comment period. At which time, the council will already know how it intends to vote. As it stands, your public comment on both occasions will likely not have any impact. It’s simply a box to check to allow the city of Kingston to….avoid a lawsuit.

The public’s strongest position is to write to the council president to request that she pull the public hearing and schedule it for after the time that there is a resolution that outlines clearly what the council intends to do with Fair Street. This advice is not meant to be a tactic. It’s an effort to assure that our lawmakers are upholding good government and process, because we can’t afford to further erode those things, not ever and certainly not now. Our democracy is in a real vulnerable place. If we can’t assure it locally, then it’s going to be tough to imagine we can do it anywhere else. That’s the real emergency.

Write to: City of Kingston Council President: ashaut@kingston-ny.gov and copy your council member.

If lawmakers disagree with this assessment, then ask them to put in writing what they intend to do with Fair Street Extension and to clearly outline the process, including to point to the laws that support that process in our code/charter/state.

A public hearing on the abandonment of Fair Street Extension for the Kingstonian Project and Prevailing Wage

WHAT: Common Council Public Hearing: Abandonment of Fair Street Extension for the Kingstonian Project

WHERE: The meeting is hybrid, to be held at Kingston City Hall at 420 Broadway (council chambers) and on ZOOM

Meeting ID: 814 3291 1874
Passcode: 2crVt5vzOr dial in by phone:
+1 646 558 8656
Meeting ID: 814 3291 1874
Passcode: 57325016

WHEN: Thursday, December 2 at 6:30pm. View the City of Kingston’s FACEBOOK event.

SUGGESTIONS FOR YOUR TESTIMONY: A public hearing seems premature. The city has yet to confirm whether or not Fair Street Extension can be offered for sale before discussing a public bid at fair market value.

By Rebecca Martin

Following an October 14th Common Council Finance and Audit Committee meeting, Kingston lawmakers were poised to approve a plan to abandon and close a portion of Fair Street Extension to through traffic to make way for the Kingstonian proposal, a luxury apartment development in Uptown Kingston, and the centerpiece of Kingston’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) that was awarded by former Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Just days before the full council planned to vote, Victoria Polidoro of the law firm Rodenhausen Chale & Polidoro submitted a letter to the city on behalf of her client, a landowner in Uptown Kingston, that said if lawmakers proceeded as planned the “City will not be following the requisite procedure for the closing of a public street and subsequent conveyance of an interest in the former street bed”. That procedure included a public hearing. The firm threatened a temporary restraining order “until all statutory requirements were followed”. 

“The rights of the public in city streets are inalienable, and may only be sold or conveyed in limited circumstances” she wrote. According to Kingston’s city code and NYS general city law, “…to discontinue a City of Kingston Street, the Code first requires the City Planner to establish a list of streets or portions of streets which are no longer used as ‘public thoroughfares’ and are now vacant”, which is not the case for Fair Street Extension. “The Code then directs the circumstances under which these streets are to be offered for sale, with sale as the only provided for manner of conveying or otherwise disposing of a street.”

“There will be a public hearing before a vote”

Although the City code is clear, the differences of opinion about the process steps to abandon a street by the council has been confusing for the public. Early in October, we were told by Council President Andrea Shaut with certainty that, “…there will be a public hearing before a vote” as outlined in the City code.  However, a week later, the Council Finance and Audit Committee members passed a resolution “endorsing a plan to abandon and close a portion of Fair Street Extension to through traffic” without any discussion about the process and no mention of a public hearing. When a constituent followed up, Ward 3 Alderman Rennie Scott Childress (the democratic majority leader and chair of the Finance and Audit Committee) said “…a public hearing would be called for (only) if the City were selling or otherwise disposing of the property”.

Did Kingston’s Corporation Counsel find some clever new hook? Were our council members being placed in a position to defend their decision by saying that the process doesn’t apply to a street if it is being given away?  A local street, like all infrastructure, is a public good built on generations of investment by Kingston families. How could our city be so frivolous?

Prevailing Wage and former Governor Cuomo’s exemption for Downtown Revitalization Initiative projects like the Kingstonian

Although the City of Kingston set the original public hearing to occur on December 9th, without any explanation, it was moved up a week to December 2nd.  This move by corporation counsel was likely made to allow the public hearing and council vote to occur within the same month (as the next full council meeting is on December 7th).  The Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission will also be busy reviewing recent project changes during their December 2nd meeting (the same date and time as the Fair Street Extension public hearing) for an approval, and likely soon. All that’s left is the site plan approval by the Planning Board and variance change by the Zoning Board of Appeals. There is a sense that these approvals are being rushed and out of step, and at the expense of both the public and the process.

In a recent article in the New York State Bar Association “New York to Require Contractors to Pay Prevailing Wages on Certain Private Projects“, they write: “On April 3, 2020, New York lawmakers passed a $177 billion budget bill that significantly expanded the application of prevailing wages on construction projects in the state. While previously the payment of prevailing wages had been reserved for public construction projects only, the new bill expands the prevailing wage requirement to certain private projects for the first time in our state’s history….The law, which becomes effective on January 1, 2022, extends prevailing wages to projects that previously both sides may have viewed as “private,” where total project costs exceed $5,000,000 and where the project receives 30% or more of its total construction project costs from public funds.”

The Kingstonian project costs are well over $5 million and they are also receiving more than 30% of their cost through public funds (consider the DRI funding, grants, PILOTs).  But former Governor Andrew Cuomo slipped in an exemption for construction projects from prevailing wage requirements even if they otherwise met the foregoing criteria. Guess which ones?  “Projects funded by § 16-n of the Urban Development Corporation Act or the Downtown Revitalization Initiative making the Kingstonian currently….exempt.

Ironically, during the November Ulster County Industrial Development Agency meeting, Rose Woodworth brought up the new rules for prevailing wage. “…We don’t know the rules because there’s supposed to be a board that was set in place to define it. The prior governor never got that far and the current governor has not gotten that far yet so it’s just a lot up in the air”.

The ball is in Governor Hochul’s court, and Cuomo’s unscrupulous DRI exemption could be struck by the board that she will (or has already) established.

If we are aware of this, then it is without any doubt the City and project developers are too. It is likely motivating them to push hard to get everything in place while they are still exempt. Prevailing wage, if ever applied to the Kingstonian project, would likely make it too expensive to build.

An Update on the Fate of Fair Street Extension and the Kingstonian Project

Click on the image above to read the full letter from Rodenhausen, Chale & Polidoro

As readers are aware, in order for the Kingstonian project to proceed, they will need to take over two public properties that are in the midst of very different processes. The first, a parking lot located on 21 North Front Street that the city has been working to transfer to the Kingston Local Development Corporation to handle the sale, which will be contingent on the Kingstonian’s project site plan approval by the Kingston Planning Board.

The second, Fair Street Extension that serves both as a pedestrian walk and public street. This item began moving through committee in October, where the Kingston Common Council’s Finance and Audit Committee “…endorsed a plan to abandon and close a portion of Fair Street Extension to through traffic” for the Kingstonian’s proposed luxury apartment development. The full council is set to vote on this item next week.

Then, on Friday afternoon (11/5), the City of Kingston’s Corporation Counsel received a letter from Victoria Polidoro of the law firm Rodenhausen Chale & Polidoro regarding the city’s plans for 9-17 & 21 N. Front Street and Fair Street Extension, threatening a temporary restraining order.

“Based on the discussion during the Finance and Audit Committee meeting (see below) and the lack of a public hearing notice for November 9, 2021, my clients are concerned that the City will not be following the requisite procedure for the closing of a public street and subsequent conveyance of an interest in the former street bed…our clients are prepared to seek a temporary restraining order from the Ulster County Supreme Court preventing the City from discontinuing and conveying an interest in the Fair Street Extension until all statutory requirements have been followed.”

In the letter, Polidoro outlines the process and procedure for closing a public street and conveyance of public land. “The rights of the public in city streets are inalienable, and may only be sold or conveyed in limited circumstances.” wrote Polidoro. “To discontinue a City of Kingston Street, the Code first requires the City Planner to establish a list of streets or portions of streets which are no longer used as “public thoroughfares” and are now vacant.”

Code §355-56. The Code then directs the circumstances under which these streets are to be offered for sale, with sale as the only provided for manner of conveying or otherwise disposing of a street: “The [Common] Council shall determine whether the street is of public use or whether it is in the interest of the City of Kingston to sell such street.” Code §355- 58. Property descriptions, assessments, public hearings, and ultimate approval of any deal to sell the public street by the Common Council and Mayor are required before a public thoroughfare can be conveyed. Code §355-61-63, -65. The City must hold a public hearing on ten days’ notice regarding the proposed sale before it can be approved. Code § 355-62.

The Kingston Common Council will likely discuss their anticipated vote on the Fair Street Extension conveyance and easement to the Kingstonian developers during their caucus on Monday, November 8. If they foolishly proceed as previously planned, they will vote on this item at the full monthly Common Council meeting on Tuesday, November 9.

Click on the image to review this and all proposed resolutions on the Kingston Common Council’s agenda next week.

AUDIO: Kingston Common Council Finance Committee hosts Public Hearing on Transfer of Lands to KLDC for Kingstonian Project

At last evening’s public hearing, dozens of community members provided testimony in front of the Kingston Common Council’s Finance and Audit Committee to support or to question the transfer of 21 N. Front Street, a publicly owned parcel, to the Kingston Local Development Corporation (KLDC) by the City of Kingston Common Council. The transfer request was made by Mayor Steve Noble in order to provide the public parcel (assessed at $724,000. Its true value would be higher and is not yet publicaly known) to the developers in exchange for “public benefits” that include a couple of public bathrooms (it is believed that they will be located on the other side of Schwenk Drive at Herzog Plaza, owned by one of the developers). Although it is true that the community was aware of the council’s role in selling or leasing lands that would include 21 North Front Street and Fair Street Extension, the KLDC was not included as an involved agency in the developers Environmental Assessment Form. READ: Finance Committee Discusses Transfer of 21 N. Front Street to Kingston Local Development Corporation (KLDC) on February 10

Not lost on us, was that although some of the council members names were rattled off at the start of the meeting as being present, all but one chose to be on camera to assure the public that they were attentive and taking the matter seriously. Davis, Hirsch and Schabot, all Democrats, are running for reelection in the fall of 2021.

Here are several highlights:

“We can’t close a street to make uptown more congested than it already is…we the people have invested millions of dollars in this project. Please be our voice. Please take a seat at the table and guide this project to serve both the private developers and the citizens for we are very much investors in this project.” – Lee Kalish, Kingston resident

“In the Mayor’s letter to President Andrea Shaut, the property (21 N. Front Street) is described as a” burden” for the city….Under what criteria does this property become determined as a burden, and does the council agree?”
– Pat Courtney Strong, Kingston resident and member of the KLDC

“I want to express my concern of the lack of understanding of this process by the general public and the lack of transparency on behalf of the City of Kingston….If the city were not to transfer 21 N. Front Street to the KLDC, what rules and regulations would it need to abide by to sell the property. What public process would there be? I’m concerned that we may by taking on the property obscure that vital process of civic engagement.”
– Miles Crettien, Kingston resident, business owner and member of the KLDC

“I live on Franklin Street where last year, the house across the street sold for $150k. This year, it sold for $550k. We are watching massive displacement, there are families living in hotels. This is not the time that we need to invest more money in a private developer… I thought this was a progressive common council. You have all talked about wanting to represent your community. What I have seen is your support of developers. I hope this vote is the chance for you to show that you support all Kingston Citizens.”
– Ilana Berger, Kingston resident

“I think the transfer might violate the RFQ…it states that no city official shall have any personal interest, and Brad Jordan (Kingstonian Developer) sits on the Police Commission and he was on the KLDC for all of these years until he resigned only last month..the way this process has been managed reeks of impropriety, appearance and in fact.”
– Ilona Ross, Kingston/Olivebridge

The developer’s public relations team initiated a new form letter that was included in the public hearing packet (that is available on the City of Kingston’s website). It’s expected that council members will receive dozens more. More highlights:

The Bruderhof community:

The Jordan Family:

Scott Dutton/Architecture:

The City of Kingston’s Finance Committee will hold a special Finance Committee meeting on Monday, March 1 at 6:30pm (although the city calendar also says 6:00pm) where council members are expected to vote on the transfer of 21 North Front Street. Although there will not be public comment, you can call in to the number below, or stream live at the City of Kingston’s YOUTUBE channel.

Topic: SPECIAL FINANCE/AUDIT COMMITTEE MEETING
Time: Mar 1, 2021 06:30 PM 

Dial by your location
        +1 646 558 8656 
Meeting ID: 875 3817 4793
Passcode: 43255357

Public Hearing to transfer city property to Kingston Land Development Corporation for Kingstonian developers on February 25.

WHAT
A public hearing on a transfer of city-owned property that is currently used as a municipal parking lot at 21 N. Front Street to the Kingstonian Local Development Corporation (KLDC)

WHERE
Call: 646/558-8656
Meeting ID: 832 7922 5917
Passcode: 01295278
Watch live on the City of Kingston’s YouTube channel

Anyone wishing to speak or to submit a written comment can email City Clerk Elisa Tinti at emtinti@kingston-ny.gov (by 3pm on 2/25)

WHEN
Thursday, February 25th at 6:30pm

WHY
The Mayor of Kingston has requested that the Kingston Common Council transfer a city owned property to the Kingston Local Development Corporation to give to the Kingstonian project developers for their luxury housing and boutique hotel project in Uptown, Kingston.

The Kingston Common Council’s Finance Committee will hold a public hearing on Thursday, February 25 at 6:30pm regarding a proposed transfer of city-owned property that is currently being used as a municipal parking lot and public park at 21 N. Front Street to the Kingston Local Development Corp (KLDC). The transfer would allow the KLDC to facilitate the property’s use as part of the Kingstonian, a proposed luxury housing and boutique hotel project in Kingston’s historic stockade district in Uptown, Kingston. 

The public can provide testimony for the record that evening as to whether or not they have concerns about the city transferring a piece of public land currently being used for a municipal parking lot and public park to a luxury developer who has already secured tens of millions of dollars of public subsidies. It is unclear whether or not the city intends to sell the parcel or to provide it to the developers for free. Following the public hearing, the Finance Committee will vote during a special Finance Committee meeting on Monday, March 1st at 6:30pm prior to the council’s caucus at 7:00pm. It will likely move out of committee and onto the floor for a full council vote the following day on Tuesday, March 2 at 7:00pm

Thanks to a LETTER submitted by Victoria Polidoro on February 10, the attorney representing several Uptown Kingston building owners, please consider the following concerns in your testimony that she identified:

1. The 21 N. Front Street property is currently used as both a public parking lot and public park. In order for the City to transfer the parcel to the Kingston Local Development Corporation (KLDC), it must first find that the property is not needed for its current public purpose.

2. Regardless, as it pertains to the public park, Not-for-Profit Corporation Law prohibits the City from conveying any land that is “inalienable as a forest preserve or a parkland.” The issue of whether the Park constitutes inalienable parkland is currently pending before the Ulster County Supreme Court and any action to convey the Property before this issue is decided would open the City to further legal action.

3. It is apparent that the City is seeking to convey the Property to the KLDC in order to do what it is otherwise prohibited from doing, conveying a city-owned parking lot to a private developer for free. The City must fulfill its obligations to its taxpayers and negotiate a fair price for the Property. In doing so it would require, at minimum, an appraisal of the fair market value of the Property. The City has assessed the Property at $724,000 and its fair market value is likely significantly higher since the pandemic has caused Ulster County to have the fastest rising property values in the Country.

4. Given that the Project will actually reduce publicly available parking and frustrate the Property’s public purposes, the City cannot justifiably claim that the conveyance of the Property will be paid back in the form of public benefits. Moreover, any alleged public benefits have already been presented by the developers as the basis for grants and PILOTs worth tens of millions of dollars and zoning amendments custom-tailored to allow the Kingstonian. 

If permitted, this conveyance would result in the elimination of an existing public parking lot and the construction of an inadequate replacement of those parking spaces in the form of a private parking garage. After everything the City and its residents have given and will give up to indulge the Kingstonian, the City must ensure that it receives fair compensation before handing over City-owned, publicly-utilized Property to private developers.

Next up. The closure of Fair Street Extension in Uptown Kingston for the Kingstonian project will be next on the Kingston Common Council’s list of giveaways. According to city code Chapter 355 Streets and Sidewalks, in Article XIII Procedures for Disposing of Certain Streets unlike the municipal parking lot being transferred to the KLDC, the council will need to approve the “sale” of the street. That is, unless the Mayor and his lawyers find a clever way to work around the language in the code. There has never been a more willing council.

RESOURCES

VIEW “Finance Committee Discusses Transfer of 21 N. Front Street to Kingston Local Development Corporation (KLDC) on February 10” (KingstonCitizens.org)

Finance Committee Discusses Transfer of 21 N. Front Street to Kingston Local Development Corporation (KLDC) on February 10

The Kingstonian Developer’s Environmental Assessment Form (EAF)

With the approval of the Kingstonian project’s unprecedented 25-year PILOT, the remaining governmental approvals for the development will be initiated. On Friday, January 29th, the Mayor of Kingston submitted the first of those with a communication from his office to the Common Council President requesting the “transfer of 21 N. Front Street to the Kingston Local Development Corporation (KLDC)” be assigned to the appropriate council committee. It is one of a two part decision making process required by the Kingston Common Council for a parking garage to accommodate the Kingstonian project’s luxury apartments and boutique hotel. Step one, the sale or lease of land and step two, the closing of Fair Street Extension (see image above).

Given the speed in which these decisions are made once communications are submitted, we encouraged the public to turn out at their first opportunity to speak during the full council meeting on February 2. Thanks to community members who spoke on record or submitted comments to urge the council not to close a public street for this project. The testimony was informative and important for the council to hear prior to their committee discussions during which time there are not public comment opportunities.

At the February 2 council meeting, the public learned from the agenda packet that the land transfer had been assigned to the council’s Finance Committee on Wednesday, February 10 at 6:30pm. The five members of the common council who serve on the finance committee include Ward 5 Alderman Don Tallerman, Ward 7 Alderman Tony Davis, Ward 9 Alderwoman Michelle Hirsch, Ward 8 Alderman Steve Schabot and Ward 3 Alderman (and majority leader) Rennie Scott Childress is chair.

Once the city property is transferred, the council will move forward with a decision to close Fair Street Extension. Although the assessed value of 21 N. Front Street is known to be $724,000, the value of Fair Street Extension remains unknown.

As there isn’t a public comment opportunity during the council’s finance committee meeting, the public may watch and listen to the discussion starting at 6:30pm on 2/10 by visiting the City of Kingston’s YouTube channel.

Mayor requests 21 North Front Street be transferred to Kingston Local Development Corporation for Kingstonian Project

CORRECTION: The Mayor’s communication is a request to transfer City of Kingston land (a parking lot) located at 21 N. Front Street and adjacent to the Fair Street Extension to the KLDC. Closing Fair Street Extension will follow this decision at a later date. READ Finance Committee Discusses Transfer of 21 N. Front Street to KLDC on February 10

The Ulster County Industrial Development Corporation approved a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) of approximately $26.2 million dollars for the Kingstonian Project’s luxury housing and boutique hotel project. This is supposedly to cover the expense of building a $17 million dollar parking garage – a cost that is nearly $9 million dollars less than they are receiving in tax dollars from county residents.

Now, Fair Street Extension, which is both a pedestrian walk and car route from Schwenk Drive to Uptown, would be eliminated in this project, to make room for an entrance to a parking garage that would serve mainly the Kingstonian tenants and boutique hotel guests. KingstonCitizens.org has asked the Kingston Common Council during and since the Kingstonian project’s environmental review process to provide a value for the street to the public but has been utterly ignored. 

Recently, the Mayor of Kingston submitted a communication to the Common Council requesting that they allow the transfer of title for the property to the Kingston Local Development Corporation (KLDC), contingent on the approval of the site plan by the Planning Board. The mayor writes that the transfer authority would be allowed based upon Not-For-Profit Corporation Law of the State of New York that authorizes a legislative body (in this case the Kingston Common Council) to do so, in order to “lessen the burden on government and in the furtherance of the public interest.” The Mayor goes on to say “It is my position that the parcel at issue is no longer needed for City purposes as it stands today.” We’d like to know what our Mayor’s position is based on. Is it the woefully insufficient traffic study, performed over a couple of hours by a consultant that the developers paid for? 

Ever since Robert Moses began to allow Authorities to demolish or build whatever he wanted, they have become the most powerful means of avoiding public accountability in the so-called “public interest.” In this case, by transferring the property from the city to the KLDC, which he completely controls, Noble once again paves the way for an approval regardless of the lack of transparency in the process or having little public support.

We hope that the Common Council will disagree with the Mayor and take a different position: that a city street that outlines the historic bluff in the Uptown Stockade District, one of the oldest neighborhoods in America, has great significance and value as infrastructure that generations of Kingston residents have invested in. Is Kingston about to just give that away to these developers too?  Where are the Friends of Historic Kingston on this?  Like all other things related to the Kingstonian, the majority of Kingston’s historic preservation community have been publicly silent.

What is the KLDC?

The Kingston Local Development Corporation (KLDC) is a not-for-profit organization that was set up in 1994 in order, or at least in part, to take over the Kingston Business Park. Today, its board consists of 11 members, of which the Mayor is one and it is he who appoints the remaining 10 members. The lack of transparency in allowing a single person the authority to fully control the makeup of boards, committees and commissions, and thereby their decisions through appointments is just another instance of our flawed and failing charter.  

The Executive Director of the KLDC is also a member of the Mayor’s administration, typically the Director of the Community Development Department, funded by the Community Development Block Grant aka Housing and Urban Development (HUD) money. Today, that person is Amanda L. Bruck who also happens to serve at the pleasure of the Mayor.

In an older article, the KLDC is described as “exempt from many rules and laws that local governments have to follow. They aren’t subject to public procurement laws that require certain contracts to be bid competitively. And debt they can issue — even if for the benefit of a local government — isn’t subject to limits established for most municipalities in the state constitution.” 

As of 2021, the KLDC is composed of members of Kingston’s business community, with an emphasis on banking and real estate:

Mayor Steve Noble, President
Noble is the Mayor of Kingston and in our opinion, one of the Kingstonian developers. He appoints all members of the KLDC with no oversight. Additionally, the Executive Director of the KLDC serves at the pleasure of the Mayor. 

Andi Turco-Levin, Vice President
Turco-Levin is a former Council member and Kingston mayoral candidate (R).  She is a real estate agent also serves as a board member of the Kingston Uptown Business Association (KUBA). Andi lives in the Town of Ulster, which might disqualify her from serving. READ the KLDC bylaws.

B.A. Feeney, III, Treasurer
In 2014, former Alderman Brad Will, who served as the Kingston Common Council Alderman liaison to the KLDC, wrote a critical letter about the Kingston Local Development Corporation, questioning if the quasi-public agency was meeting its obligations.  At that time, Will noted that the KLDCs $1.9 million dollar bank balance was held at Catskill Hudson Bank, a change from when its money was split among five or six institutions. Feeney was the KLDC treasurer then and still is today, who now serves as the assistant vice president of the Catskill Hudson Bank.

Brad Jordan, Secretary 
Jordan is one of the Kingstonian developers. Although the organizational chart of 2021 shows him still serving on the KLDC, he is rumored to have just recently stepped down after 20+ years of “serving” on the board. If this rumor is true, it would be convenient that he leaves the KLDC just before this transfer of property is attempted. Jordan owns Herzog’s Plaza. He is also a member of KUBA.

Glenn Fitzgerald
Retired Kingston businessman and native Kingstonian! Have been a KLDC Board Member for the past 27 yrs. and was appointed by Mayor T. R. Gallo. (Clarification: Glenn Fitzgerald is not a real estate agent at Win Morrison. We have amended his bio line above to reflect the change)

Hayes Clement
Clement is a former Council member, Kingston mayoral candidate (D), a real estate agent at Berkshire Hathaway, also a member of KUBA. He serves on multiple city boards including the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Heritage Area Commission.  On several occasions, Hayes has already voted on aspects of the Kingstonian project. 

Albert Teetsel
Teetsel is a retired banker and former Council member (R). 

Miles Crettien
Crettien is a Business Designer with a “passion for implementing sustainable development strategies for local economies.”  He is co-owner of Lunch Nightly in Kingston. 

Patrice Courtney-Strong
Courtney-Strong is Vice President of Courtney Strong Inc. She is a former candidate for the State Senate and Ulster County Executive office (D). 

Paul Cascario
Cascario is CEO & Chairman of the Board at the insurance company the Reis Group.

The Kingston Common Council must step up to its fiduciary responsibility and provide the value of Fair Street Extension, an important city street that outlines a historic bluff in our historic Uptown Stockade district and that provides an important connection that moves traffic to and from uptown Kingston. 

Call to action:  On Tuesday, February 2nd at 7:30pm, please attend the Kingston Common Council remote meeting and tell them you are opposed to giving away Fair Street Extension to the Kingstonian Developers.    

Sign-up to speak:  Please sign-up to speak by writing to the City of Kingston Clerk Elisa Tinti at:  emtinti@kingston-ny.gov by 4:00pm on 2/2

Tell the Kingston Common Council that the wealthy Kingstonian developers have already being given tens of millions of dollars in public benefits, including a $26.2 million dollar 25-year tax deferment in exchange for a $17 million dollar parking garage for luxury tenants and boutique hotel guests, and at least $6.8 million in taxpayer funded grants. Demand that they step up to their fiduciary responsibilities and provide the community with the value of Fair Street Extension, which will be eliminated.

Visit KingstonCitizens.org’s FACEBOOK event

Please CLICK THE LINK to join the webinar
Passcode: 7d2U6KDe
Or dial in by phone: +1 646 558 8656
Webinar ID: 854 7591 0827
Passcode: 51221337

The meeting will be live streamed on the City of Kingston YouTube channel

RESOURCES

Kingston Common Council Contact information

IDA Resolutions On The Kingstonian  by Hudson Valley Vindicator

IDA Resolution: The Kingstonian Is a Commercial Project by Hudson Valley Vindicator

It’s not over yet. Take action on the Kingstonian project process

By Rebecca Martin

On Wednesday, January 20 at 9:00am, the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (UCIDA) approved a 25-year $26.2 million dollar payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) for a luxury housing development. It’s really the first of its kind in Ulster County, unprecedented not only in its size but also in providing a whopping tax break for a private housing project without the consent of all of the impacted communities. It’s a stunner, too given the new information that has emerged about the harm PILOTs incur, including the massive hit to school district budgets. In this case, all for a monolithic prefab luxury housing and hotel project to be located in our beautiful historic Stockade District.

A $26.2 million dollar PILOT for a $17 million dollar parking garage?

Although it didn’t sway her colleagues, UCIDA board member Dr. Diane Eynon stated her concerns regarding the original framing of the Kingstonian PILOT. Last year, the request was made by the developer for its parking garage. Last week, it covered the entire project including its housing. This was only made possible of course by the IDA having amended its housing policy (twice) in order to provide PILOTs for mixed-use housing projects with or without the consent of all impacted municipalities, all in order to accommodate the developer’s project regardless of the board of education’s no vote. (click on the image below to hear Dr. Eynon’s comments and ‘no’ vote)

“In the application and in the presentation of developers to this board in July they came to us seeking the PILOT based on a parking garage responding to an RFQ that went out by the city (of Kingston) to help solve the problem around parking. The way it was framed, the way it was presented to us was around a parking garage. When I look at the parking garage and the “but for” and the developer standing in front of us at our July meeting and saying “but for” as related to the parking garage…for those reasons I don’t support the PILOT.”
– Dr. Diane E. Eynon, Ulster County IDA

To understand what Dr. Eynon is referring to when she speaks of the developer’s “But for”, you have to go back to the July, 2020 UCIDA meeting where Kingstonian developer Joesph Bonura (alongside the City of Kingston’s Mayor Steve Noble) gave a presentation on their PILOT request for a parking garage. (click on the image below to hear Bonura’s “But for” explanation)

 “The reason we need a PILOT agreement, it’s all about the parking. If there was no parking garage as part of this project we wouldn’t need a PILOT agreement…if you deny the project there’s no way for us to move forward…this is a true but for…”
– Kingstonian Developer Joe Bonura

Communities throughout Ulster County take a stand.

There could be grave consequences for all communities in Ulster County going forward now that private mixed-use housing projects can qualify for PILOT applications and the IDA may override any impacted municipality who opposes it. The Village of New Paltz (VoNP) Mayor Tim Rogers and Deputy Mayor KT Tobin understood that early on and with their Town Board passed a position statement that PILOT agreements are harmful to local governments and school districts, especially now.

Fortunately for VoNP residents, their representatives have acted on all of their behalf, having been vocal throughout the entire Kingstonian PILOT process. Mayor Rogers in fact held the IDA accountable right up to the final moments of their meeting last week. Because of their advocacy, other impacted communities are starting to come forward. On January 13, the Town of Rosendale passed a memorializing resolution calling on the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency to exercise their authority and responsibility to uphold the Board of Education’s “no” vote and deny the Kingstonian’s application for a PILOT. (click on the image below to watch Mayor Tim Rogers during last week’s IDA meeting)

“Do you have any suggestions for local governments and school districts if you’re expanding IDA policy to grant PILOTs for-profit housing and mixed use where you do not need approvals from local governments or school districts who may object? In our village we rely on property tax revenue to fund things like snow plowing, fire trucks and health insurance for our staff. What will we do?” – Mayor Tim Rogers, Village of New Paltz

Unlike in the City of Kingston where on August 4, 2020, the Kingston Common Council voted unanimously to approve the Kingstonian PILOT where at that time the terms were worse than they are now and approved the Kingstonian’s $30.6 million dollar PILOT

It’s not over. Take Action on the Kingstonian Project Process.

A growing number of community members throughout Ulster County are concerned and wanting to engage. Luckily, there is still time to make a difference in the outcome and to potentially rein in the UCIDA in the long run.

The Kingston Common Council still has an approval to relinquish Fair Street Extension to the Kingstonian Developers, an action that would eliminate a city street to provide an entrance to the project’s luxury housing and hotel parking garage.

“By concluding that the Kingstonian will have little or no impact on the character of the district, the Planning Board is essentially saying that buildings of the size, scale, type, density, and architectural style as the Kingstonian already exist in the district. They are also essentially stating that there will be no change to the historic development pattern; that closing a street and altering the natural topography of the the 362-year-old settlement—a key feature of the historic district’s significance—to accommodate a parking garage entrance on Fair Street Extension are inconsequential impacts. It also sets a precedent for future development of this scale in the Stockade Historic District.” “Planning Board sees no potential impact on character of Stockade District by Kingstonian Project ” By Marissa Marvelli

TAKE ACTION: Every seat of the Kingston Common Council is up for grabs next year. If you live in the City of Kingston, contact your council member and tell them that you want to be informed as to when they will vote to give away the Fair Street Extension to the Kingstonian Developers. Let them know that you are against the closing of this important city street for a parking garage. CONTACT THE KINGSTON COMMON COUNCIL

The Ulster County Legislature collectively approves appointments to the Ulster County IDA, but it is the Ulster County Legislature’s Economic Development, Tourism, Housing, Planning & Transit Committee that makes the appointment recommendations.

TAKE ACTION: Hold the Ulster County Legislature’s Economic Development Committee accountable. Demand that they review the recent policy changes (twice in a year during a project review!) by their IDA appointments that allowed PILOTs for private mixed-use housing projects as well as to stack the deck to override any impacted community’s dissenting vote, such as the Board of Education’s “no” vote in the case of the Kingstonian. CONTACT THE ULSTER COUNTY LEGISLATURE’S ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE

Even though the Ulster County IDA has voted to approve the Kingstonian PILOT, it’s not too late for your impacted community to take a position against their decision to override the Board of Education’s “NO” vote.

TAKE ACTION: If you live in the Kingston City School District that includes the City of Kingston, the Towns of Kingston, Esopus, Hurley, Marbletown, New Paltz, Kingston, Saugerties, Rosendale, Ulster, and Woodstock, ask your elected officials to take a position against the UCIDA recent action to override the Board of Education’s ‘no’ vote. To help you, we’ve created a draft memorializing resolution that can be used or amended by your representatives. DRAFT MEMORIALIZING RESOLUTION LANGUAGE

Finally, in today’s Daily Freeman:

Why is a $17m garage costing us $27 million in tax breaks?
“If they could build without the PILOT, why is a $17 million parking garage costing us $26 million in tax breaks? Changing the policy of the IDA twice in six months just for the purpose of giving The Kingstonian a PILOT is not only wrong, but unethical. I would like an investigation by the New York State Attorney General’s Office into this action. I request all interested members of the county to go back and watch the IDA meetings and make the decision yourself. If you see what I see, start calling and filling out the forms as I am.” – Herb Lamb, City of Kingston Board of Education Trustee

Officials, please hit reset on Kingstonian approval
“Look at the variety of cogent arguments against and concerning ramifications of approval that your own engagement processes and investigations into it did not unearth, glossed over, or minimized. Please update your perspectives, analysis, and responses to this PILOT, and instead of ignoring and dismissing critical information and concerns, incorporate the missing negatives that many have brought to you with respect to this project and the immense tax break it was just granted. – Village of New Paltz Deputy Mayor KT Tobin

The Ulster County Industrial Development Agency does some “housekeeping” before Kingstonian PILOT vote on January 20.

By Rebecca Martin

On Wednesday, January 20 at 9:00am, the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (UCIDA) is poised to vote on the Kingstonian project deviated payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT), an unprecedented 25-year, $20+ million dollar deferment (and in the school district’s case, a loss) of property tax for luxury housing in the City of Kingston’s historic stockade district.

In July of 2020, the developer publicly unveiled their 100% tax exempt PILOT that at that time was valued at over $30.6 million dollars (that includes the PILOT and other public funding sources) in exchange for a parking garage. Although the developers and members of the Kingston Common Council insisted that there wasn’t any wiggle room to improve the project or PILOT conditions, after much effort and advocacy by the public, the developer added 14 affordable units, a couple of public bathrooms and reduced the amount slightly that is deferred over time.

READ: “The road paved by a $30.6 million dollar Kingstonian PILOT (in exchange for a parking garage): A timeline and next steps in October 2020

The request went out to the three impacted agencies for their consent that included the City of Kingston, Ulster County Legislature and Kingston City School District. Although the City of Kingston (8-0) and the Ulster County Legislature (17-6) approved the PILOT agreement, the school board, which represents 60% of the impacted taxpayers throughout Ulster County, rejected the proposal (6-3).

One of the things that we learned throughout this process were the negative impacts that a PILOT has on school districts. In a recent article called “Strife over tax breaks and tradeoffs: It doesn’t have to be like this” by The Benjamin Center (penned by Robin Jacobowitz with KT Tobin and Josh Simons) the author, a graduate of Colgate University with a BA in Education, a Masters in Education Policy from Harvard University and Doctorate of Philosophy, Education policy, Organization Theory and Qualitative Research from NYU, the Director of Education Programs at The Benjamin Center and an elected trustee of the Kingston City School District Board of Education wrote, “Public schools are dependent on property taxes for the majority of their funding. When an entity does not pay its full share of property taxes, that burden does not go away; unless cuts are made, costs get shifted onto other taxpayers. So when a PILOT is granted to a developer everyone else has to pay more. And even in an instance where a PILOT might contribute more than was being paid by the pre-PILOT property, that property is still not paying its full share.”

THE UCIDA’S CLEVER “HOUSEKEEPING”

Meanwhile, the UCIDA released their AGENDA for next week that revealed more concerns.

There appear to be two different items that can trigger a multi-agency review such as what occurred with the Kingstonian PILOT. The first is a deviation from the Uniform Tax Exemption Policy (UTEP) and the second, the inclusion of housing. Notice that on page 27-28 of the agenda, Resolution No. 1020 changes the housing policy so that the UCIDA doesn’t need all taxing entities’ concurrence.

The UCIDA could perhaps override the other agencies on the deviation. But when they added in the opportunity to fund any housing project in the housing policy last summer, they required agreement of all agencies.

During their recent governance meeting (and two hour executive session) they must have changed the housing policy (again) to have the same language as the UTEP for the PILOT deviation, sneaking it in under the heading “housekeeping” by adding an “F” after the “E” in the Schedule A (see header photo).

Furthermore, the authority for an IDA to even fund housing appears to be a complicated question. The state authorizing legislation for IDAs doesn’t clearly allow IDA support for housing. According to sources, the courts have, over time, considered certain housing projects to qualify if the project “promises employment opportunities and prevents economic deterioration”. Is the UCIDA giving itself the authority to support any housing and does it have the power to do that? Perhaps it is why, in the resolution approving the Kingstonian PILOT, that they do a little dance defining the project as “commercial”.

I guess we’ll have to see what the board members do on Wednesday and when this is over, we hope that our elected officials – with much public pressure – use this most unpleasant experience to deeply scrutinize the UCIDA’s practices.

The UCIDA meets on Wednesday at 9:00am. Please visit their WEBSITE to learn how you can view their meeting and participate.

Will the Ulster County IDA Override the Board of Education’s Vote to Reject the Kingstonian PILOT?

CALL TO ACTION:  Families who have school age children in the KSCD, as well as Ulster County residents who pay Kingston City school tax (which is 60% of the KSCD population), please CLICK ON THIS LINK to send a letter to support the Board of Education’s decision to reject the Kingstonian’s unprecedented 25-year, $21 + million PILOT and request that the UCIDA follow its own policy requiring the approval of all impacted agencies for a deviated PILOT in order to take any further action. 

By Rebecca Martin

At the December 2, 2020 Kingston City School District’s (KSCD) Board of Education (BOE) meeting, the Board trustees rejected a (revised) unprecedented 25-year, $21 + million dollar Kingstonian PILOT request by a 6-3 vote.  Thoughtful, factual testimony about the “PILOT” (and not the “project,” the completely misleading talking point that some of our elected officials and the developer has been pushing) was provided by trustees Robin Jacobowitz PhD, Cathy Collins PhD, Priscilla Lowe, Herb Lamb, James Shaugnessy and James Michael.

Why is this significant?

The Board of Education is one of three taxing agencies – which represent tens of thousands of taxpayers in Ulster County – which would be impacted by the Kingstonian developer’s request for an unprecedented 25-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) worth more than $21 million dollars for a parking garage (located in an opportunity zone no less) that, based on Kingston’s zoning code, would mainly provide parking for the developer’s high end housing project and luxury boutique hotel. The other two agencies are the Ulster County Legislature, which passed a newly crafted PILOT agreement by a vote of 17-6 (The Ulster County Executive branch commissioned a report by the National Development Council (NDC), who tweaked the PILOT in order to sweeten the pot for the school board) and the City of Kingston Common Council (which passed the original PILOT agreement, that would have proven to be even more harmful to the Kingston City School District, unanimously). 

We’ve learned a lot over these past months about the concerning use of PILOTs in Ulster County and the negative impacts that they have on annual school budgets that must come under the tax levy limit.  “Kingston City School District is funded by property taxes and state aid,” said James Shaugnessy, president of the Board of Education. “Property taxes are levied against the Full Taxable Value of nonexempt real estate…and if the (Kingstonian) project is subject to a PILOT agreement, then the new taxable value is never included.”

The Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (UCIDA) Amends its Policy to Allow Deviated PILOTs for Mixed-Use Housing Projects and Private Developers

On August 12, the UCIDA revised its Housing Project policy, 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. (emphasis added). This change allows the Kingstonian developers to “deviate” to the tune of 25 years from the traditional matix, which is meant to encourage good economic development and measurable job creation, or real public benefits such as affordable or senior housing. In addition, it opens the flood gates to any private developer who would now be able to submit the same request.

Will the Ulster County IDA Override the Board of Education’s Vote to Reject the Kingstonian PILOT?  

In a September 28 post by KingstonCitizens.org “The Complication of the Ulster County IDA Recent Policy Change and Public Hearing Date on October 1”  we warned our community of the UCIDA’s new housing policy for mixed-use projects that implied that an approval for a deviated PILOT would require “prior approval from the governing board of Ulster County and each town, village, city and school district in which the housing project is located.” However, it also says that “…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.(emphasis added)  In other words, if the UCIDA doesn’t get the answer they want, they can override a dissenting agency even if that agency stands to lose the most, such as the school district in this case. 

When our concerns were checked with the UCIDA Chief Executive Officer Rose Woodworth by a local publication, she replied – and on record – that the agency’s policy of mixed-use housing projects and deviated PILOTs would need to get approval from all participating taxing jurisdictions, and that without those approvals they would not move forward.  

Several months later, during the November BOE meeting at which Woodworth was a guest, and during which she received pushback from the majority of board trustees on the 25-year PILOT’s terms, she was asked squarely whether or not the PILOT would need the approval of all taxing jurisdictions to move forward. Woodworth said that she couldn’t answer that question for the board.  Although their internal policy may require all taxing authorities approval, there was no such requirement under NY State law.  

What happens next?

In July, the City of Kingston’s Common Council was the first of the three agencies to review the PILOT terms publically. They went on to approve the developer’s original terms, a 25-year 100% tax exempt PILOT worth $30.6 million dollars.  Since late October, the new PILOT terms have gone in front of both the Ulster County Legislature and the Board of Education.  According to the UCIDA, the Common Council will be required to vote again this time, on the revised PILOT terms. In the City of Kingston, all resolutions must go before an assigned committee (in this case, the Council’s Finance Committee) before going to the floor for a full council vote.  Neither occurred in December. 

However, if the UCIDA can approve the deviated PILOT with or without the consent of all three impacted agencies, then they could choose to not only override the Board of Education’s decision but also rationalize that because of the Kingston Common Council’s unanimous approval of the original PILOT terms, a revote wouldn’t be necessary.  This would be unfortunate, as it would be in the community’s best interests for the Council to have to face their constituents and re-vote, following the BOE’s rejection of the PILOT. (**See Note Below)

We don’t know whether or not the Kingstonian PILOT will be voted on at the UCIDA’s next meeting on December 16. Keep an eye on their meeting page for when the agenda is posted. Until then, you can submit the letter in our “call to action” to support the Kingston Board of Education and to enforce a fair and transparent process.

CALL TO ACTION:  Families who have school age children in the KSCD, as well as Ulster County residents who pay Kingston City school tax (which is 60% of the KSCD population), please CLICK ON THIS LINK to send a letter to support the Board of Education’s decision to reject the Kingstonian’s unprecedented 25-year, $21 + million PILOT and request that the UCIDA follow its own policy requiring the approval of all impacted agencies for a deviated PILOT in order to take any further action. 

**NOTE: Since we published this post, we have learned that since the Board of Education rejected the revised Kingstonian PILOT terms, the Kingston City Council will not be required to revote. At this time, it is now the the UCIDA as to whether they will approve the PILOT agreement or not.

The Kingstonian PILOT and Remaining November Process Steps

By Rebecca Martin

We’re coming up on nearly three years of following the Kingstonian project process, a proposed $58 million dollar project that promises 129 high-end units, 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, 9,000 square feet of retail space, and a 420 parking space complex.  The proposed Kingstonian deviated payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) is a 25-year, $30.6 million dollar deferment of taxes for a mixed use, high-end housing project. Since the Ulster County Executive has commissioned a study with the National Development Council (NDC) October 23, 2020 report, in an effort to ‘sweeten the pot’ doesn’t appear to have influenced members of the Board of Education – the agency who has the most to lose.

Here are the next important steps in the process for each of the decision-making agencies as we currently understand them.

Village of New Paltz

On November 4, the Village of New Paltz submitted the following letter to the Board of Education, members of the Ulster County Legislature, County Executive Pat Ryan and City of Kingston Mayor Steve Noble.

Prior to becoming Mayor of the Village of New Paltz, Tim Rogers went to business school and held a successful career in the financial industry. It’s clear in following his advocacy on the matter that our own elected and appointed officials in the City of Kingston do not understand the potential negative impacts that this unprecedented tax incentive may likely have.

Click on the image to review the full letter

NDC’s suggested PILOT schedule for the Kingstonian is problematic for Kingston’s school district finances now and long into the future

National Development Council’s (“NDC”) October 23, 2020 cost/ benefit analysis for the proposed Kingstonian development is curiously silent about NYS Property Tax Cap law impacts and how PILOTs harm local taxing authorities’ ability to fund new services. 

Property taxpayers, including those across the Kingston City School District that serves several municipalities, will likely face one of two outcomes if the Kingstonian developers receive the PILOT they asked for or if NDC’s proposed PILOT is used. The board of education will have to choose between: 

  1. Cutting school district programming (e.g. teacher and staff layoffs, increased class sizes, etc.), or
  2. Increasing property taxes

This is just how NYS law and the Property Tax Cap formula works. It is unreasonable to list “net public benefits” from the Kingstonian without even mentioning let alone considering Tax Levy Limit (TLL) impacts. An alternative third option to these two could only occur if there was a material contraction in the number of students residing in the district.

School districts are primarily funded by property taxes and state aid. Property taxes are levied against the Full Taxable Value of real estate and its calculation is subject to the NYS Property Tax Cap law. Annually, each school district follows an eight-step formula to calculate its TLL. The TLL does not change when there is a change in the taxable value due to assessment increases; in that instance, the tax rate decreases. However, when there is significant new project construction, the NYS Commissioner of Tax and Finance calculates a Tax Base Growth Factor (TBGF) that increases the TLL to pay for services arising from the new construction.

If it’s fully taxed, the taxable value of $19 million for the Kingstonian would result in a TBGF of approximately 1.0042 and an increase in the district’s TLL of more than $440,000. However, when a new project is subject to a PILOT agreement, its taxable value is never included in the TBGF. This significantly limits a school district’s ability fund educating new K-12 students created by increases in housing supply.  

Using NDC’s newly proposed PILOT, the Kingstonian developers would pay approximately $2.1 million over 25 years in lieu of school taxes. In comparison, if the project was fully taxed with an assessed value of $19 million at year 1 and the district’s ’19-’20 TLL of $105,589,983 escalated 2% annually, the developers would pay $16.6 million in school taxes. 

Moreover, harm is perpetual. During years 26 through 50 the school district could see $23.8 million less in TLL because of the original PILOT. This would happen because the tax cap formula’s Tax Base Growth Factor never adjusts — even at the end of a PILOT’s term when properties become taxable.

Given these scenarios, if the district’s board of education opted not to cut programming because of its lowered TLL from the PILOT, the board could try to make up the difference and raise revenue by raising property taxes. This would require asking voters to support a tax cap override. And, a supermajority of 60% or more would be needed to vote in favor of raising taxes to offset the shortfall.

In 2020, only 13 districts across the state chose this option; there was a 69% success rate, compared with a 99% success rate for districts that did not need a supermajority approval of their budget. The Kingston board of education has never attempted a budget override. 

We are troubled by this proposal to prop up investors of market rate for-profit housing, lodging, and retail. The Kingstonian could set a dangerous precedent for Ulster County that unfairly harms taxpayers and school districts’ ability to serve students. Please take a closer look at what is being considered.”

Kingston City School District Board of Education (BOE)

During a recent Board of Education meeting on November 4, Trustee James Michael, who also is chair of the Audit and Finance Committee, publicly revealed his concerns regarding the Kingstonian PILOT process and the Ulster County Executive’s NDC Study. Michael says that the BOE was not contacted by the consultant or the county while new PILOT terms for the Kingstonian PILOT report were being considered. Weeks after the report was released, the board said that it had still not received the new PILOT terms or any communication from the county. Superintendent Dr. Paul Padalino revealed at that time that he had received the new PILOT terms on that day (11/4) and would release it to the board following their meeting that evening.

The next Kingston City School District Board of Education meeting is on Wednesday, November 18 at 7:00pm. If you wish to submit public comment (live public comment is not permitted during Covid) please consider supporting the members who have correctly taken a stance against a PILOT for this proposal. WRITE: boe@kingstoncityschools.org

Click on the image to hear Trustee James Michael’s comments

“Last Friday, I was reading the news with a headline that stated the county officials celebrated a new PILOT deal for the developers of the proposed Kingstonian project. That caught me by surprise. What I want to tell the county and the developer is that they ignored us (BOE) and they didn’t respect us at all. We are the biggest stakeholders of this development and the biggest losers as far as tax revenue…that’s what the politicians do. They always promise you something and do something else. Last year, Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan stated the Kingstonian project was unacceptable and absurd for the community. Politicians get paid, we don’t. We do this for the love of the kids. Politicians lie, but we don’t because we teach our children to be truthful and honest.”

“…(Joesph) Bonura stated on July 18 that if the PILOT agreement didn’t go through, the city would lose the $3.8m (Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant, DRI) grant….I met with Mayor Steve Noble and I asked him face to face, is it true that we can lose the grant money (DRI) if we don’t approve the Kingstonian PILOT and his answer was yes. That was a blatant lie….I had a conversation with the Director of the DRI grant program in the Hudson Valley. He told me that the city is not going to lose the grant. It can easily be allocated to the rest of the project.””We need more revenue for the district. They (the developers) were very arrogant, demanding and made an ultimatum and said either we have this project otherwise we don’t have a parking garage. Maybe the City of Kingston needs a parking garage, the developers want to build it and expect the city of Kingston taxpayers to pay for it, but to me that’s unacceptable.”

“When you think about the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency PILOT program, I want you to keep in mind the students because they have the most to lose and deprived of a good education…I send a message to developers, the Kingstonian developers and the future developers that the school district will not accept anymore deviated programs. I would suggest that the Kingstonian developers come back to the district with a more traditional PILOT program of 5- 10 years, not a deviated PILOT for two generations.”

City of Kingston Common Council

There has been mixed signals about whether or not the Kingston Common Council has to vote on the Kingstonian PILOTs new terms. It isn’t clear why they wouldn’t, as the terms are different then they were when their unanimous vote was cast over the summer. We’ll have to wait to see what sort of fancy footwork Kingston Corporation Counsel Kevin Bryant and Dan Gartenstein have in store.

If new PILOT terms appear, it would go in front of the Kingston Common Council’s Finance and Audit Committee (posted above). Please consider WRITING TO EACH OF THEM INDIVIDUALLY and request that if new PILOT terms appear for a council vote, that they align their decision with the Board of Education, as it is our children and tax paying families who attend the school district that have the most to lose.

Ulster County Legislature

In October when the Kingstonian PILOT terms were submitted to the Ulster County Legislature, both the Economic Development, Tourism, Housing, Planning & Transit and Ways and Means Committees each had a crack at it. At that time, it was already known that County Executive Pat Ryan had requested an “Independent” study regarding the Kingstonian PILOT terms. The Economic Development committee passed the old terms through anyway while Ways and Means tabled their decision until the study was delivered and the committee had time to review it.

With the results and new PILOT terms delivered in late October, the Economic Development committee did not take it up again during their November. We inquired with the Ulster County Legislative Clerk to understand why, and were told at the time of inquiry, “We still haven’t received any new document in relation to potential changes. As such, the resolution currently stands in the Ways and Means Committee. However, we anticipate having a new proposed agreement very shortly. The Ways and Means Committee members will have the option to amend the resolution in Committee to consider the new agreement.” Although the response didn’t answer our question thoroughly as to why the new terms would not have to be reviewed by both committees as was the case last month, at the Ways and Means Committee meeting this week, the committee adopted the new terms (that have not yet been made public). With much disrespectful banter from Legislators Dave Donaldson and Ken Ronk, Legislators Tracy Bartels and Lynn Archer called them out and held their ground securing the majority of votes to postpone the Kingstonian PILOT vote until committee members had their questions answered by the consultant. Legislator Eve Walters (New Paltz) publicaly stated that she would reject the Kingstonian PILOT agreement.

LISTEN
to Audio of the Ways and Means Committee discussion of the Kingstonian PILOT from 11/10/20

The next Ways and Means Committee meeting will occur on Tuesday, November 17 at 5:30pm. If they decide to pass the new PILOT terms through their committee, it will go to the floor that evening at 7:00pm for a full legislature vote. Since Covid, the Ulster County Legislature amended its rules to allow only public comment on items listed in the agenda. In this case, we won’t know whether or not the Kingstonian PILOT will be on the agenda until 6:30pm that evening, 30 minutes before the legislature meets. NYS Open Meetings Law has no requirements for when Agendas are made public. It’s a flaw in our system, in our opinion. A good practice would be to post agendas at least several days prior to any public meeting in order to allow the public to plan to attend and to prepare their comments.

ADDITIONAL READING

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

Criticism of Ulster County’s Independent Review for the Kingstonian PILOT

The road paved by a $30.6 million dollar Kingstonian PILOT (in exchange for a parking garage): A timeline and next steps in October 2020

Highlights from the UCIDA Public Hearing on October 1

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

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

Criticism of Ulster County’s Independent Review for the Kingstonian PILOT

Click on image to listen to a February 15, 2019 interview of Ulster County Executive candidate Pat Ryan respond to the lack of affordable housing at the Kingstonian as “unacceptable” and “absurd,” adding, “The parking is great, but if you can’t afford a place to live, parking is the least of your worries.”  Image courtesy of the Kingston Tenants Union.

By Rebecca Martin

As we have recently reported, “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, 9,000 square feet of retail space, and a 420 parking space complex.  The developer is asking for a deviated Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) agreement where they will pay nominal taxes for 25 years. Community members who have been following the Kingstonian project’s PILOT request have asked for more detailed financial information to understand the potential impacts (including the 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 should have been revealed but were not), the developers finally shared their PILOT request with the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (UCIDA) and threatening the board that without 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.”   

Ulster County Legislative and Executive Branch throw curveball

On October 1st, Ulster County Legislator Lynn Archer appeared before the UCIDA during a Public Hearing on the proposed Kingstonian PILOT to announce that she and her colleagues were in favor of an independent, third party study of the proposed Kingstonian PILOT.  “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,”  she said.  With the Kingstonian PILOT up for a vote in October it was a surprise and relief for a legislator to make that  request.  Up until that point, it seemed likely that the full legislature was poised  to approve the PILOT terms even with so many outstanding concerns.

Several days later, County Executive Pat Ryan echoed those sentiments with his own press release, pledging that the county would pay for the independent cost benefit analysis.  “Before a decision of this magnitude (the Kingstonian PILOT) 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,”  Ryan said.

On the same day of the County Executive’s announcement about his support for an independent review of the Kingstonian PILOT, a second announcement was sent from his office of a change in the Economic Development office.  Tim Weidemann, who had served as Director of Innovation, was tapped as Director of Economic Development, replacing Lisa Berger who would now serve as Director of Tourism.  Weidemann would coordinate the Kingstonian study on the county’s behalf with the National Development Council (NDC), a not-for-profit led by Daniel Marsh, a consultant who has a long history in the Hudson Valley.

When news hit about the selection of the NDC and Marsh in particular, some were concerned as to whether the organization could be impartial.  Having served in a number of positions in Orange County, Marsh had also served as a consultant to the Kingston’s Local Development Council (KLDC) during the recent Gallo administration when Brad Jordan, one of the principal Kingstonian developers, was the council’s secretary. 

The study was originally meant to be ready in time for the October 20th Ulster County Legislature Ways and Means Committee meeting and Kingstonian PILOT vote, and would cost somewhere in the vicinity of $10 – 15k, money that the county said it hoped would be reimbursed (by the developer, we presume).  The promise for a study to examine the PILOT terms encouraged all of the other involved agencies to table their votes that month (that included the full legislature, Board of Education (BOE) and UCIDA) until the study was complete and each body had had the time to review it.