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.

Highlights from the UCIDA Public Hearing on October 1

There was good news (members of the Ulster County Legislature called for an independent, third party analysis as we did in our BLOG post last week. It’s the only sensible thing to do) as well as courageous and touching testimonies last evening during the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency’s public hearing for the Kingstonian project PILOT.

Here are the highlights. Click on the images to review each individual testimony.

James Shaughnessy, City of Kingston resident

“In contradiction to what Dan Baker said (City of Kingston Assessor), PILOTs do not have a positive impact on school district finances. The school district is subject to tax cap legislation with limits the growth of our tax levy…when the new construction is under a PILOT, the growth factor is zero at the beginning of the agreement and it is not included in the growth factor at the end of the agreement. So the district’s tax levy limit is permanently reduced…the developers published a flyer yesterday that claims that the Kingstonian will yield its school district more than 41 million dollars in new revenue over 50 years and that is categorically wrong. The developers don’t seem to understand school district finances. They don’t seem to understand the impact of a PILOT on school district finances and frankly, the Mayor and the Common Council and perhaps Dan Baker don’t seem to understand the impact of a PILOT on school district finances.”
Ulster County Legislator Lynn Archer (District 21)

“I have spoken with several of my fellow legislators and we are all in agreement…we strongly encourage the UCIDA to engage an independent third party firm to undertake a cost-benefit analysis of the Kingstonian project and to present the results of these findings to the various taxing authorities. We are currently relying on the people benefitting from the project to provide the projected costs of the project without validation from an independent third party who has the knowledge of these types of complex endeavors….we all have a fiduciary responsibility to the residents of Ulster County and that an independent review should be undertaken immediately by a firm which routinely does these types of reviews for other IDAs.”
Justin Orashan, City of Kingston resident

“…my own concern, and the concern of an enlarged amount of community members here is the nuance of (those details) in the context of the given moment that we are in in Kingston…for anyone on this call who is housing secure or owns a home, if you’re not directly connected to the families who are really hurting right now, it’s really hard to understand how people are in pain and how this will not benefit all of our community, and how it will indeed hurt many of our community members.”
City of Kingston Alderman (Ward 3) Rennie Scott Childress.
Hold him accountable, Kingston.


“…a desperately needed parking garage at no cost to the taxpayers. These structures are expensive so the current project is an ingenious solution. A PILOT to support its construction is essential to its success.”
Sarah Wenk, City of Kingston resident

“Our schools can’t wait 25 years for revenue from this project to start trickling in. The developers own materials set out a 50-year timeline that is speculative at best, fantastical at worst. We are in the midst of a crisis now…our schools are facing huge budget cuts. The taxpayers of Ulster County are being asked to subsidize luxury housing for a possible benefit that won’t begin until after most of us are dead.”
Patrick Logan, Attorney
Rodenhausen Chale & Polidoro LLP 
Logan appeared on behalf of several property owners in Uptown, Kingston.


“I want to request that the IDA keep the public hearing open for…at least an additional 30 days to all for adequate public comment. Several weeks ago my office submitted a FOIL request for all of the IDA’s records relating to the PILOT application. We did not receive a response until approximately 4pm yesterday…my clients are in the process of hiring a third party financial analyst to review the information….to submit this analysis.”
Village of New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers
(read by City of Kingston resident Jess Mullen)


“On September 15, 2020, the Kingstonian developers published the “Fiction v. Fact” document on their website which stated that “Developers and City officials are comfortable that the increased parking is adequate for peak demand and any excess employee and hotel parking can be accommodated in the adjacent plaza….Please review City of Kingston zoning code §405-34 (J.) “Parking space ratios.” Reading the code and using some simple arithmetic shows how the Kingstonian requires approximately 345 parking spaces (hotel: 34, apartments: 271, commercial space: 40). The developers also stated in their “Fiction v. Fact” document that “without the garage component, there would be no PILOT request as one would not be needed. The PILOT starts and stops with the costs to build, operate, and maintain the parking garage…If the project is only adding 75 (420 minus 345) public parking spaces — not even the 200 that the city asked for in their 2016 RFQ — the UCIDA should take an extra hard look at whether to grant a PILOT to build 75 parking spaces. Additionally, plans include charging users 3x more for parking ($1.50 per hour) than the city charged just a few years ago.”
Ilona Ross, Resident of Olive

“Joseph Bonura is a recipient of two 99-year PILOTS in the City of Poughkeepsie that will deprive that city of billions of dollars. It ought to shock and conscience of any observer that he has dared to come to Kingston and ask for a PILOT.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The UCIDA’s recent process change is troubling for several reasons worth analyzing. Through this policy change, the UCIDA has empowered and entrusted itself to unilaterally give away $30 million to wealthy real estate developers during a pandemic irrespective of the judgements of the very elected officials representing the jurisdictions impacted by the subsidy. The IDA itself is an appointed body and, therefore, democratically unaccountable, making their rule changes and subsidy granting power all the more offensive to the principle of procedural fairness. The damage done to due process by public officials who pledge to uphold the public interests is deeply corrosive, undermining a sense of trust at the core of good local government. We should demand more from those who represent us. At a minimum, citizens should expect that governing rules are clear, consistent and fair to all parties. Any changes to procedure should never benefit one party over another in the middle of a highly contentious process.

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

Take Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RESOURCES

READ: The Kingstonian Project will require 343.5 parking spaces per Kingston’s zoning code

CALL TO ACTION:

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

City of Kingston Board of Education

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

Ulster County Legislature and County Executive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more…

KingstonCitizens.org Letter to Kingston Common Council Finance and Audit Committee and the Kingstonian PILOT

By Rebecca Martin and the KingstonCitizens.org Advisory Board

Dear Members of the Kingston Common Council Finance and Audit Committee,

On Tuesday of next week, the Kingstonian development team will submit an incomplete deviated Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) agreement to you for discussion. Council committee members will be in a position to either pass it out of committee for a full council vote in August or table the matter. We urge the Council to table the proposal thereby allowing time for the Finance and Audit committee to workshop the incomplete agreement. 

By requesting a special Finance and Audit committee meeting outside of the regular monthly scheduled time, it suggests that the Mayor wants the Council to make a swift and ill considered decision. As the direct representatives of Kingston taxpayers, we expect that his request will not pressure you. Council members must thoughtfully and carefully review the proposal so that the sacrifices being requested of the public are clear before approving the deviated pilot. 

If the PILOT is approved unchanged, the loss of potential tax revenues to our city and school budgets for mostly luxury and boutique hotel parking could simply devastate our already fiscally strained community.  We implore you to be keenly aware of your responsibility in assessing the value of the PILOT especially during a time of pandemic induced budget cuts because once approved there will be no going back. 

1. THE INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT AGENCY (IDA) MAY NOT BE AUTHORIZED TO GRANT THE KINGSTONIAN PILOT APPLICATION.  In a letter submitted to the IDA on July 17, 2020,  Victoria L. Polidoro, a lawyer who represents several property owners in Uptown, Kingston, points out that the IDA is not authorized to grant the application.  “As a threshold matter the IDA does not have authority to consider or grant the Application for the Project which includes residential housing units. The IDA’s Housing Projects Policy, which was reaffirmed on January 8, 2020, only allows IDA financing in limited circumstances. It provides that:   A. The Agency will only consider the granting of any “financial assistance” (as defined under the Act) for following projects that provide housing:  (1)  a project that satisfies the definition of a continuing care retirement community project under Section 859-b of the Act; or (2)  a project by an industrial, manufacturing, warehousing, commercial, research and recreation facility (as defined in the Act) that provides workforce housing for its employees.“ By approving the PILOT agreement now, the Council may be taking action prior to being certain that the IDA can legally authorize the PILOT request. 

2. THE IDA SHOULD NOT CONSIDER THE APPLICATION UNTIL THE PENDING ARTICLE 78 IS RESOLVED.  Included in Polidoro’s letter, she states that, “The IDA should refrain from acting on the application until the pending SEQRA litigation is resolved, as any decision it makes may thereafter be invalidated.“  

3. THE CENTERPIECE OF THE DEVELOPER’S LUXURY APARTMENT PROJECT PILOT IS A PARKING GARAGE. According to the Kingston zoning code, the minimum number of spaces needed to serve the Kingstonian project (for luxury housing, a boutique hotel and retail space) is 313 parking spaces. The proposed parking garage with 420 parking spaces is insufficient to replace the existing 144 public parking spaces stated while providing for an additional 313 parking spaces needed by the Project.  The Project will therefore result in a net loss of publicly available parking spaces. In addition, the Kingstonian will set the parking rates. Is the Kingston community, which may not be able to afford the air conditioned parking rates or find an available less costly, metered  spot, expected to otherwise park in the Kingston Plaza parking lot? 

4. AT A TIME OF FINANCIAL CRISIS WHEN THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC HAS LED TO CUTS IN CITY SERVICES AND JOBS, LOSS OF TAX REVENUE COULD BE SIMPLY DEVASTATING.  While the intricacies of the IDA, real estate investment, and PILOTs are complex, what should be clear is that the proposed Kingstonian PILOT deal could potentially harm the least well off in the city as well as hardworking taxpayers who already struggle to pay school and property taxes. For Council members who have advocated for social justice in housing, services for the poor, and children in need, the PILOT should be particularly worrisome. While not all PILOTs are exploitive, they must be balanced against the potential gains an investor or industry may bring to the area. The cost of the PILOT may be offset by community gains that have not yet been realized and won’t come to fruition until after the investment. Those gains may be larger than the PILOT subsidy. For example, if you averaged each Kingstonian luxury apartment to cost $1,800 per month x 129 without including the affordable housing, that’s $2.8 million dollars per year gross revenue just for apartments. Over 25 years, that’s $69.6 million dollars plus the additional grants and tax incentives. The PILOTs that cause concern, which is true in this case, are those structured to eliminate the investor’s financial risk while displacing that risk on to taxpayers. While every investor would like to eliminate risk, ordinary citizens aren’t able to shape the political landscape to achieve their preferred financial ends. Furthermore, new residents and businesses will be adding costs to the City’s budget for things like police, fire and sewer maintenance. These costs are normally covered by property taxes. For all of these reasons, their proposed $30.6 million dollar subsidy deserves increased scrutiny for the actual benefits to the city. 

5. AFFORDABLE HOUSING UNITS IN THE KINGSTONIAN PROJECT ARE NOT BOUND BY NYS RULES.  The 14 affordable housing units that developers inserted into the Kingstonian project after much outcry were not a concession. The developer added another floor to include the additional units, now making more money: the project became even bigger without the developer sacrificing anything in terms of profit. Additionally, the developer, as a private investor, will create these units without state tax credits and will therefore not be bound by state rules. Without a binding agreement (that outlines the units’ starting rent, their size and annual escalator rate), there is nothing to prevent the affordable units from escalating in value. The Kingstonian’s “affordable housing” could become luxury apartments at any time. The PILOT agreement can and must stipulate their affordable housing criteria. 

6. KINGSTON RESIDENTS PAY SCHOOL TAX IRRESPECTIVE OF WHETHER THEY HAVE CHILDREN WHO ATTEND PUBLIC SCHOOL BECAUSE EVERYONE BENEFITS FROM AN EDUCATED POPULACE.  The Kingstonian development team says that it anticipates minimal impact on the Kingston City School District as a similar project of theirs in Poughkeepsie has produced no school-aged residents. Following this logic, anyone without children in the public school system should not be required to pay school taxes. 

7. THE KINGSTON COMMON COUNCIL DECISION IS BEING MADE WITHOUT FULL TRANSPARENCY EVEN THOUGH THE OUTCOME WILL AFFECT THE LONG-TERM FINANCIAL HEALTH OF THE CITY.   As pointed out in Polidoro’s letter to the IDA, even if the IDA has authority to approve the application and the Applicant could demonstrate that additional parking spaces would be created, the Application lacks sufficient information on the Project’s finances. The Applicant alleges that the costs of constructing the parking garage total approximately $16.8 million which, after financing, would purportedly result in annual costs of $1,067,000 over 25 years. However, it is unclear if these cost estimates are accurate. The data supporting the Applicant’s calculation has not been publicly posted. The Council should request that the IDA release all data provided and engage an independent consultant to audit the Applicant’s estimated costs to determine their validity. If the agreement truly benefits the community, the data will prove it. 

8. NYS DOWNTOWN REVITALIZATION INITIATIVE (DRI)  The applicant has said that if the PILOT is not approved, then the project will not go forward and the grant funds awarded to the Kingstonian project (or the entire amount, it isn’t clear) through NYS’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) grant will be revoked.  Has the city confirmed with the State that this is true? Could the grant funding for example, if not used for the Kingstonian project, be transferred to one of the unfunded grant projects proposed in the DRI application? 

RESCOURCES

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