Kingstonian Zoning Petition Back at Ulster County Planning Board

By Rebecca Martin

“When you read the negative declaration by the planning board (for the Kingstonian Project), they almost don’t seem to get the gist of that letter from the Office of Parks Recreation & Historic Preservation (OPRHP) relative to why there is an impact on the stockade district.”
Dennis Doyle, UCPB

On February 5, the Ulster County Planning Board reviewed the Kingstonian Group Development LLC zoning map amendment for a second time. According to Ulster County Planning Director Dennis Doyle, the letter was referred back because the city’s request had been submitted to the county during the project’s State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR). With a determination made, the Ulster County Planning Board (UCPB) would take another look including at the new affordable housing provision.

The following is video from the meeting filmed by The Kingston News and brought to you by KingstonCitizenes.org. The blog image captures the required modifications and UCPB advisory comments.

RESOURCES

VIEW: Adverse Impact Letter from Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP)
VIEW: City of Kingston Comprehensive Plan (CP)

2:26 (loosely transcribed) Kingston’s Comprehensive Plan and its affordable housing requirement is for any new or expanding building or development. It wants to abandon the Mixed Use Overlay District (MUOD) in favor of a citywide standard. The UCPB recommends it should be simplified and “a standard set of rules regarding the provision for all multifamily residential applications in the city should be promulgated regardless of location.

5:54 (loosely transcribed) Kingston’s City Zoning Enforcement Officer (CZO) rendered a ruling about whether or not the MUOD permitted new construction and if so, required affordable housing. The statutory language of adaptive reuse would require 20%. ZEO determined that it doesn’t apply. That if new construction is permitted, it does not require affordable housing. Really the city can’t rely on MUOD to provide affordable housing anywhere in the city because of that ruling. That’s a real problematic way to move forward if we are going to let the MUOD continue. The applicant has involuntary offered affordable housing in the project and if you do the math, it’s about 10% of the project.

7:41 (loosely transcribed) County recommendations. Overarching recommendations rest on the City of Kingston’s own planning documents. We find the map amendment to be inconsistent with the purposes of the MUOD and the CP. and therefore, it should not be implemented without clarification of the ability of the District to be used to issue special permits for new construction. Additionally, if such new construction is allowed by special permit, a provision of affordable housing shall also apply.

8:35 (loosely transcribed) Doyle outlines the county’s original recommendations: Option 1, To follow the recommendations of the CP and abandon the MUOD in favor of establishing City-wide affordable housing regulations for all multi-family development, etc. Option 2, To modify the existing MUOD by specifically allowing new construction under the special use section and add the applicability of the affordable housing provision to this use. This is more of a band-aid approach to achieving the goals of the CP for the more limited area of the MUOD. If you are going to amend the map, then you must amend the language in the statute.

9:53 (loosely transcribed) The negative declaration issued by the Kingston Planning Board addresses the issues of whether or not there is a material conflict with adopted plans or goals. The Kingston Planning Board said that they found no conflict. But they do specifically note the 14 affordable housing units is a welcome inclusion. The lead agency determination regarding the zoning petition and its lack of conflict with community plans and goals as officially approved is the critical question before the Common Council and before the County Planning Board. The Common Council is somewhat bound by the lead agency’s determination. But that bounding is in response to the voluntary inclusion of affordable housing as part of the project.

11:15 (loosely transcribed) The neg dec addresses something called community character and historic resources. OPRHP has issued an adverse effect for the project. “The lead agency determination regarding Community Character the zoning petition and its lack of conflict with community plans and goals as officially approved is the critical question before the common council.” When you read the negative declaration by the planning board, they almost don’t seem to get the gist of the letter from the OPRHP relative to why there is an impact on the stockade district….but they never succintinly address the tie in between moving the project elements down slope or cross slope to tie into the schwenk drive commercial area as compared with the traditional ending of that at the Montgomery Ward building or at the top of the hill.

13:16 (loosely transcribed) Required modifications: the place where we are as pertains to affordable housing. ZEO provision says affordable housing is not needed with new construction yet the applicant voluntarily provides it. If that’s the case, then the voluntary provision by the applicant should be enshrined in the city’s planning approvals – as it could be voluntary today and during planning approvals, disappear tomorrow. The UCPB all agreed.

16:47 (loosely transcribed) Advisory comments. As stated previously, the UCPB’s overarching goal was to provide for inclusion of affordable housing. The voluntary provision offered by the developer is offset by the ruling of the ZEO that none is needed. While the board will not require a specific change, the required modification is to ensure that the affordable housing element as offered is not voluntary and is enshrined in the City’s planning approvals in a manner that defines affordability. The UCPB’s advisory comments are to strongly urge the city to abandon the MUOD district and adopt a city-wide solution to affordable housing and its design; Address more fully the adverse effects letter from OPRHP regarding their concerns about district impacts associated with the project tying the historic stockade area to the commercial area along Schwenk Drive as part of any map amendment; Note the need to clarify or include lower Fair Street in the rezoning depending on its ownership/interpretation; Note: the inclusion of a deviated PILOT by the Ulster County IDA in a Neg Dec. No discussion of a PILOT appears in the economic data released to date; Appreciation for the referral by the city to the amendment and inclusion of the affordable housing.

The UCPB said that the rezoning offers the city a clearer recommendation or response to the adverse effect letter. As part of the re-zoning they should look at this, understand and reexamine and clarify the negative declaration in terms of why it’s not an adverse effect in regards to zoning….there are state monies involved here. The state monies will require that they clear up that adverse effect letter otherwise, they’ll run into issues with the state funding. Discussion regarding Fair Street ensued. SHPO calls Fair street historic in some instances.

24:33 (loosely transcribed) On the project being a public/private partnership. We’ve seen a lot of positive economic data put out by the applicant. The negative declaration indicates a deviated PILOT by the UCIDA, meaning that it’s not a standard PILOT under the unified tax exemption policy and we don’t know what it will be. No discussion of the PILOT appears as the economic data released to date. We want transparency here – what the applicant is asking the public to participate in as the project goes forward. The IDA has a matrix, and they are going to propose that the IDA goes outside of the Matrix. In a public/private partnership, you should put everything on the table to fund your garage. The board agreed that it should be included in their comments as it’s in the Neg Dec determination and therefore a part of the SEQR process after discussion.

30:54 (loosely transcribed) Why was this matter sent back to us? Because they completed the SEQR process and we asked that they do so once the SEQR process was done. We asked to resubmit with the affordable housing provision. One of the UCPB members felt the language needed to be stronger. Dennis was concerned about changing the language from before. Public/Private partnerships should be much more up front about what they are asking the public to participate in. So far, we have seen no indication of what the public is being asked to participate in. It’s like traffic or anything else. There should be more transparency as a recommendation.

The UCPB approved the items.

UCIDA Rejects Request for Meeting Time Change.

This morning, the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (UCIDA) rejected requests to move their regular meeting time from 8:00am to after 5:00pm.

Here are some of the highlights of the morning board discussion.

Several members challenged KingstonCitizens.org as having a large base but only producing a handful of letter requests and citizens before them on the matter.  Last month when the item was before the board, it was tabled for further discussion. This occurred right before the holidays in late December, giving the public a narrow opportunity to submit a letter of support for a meeting time change.

Ask even the savviest of citizens what the UCIDA does and you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who can tell you. This is in part why we thought to pursue a meeting time change as a first step could allow for the potential of participation.  For those board members who attributed their rejection in part due to the number of requests as insignificant, it is a poor way to build bridges of trust and better relations with the public, particularly those who wish to be more of a participant in the important work of the UCIDA.

During the discussion, a citizen shared the trouble that he encountered entering the public building a little ahead of 8am, being stopped by an officer on the ground floor level of the Ulster County building. The chair of the board in jest responded “you don’t look like a terrorist.”

Another board member, perhaps in reaction to the citizens in attendance being Kingston residents, shared with us his insight that ‘there is a bigger world outside of Kingston”.

Citizens had some trouble hearing the board during their discussions in Legislative Chambers, where microphones were available. Perhaps next month, if the group meets in the same location and there are people in the audience, they might elect to set them up.

There were some useful points made to consider, such as the potential ‘overtime’ necessary to pay staff for evening meetings,  although this had not been mentioned last month as a consideration.  One could also sympathize with other members of the board who outlined their personal reasons as to why a time change was a challenge.  I was pleased that the board, on their own, requested to create palm cards with a simple explanation of PILOTs to be made available for the public in attendance.

In the end, my take-away was that the point was missed and that is, to include the public in new ways is a multi-prong process. Changing the meeting time should have been seen as a first step.  Outreach and making process accessible and easy to understand (transparency), another. Ongoing storytelling and communication, another. Participation, when it doesn’t exist, takes time and effort and the board has three Ulster County employees appointed to them as staff to help. That the public does not regularly attend this or any other important public hearings, board, committee or commission meetings is a failing of at least these things.

Thanks to those who took the time to participate. We’ll try again another time, in some other way.

VIDEO: Educational Workshop on Economic Development Services in Ulster County and Kingston 11/15/17

The following video was captured from yesterday’s City of Ulster County Educational Workshop on Economic Development Services in Ulster County and Kingston on November 15th, 2017.  Brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org thanks to The Kingston News.

We appreciate the effort made by Ulster County’s Economic Development office and the City of Kingston Economic Development office to bring this together for the public in 2017.  We hope to see this become a yearly event.

The next Ulster County IDA meeting will occur on Wednesday, December 13th at 8:00am. On the agenda will be a discussion to change the meeting time to later in the afternoon (after 5pm) to allow for greater public participation. 

 

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Video #1:  Educational Workshop on Economic Development: PRESENTATION
(Click on image to review video)

 

The UCIDA AND PILOTs: Accountability to Taxpayers and Citizens.

VIEW our Event Page for the UCIDA’s Wednesday Meeting

VIEW our Petition “UCIDA and PILOTs:  Accountability to Taxpayers and Citizens.

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Citizens have voiced concern about a PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Tax)
agreement and other tax incentives currently on the table for the ‘Hudson Valley Kingston Development (HVKD) LLC’ proposal in Uptown, Kingston.

According to their application, they propose to  “build four boutique hotels in historic Uptown Kingston. There will be 43 hotel rooms in total, with a restaurant at the 301 Wall Street location. This will create a welcome space for community events and gatherings, and stimulate much-needed tourism and revenue for surrounding businesses.”
REVIEW  HVKD’s application

Last week, the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (UCIDA) held a public hearing on the HVKD’s application. Very few members of the public were in attendance.

In our opinion, that’s probably because UCIDA’s process can be difficult to follow, especially for something like a PILOT agreement or tax abatements. Often, meetings are insufficiently publicized leaving many citizens in the dark.

Incentives are important tools in attracting and supporting business. Allocations of tax dollars in this context are governed by state law and to that end, there are real checks and balances here.

However if the public is not properly made aware of the opportunities that they have throughout the process, then only a handful of appointed officials are in a position to make decisions that will certainly extend beyond their tenure. For that reason alone, it is in everyone’s best interest for a transparent process to be a priority, one that will allow citizens a better understanding and to enter into a more robust discussion.

The next meeting on the proposal is to occur on Wednesday, October 11th at 8:00 am (in the Karen Binder Library on the 6th Floor of the County Office Building, 244 Fair Street, Kingston, NY).  To help the public proceed in an organized manner, we offer the following information and a recommendation for the public to make to the UCIDA board for their consideration.   

VIEW  our Event Page for more information on Wednesday’s meeting.

Background on Industrial Development Agencies (IDA) From the NYS Comptroller.

First, appointments to the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency are made via resolution by the membership of the Ulster County Legislature.  Members serve at the pleasure of the Legislature.  

The Ulster County IDA must follow State law, based on background provided by the NYS Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, the role of IDA’s in New York State are charged with the following:

“Industrial Development Agencies (IDAs) are authorized to provide financial assistance for certain types of projects. Financial assistance includes the issuance of bonds by the IDA to finance construction of a project and straight-lease transactions. Because IDAs’ property and activities are tax exempt, the IDA may pass the benefits of certain tax exemptions (e.g., real property, sales and mortgage recording taxes) to the private entities that undertake the projects. The loss of revenue associated with these tax exemptions can be offset with an agreement for payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs), under which the private entity agrees to pay all or a portion of the taxes that would otherwise have been imposed had the project not been an IDA project. The IDA’s role is not just to act as the conduit for financial assistance, but also to monitor the success, progress, and cost-benefit of projects, including whether projects are honoring their commitments and agreements.”

In addition to making these decisions, the IDA must also provide follow-up on the projects where they have provided support.

“The IDA’s role is not just to act as the conduit for financial assistance, but also to monitor the success, progress, and cost-benefit of projects, including whether projects are honoring their commitments and agreements.”

The 2016 New York State IDA Law

In 2016, laws were put into place to increase the accountability and efficiency of IDAs.

“In June 2016, new legislation became effective to increase the accountability and improve the efficiency and transparency of IDA operations. For new projects, the law requires standard application forms for requests for financial assistance, uniform criteria for the evaluation and selection for each category of projects for which financial assistance is provided, uniform project agreements, annual assessments on project progress including job creation and retention, as well as policies to recapture, discontinue or modify financial assistance or tax exemptions.”

 

Next Steps in the process for the Hudson Valley Kingston Development LLC PILOT agreement and tax incentives.

On Wednesday, October 11th at 8:00 am, the Hudson Valley Kingston Development LLC is listed in the (Draft) AGENDA #12: Projects “Hudson Valley Kingston Development (Public Hearing held on October 4, 2017)”.  There isn’t information listed as to whether or not the board will be making a decision regarding PILOTS or other available tax incentives for this proposal.  Therefore, it’s important to make your voice heard now – and you can do so by

SIGNING OUR PETITION:  UCIDA and PILOTs – Accountability to Taxpayers and Citizens.   VIEW 

The County must carry on its important business for the residents of Ulster County. We also support and appreciate new business opportunities in our area.  However, given the concerns of the public, we request that any approvals of tax incentives for the Hudson Valley Kingston Development LLC be delayed by the board to allow the following:

  1. Provide additional public educational opportunities on the UCIDA’s process in assigning PILOTS and tax incentives to proposed projects, including, but not limited to:

    * The necessary documentation that is required as evidence that an applicant demonstrates a need for a PILOT or other tax incentives as well as to show that the applicant has exhausted all other available options based on NYSEDC recommendations.
      VIEW

    * Explain UCIDA’s Uniform Tax POLICY that, based on the MATRIX determines the Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) hourly rates assessed as per the number of jobs it will create.

  2. How the UCIDA applies recommendations to this, and all project considerations, provided by the Ulster County Comptroller from his 2014 report “A Study of the Impact and Best Practices for Industrial Development Agencies”, specifically:* Support only Projects which likely will not proceed but for IDA assistance;* Require market analyses for “retail” (and services) Projects;* Calculate costs and benefits specifically attributable to IDA assistance;* Give PILOT points only for jobs attributable to IDA assistance;

    * Interpret the cost-benefit analysis with care;

    * Require proof of pre-assistance employment levels;

    * Maximize public access to information;

    * Consider a scoring category for local support.

  3. The UCIDA’s follow-up procedures after-tax incentives are awarded.

  4. Additional public hearings to be scheduled and publicized for more public input.