Welcome to KingstonCitizens.org!

Established in 2006, KingstonCitizens.org is a non-partisan, grassroots, volunteer organization committed to nurturing transparency in local government through citizen engagement and participation.

Please subscribe to keep updated on the latest events concerning our community. (*required)

* indicates required



Unknown

 

The City of Kingston’s drinking water supply is Cooper Lake

Photo credits: Kevin Smith, Woodstock Land Conservancy 8/24/22

By Rebecca Martin

Cooper Lake is located in the Town of Woodstock and is the largest natural lake in the Catskill Mountains. It stores water from the Mink Hollow Stream in addition to water that reaches the lake from its nearly 9 square-mile watershed. 

It is also the City of Kingston’s primary drinking water source. 

The City of Kingston Water Department was founded on May 27, 1895 by a special act of the New York State Legislature to provide potable water to the residents of the City of Kingston. It is a financially and administratively independent department within the City of Kingston funded by drinking water users (and not tax dollars) and is governed by the Board of Water Commissioners. The Board is a continuously sitting body and each member is appointed to a five (5) year term by the Mayor. The Mayor is also a voting member of the Board and the Kingston Common Council assigns a liaison in January of each year to monitor their business. 

The Early History of Water, Woodstock and Kingston by Richard Heppner

Our area is in the midst of a drought. At the same time, important dam construction at Cooper Lake is underway in order to bring the dam into compliance to meet the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) regulations. It’s a project that’s been in the works for many years.

In preparation, last July Cooper Lake was lowered by 10 feet below its maximum capacity and that level must be maintained throughout the dam work that is scheduled through November of 2023. The process began before our current drought emergency that has escalated and was raised to Stage II on August 11.  

At times like these, Kingston is fortunate to have a secondary drinking water source – the Ashokan Reservoir. Many communities that I work with haven’t got a plan B. Although the infrastructure is not yet connected, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) has run pipes under Route 28 at Basin Road and part way down Sawkill so that the Kingston Water Department would be able to tap into the reservoir if they ever needed to. They never have –  until now. 

In the early 2000’s, the Town of Ulster signed a long standing agreement to purchase 700,000 gallons per day (GPD) whether they used all of it or not from the Kingston Water Department making them one of our largest drinking water users. That agreement was recently brought to a halt because of the seriousness of the drought. Now the town is working to provide Kingston with 200,000 GPD to help us through this critical time, even when they are also experiencing drought conditions and cut-backs.  The residents in the Town of Ulster deserve our gratitude.

Kingston Water Department and “surplus water”

Nearly 10 years ago, the City of Kingston was on the brink of selling 1.75 million GPD of our municipal drinking water supply to the California based company Niagara Bottling at Tech City in the Town of Ulster.  Had they succeeded, they would have secured their first large drinking water bottling facility in our region and would have taken every drop for all the years they were here to bottle and to sell. For those following the changes at the Tech City site, Niagara would have likely impacted the recent trajectory of any progress seen today. And given Niagara’s track record, we might have been in a heap of trouble now. It’s one thing to negotiate with your neighbors. It’s a whole other matter to do the same during drought conditions with a corporation who have savvy lawyers and deep pockets. Luckily, with the support of many community members, organizations and elected officials, we nipped that proposal in the bud in just five months and sent Niagara packing.

Side bar: We still have Niagara Bottling on our google alert. We’ve been following them around the country for the last seven years and share information about our strategies with municipalities interested who are struggling as we were. We’ve had some success, too – in communities located in Texas and Wisconsin.

Back in 2014 when Niagara was a looming threat, we learned about Kingston’s safe yield (by definition, the safe yield of any water supply is the maximum dependable water supply that can be withdrawn continuously from a supply during a period of years in which the driest period or periods of greatest deficiency in water supply is likely to occur) being 6.1 million GPD. For Kingston’s drinking water supply, that period continues to be the drought of 1957 that lasted 3 months. Kingston’s safe yield was said to be accurate when we inquired. We were told changes were slow. 

Also in 2014, community member’s concerns were said to be “hysterical”, as the City of Kingston had surplus water to sell and the East Coast was water rich.  Their messaging gained no traction with us.

Here is some interesting data from old posts about droughts in the Hudson Valley:

10153997_323039804545358_7056360159773688521_n

Given the recent trends, is it time for us to take another look at our safe yield and consider climate? I think so. Although Cooper Lake was reduced 10 feet to its maximum capacity last year for important dam work, it seems clear that no one anticipated a drought a year later that would exacerbate our current situation.

Drinking Water Budgets

There is such a thing as drinking water budgets, or an accounting of all the water that flows into and out of a project area. The Kingston Water department once told us that they have one. Through our FOILs in 2014 and 2015 we never successfully acquired a copy.  If our safe yield is 6.1 million GPD then we don’t want to overuse or over promise what we can deliver.  A water budget keeps track of our current residential and business use and should also take into account future development project commitments.

In a report from 2007 for the proposed Hudson River Landing Development, it stated that the City of Kingston had a daily water usage of 3.28 million GPD.  In 2014, we were told that that number increased to 3.5 million GPD. Where are we today?  Outside of our own concerns about drought and drinking water, how does Cooper Lake’s current levels inform us about groundwater resources and the rapidly dropping water table area-wide? What about our neighbors public supply wellheads and thousands of private wells?

We’re sharing these photos – thanks to Kevin Smith of the Woodstock Land Conservancy – to illustrate that this crisis is real. The photos speak for themselves and it’s heartbreaking to see this natural waterbody in such a state. Beyond that, the water that flows through your pipes to your home or business is treated drinking water from Cooper Lake meant to keep you nourished and alive. At the very least, it’s a teaching moment. We shouldn’t ever take drinking water for granted. 

Our drinking water supply levels are a real emergency. Follow the requests from City of Kingston officials and be mindful every day of how you borrow from Cooper Lake. Consider everyone and everything.

In addition to previous mandatory restrictions on water usage, the following measures will be in effect:

  • NO use of water from the KWD to fill or maintain the water level in any swimming pool.
  • NO use of water from the KWD to water any lawn, golf course, ornamental shrub or plant, except that water may be used to irrigate, from a hand held container only, vegetables or fruits grown for human consumption.
  • All air conditioning systems utilizing water from the KWD should be operated only in accordance with hourly restrictions established by the Superintendent.
  • All large, nonresidential water consumers must immediately reduce usage by at least 20%.

Kingstonian Developers Move Forward with Site Plan Review and New Partner From South Carolina

“You know there has been a fair amount of public input on the project…” (laughs).

“I’ve had bullhorns in my face, Dennis. I got it.”

At a recent Kingston Planning Board meeting, the Kingstonian development team provided an overview of the current project in preparation for a full presentation for the planning board and the public on Monday, May 9.  Following the presentation, a public hearing has been scheduled on Tuesday, May 17 for the public to weigh in on the project’s site plan and special use permit approval.  

The Kingstonian project development team was present that evening and that included Dennis Larios (President of the Engineering firm Brinnier & Larios), Michael Moriello (Environmental Attorney) and developer Brad Jordan (Herzog Supply Company). Absent again was JM development principal Joseph Bonura. Brad Jordan explained that they had a new partner since they presented their original application, a developer from South Carolina who would be helping to build and finance the project.  

Item #11: #9-17 & 21 North Front Street and a portion of Fair Street Extension SITE PLAN/SPECIAL PERMIT to construct a Mixed Use building with a 420 car garage, 143 apartments, 32 hotel rooms, and 8000 sf of retail space. SBL 48.80-1-25.100 & 26. SEQR Determination. Zone C-2, Mixed Use Overlay District. Kingstonian Development LLC/applicant; Kingstonian Development LLC & City of Kingston/owner

Some of the notable items discussed that evening include: 

  1. The Kingstonian developers said that they have brought in another partner since the original application was made.  It is a developer from South Carolina who will help to build and finance the project.  LISTEN
  2. The parking number was (finally) confirmed by the developers.  Dennis Larios committed to create 427 parking spaces  LISTEN
    • 143 spots, one per residential unit, will have a spot
    • 296 for the public
    • Hotel will operate with a valet off site
    • Special deed parking garage: 83.5

READThe Kingstonian Project will require 343.5 parking spaces per Kingston’s zoning code

  1. Jordan said that there were 1500 spots at Herzog Plaza for overflow. Valet parking will take cars to the plaza.  Larios did a calculation of the available parking at the plaza based on the Kingston zoning code.   LISTEN
  2. The Kingstonian will charge the same hourly parking as the city, though the monthly rate has still not been finalized according to Kingstonian developer Brad Jordan.  LISTEN
  3. The Kingstonian’s small swimming pool, barbecue area and dog park will all be moved to the roof.  LISTEN
  4. The City of Kingston water department has done hybrid flood tests at the site because it will require a fire pump and domestic service pump as a multi-story project.  LISTEN
  5. The developers said that they had promised during the SEQR process to take as much gravity sewer to the truck station at Frog Alley which they have accomplished.  They will also be collecting and treating the stormwater as a redevelopment project with a hydrodynamic separator on the east and west campus in a small rain garden.  LISTEN
  6. The pedestrian walkway to the plaza is going to be open for the same hours as Kingston City Parks. “We’re basically treating it like a city park but we’re flexible”  LISTEN
  7. There will be a delivery drop off zone in front of the Senate Garage and in the back of the building inside the plaza so that deliveries aren’t blocking a lane of traffic.   LISTEN
  8.  According to Larios, in 2020, the state adopted a stricter energy code. The city adopted what’s called a “stretch code: which is stricter yet. “Not many designers have worked with the stretch coach in the United States. It’s coming over from Europe code people are having to get up to speed with it but the design team is dealing with the stretch code right now as we speak with the thermal envelope and all the other requirements in that code and it will likely be an all-electric building as well vehicle spaces…”  LISTEN
  9. The site plan will be referred to the Ulster County planning board, City of Kingston Engineering, Water Board and Parks and Recreation. LISTEN

Recent Flooding to Residents Living on the Lower Esopus Creek in the Town of Ulster, Town of Saugerties

In August of last year, KingstonCitizens.org reported on Central Hudson’s “Gas Village” training facility in the Town of Ulster that destroyed 28 Acres of Forest. The impacted community members who live next to the Central Hudson project and that are sandwiched between the CSX train tracks and Lower Esopus Creek in the Towns of Ulster and Saugerties have been organizing since then. After a recent stormwater flooding event, the group submitted the following letter to their local officials:

“Dear Mr. Quigley and the Town of Ulster Board,

Glenerie Boulevard and Katrine Lane residents experienced a major emergency on Friday, April 8th, as rainwater running off from the 28-acre deforested Central Hudson training facility site ran under the CSX tracks and flooded onto neighbors’ homes and yards — running under our properties and gushing into the already degraded Esopus Creek. The fire department could do nothing until the waters receded, and even the DEC came out to file a report.

As you can see, the water was within mere feet of reaching our cars and homes and caused damage to sheds and tools. 

VIEW: Photos and videos of the flood damage

As tempting as it might be to attribute this flooding to the 4 inches of rain that came down the night before or to climate change exclusively, the primary cause of the recent flooding was that the NYC DEP did not provide adequate storage in the Ashokan Reservoir for springtime rains. They could not increase their storage when the predicted rainfall of 3 inches increased to 4 inches. 

We are concerned that NYCDEP will provide no storage (especially this August and September), and if we receive a tropical storm, we can expect another damaging flood. The DEP had promised you that they would decrease the possibility of flooding, and we ask that you demand DEP provide the flood protection they promised.

The Central Hudson Facility project has only added to the flooding problem. According to longtime residents who have lived here for 35 years, they have never seen our streets flood like this nor seen runoff pour into the creek under their homes and so rapidly. 

And the only variable/change is the Central Hudson facility site under construction that has been clear cut and now destroyed for decades – an environmental disaster facilitated by the sale of Bread Alone’s connector parcel to Central Hudson’s headquarters. 

The exact site of the cascading flood on April 8th corresponds to the precise rock removal and the thinnest part of the tree removal line on the construction site. Clearly, the systems and streams that drain the new construction site, Central Hudson parking lot, and the Micron parking are wholly inadequate.

Currently, three existing pipes, approximately 30 inches in diameter, and the discharge from the new retention pond, flow through an undersized culvert and pipe into a small stream with deep and steep slopes. The velocity of the flow has eroded the stream banks and undermined the foundation of homes. 

The Town should have addressed this problem long ago when the Micron parking lot was constructed. The Town should require Central Hudson to construct a retention basin for the three pipes, a larger culvert beneath the tracks, and enlargement and bank stabilization of the stream into the Esopus.

This community is standing together, but our concerns are falling on deaf ears on officials at the state, county, Town, and Central Hudson levels — those seemingly only caring about the bottom line. They don’t live here, so they don’t experience the daily harmful effects they’ve approved and created. 

We are fed up with being ignored and irate since we questioned these potential dangers months ago. We demand that the multiple environmental impacts that this project has created due to the Town’s negligence be ameliorated by the Town, DEP, and Central Hudson at once before things get worse. 

Regardless of the Town of Ulster’s lack of notification to the site’s perimeter residents — (over 60% of us had no idea it was coming and indeed would have shown up in the public comment period), the Town, as the lead agency, failed in its due diligence. 

We are being affected directly as the potentially toxic flood water dumps into the creek but the thousands of neighbors downstream on the Esopus into the Town of Saugerties are being affected by this project too.

If this was an affluent community, we are convinced that a project as massive as this would cease to exist. Instead, our working-class neighborhood has been literally squeezed between two environmental disasters – the CenHud Facility and the muddy Esopus Creek due to the Ashokan releases.

Considering climate change at the very minimum, this project and ALL its impacts on the residents and our environment should have been studied thoroughly before getting anywhere near approval and a “NegDec” decision. 

Within a mere 3 months of your premature approval, Central Hudson clear-cut 28 acres of absorbant forestland, emptying the site of its porous floor and rootbed; displacing millions of birds and wildlife, and then subsequently removed tons of stabilizing rocks near the CSX tracks over four months of dynamite blasting to create retention ponds. 

And because this project was rubber-stamped, none of these actions were studied or vetted regarding their real-world impact on the surrounding neighborhood, the CSX train trackbed, and the Esopus Creek, nor the toxicity of the existing site’s soil. 

Central Hudson’s retention pond plan has failed; the massive potentially toxic runoff is running under our properties and gushing into the Esopus Creek. It seems we have endured the unending construction, blasting, vehicle noises, and inconvenience they have created for the last six months for no good reason.

In addition, the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) filed by CenHud was grossly flawed and didn’t disclose the site was within wetlands. If sustainability experts or professionals had been hired to evaluate the project, that omission would have been rectified and the situation professionally assessed — but even the site’s officially contracted developers and landscapers involved in the site planning fail to display any modern-day sustainability or permaculture expertise or interest.

Instead, your Board pushed the project through to create revenue and increase Ulster County’s tax base, and as a result:

– The DEC levied a $37,500 daily violation to CenHud for dumping waste into the Esopus Creek last November

– For those of us on well water, we may have potential drinking water contamination from toxic runoff

– Many of us experienced dust and soot downwind of the site, compromising the air we breathe 

– The CSX trains are infinitely louder because of the deforestation, disturbing residents’ sleep, and work schedules

– The millions of birds, wildlife, beneficial insects, and even bears are all displaced due to 28 acres of trees being clear cut

– 5 longtime neighbors have already moved because of the site blasting and construction noise

– Our property values have been forever affected by the site’s existence

– Legacy trees in our yards have fallen because of the four months of dynamite blasting in the rain and 10 hours of daily pneumatic hammering vibrating our houses

– Light and noise pollution from 9W traffic and the storage facility drown our dark sky and peaceful environment because the forest screening is gone… and now…

– Floods – because the retention ponds Central Hudson built and assured us would contain the runoff do not work

– Increased insurance costs and claims resulting from the damage

– Add to that, the flooding weakens the land under the CSX tracks because now there is no shale buffer, and now we have to worry about a train derailment in our front yards

As much as we like lower taxes and bringing jobs to our community, our quality of life, the environmental impact, and our property values matter more. Clearly, our adjacent residential community was not prioritized when greenlighting this project. There should have been a balance. How much more money, time, and inconvenience will it cost now to fix these situations because they weren’t adequately addressed from the onset?

Since we initially reached out in concern in March of 2020 and then again in June of 2021, when the project restarted after pandemic delays, we have been polite, respectful, and cooperative. 

We have tried to work with Central Hudson at quarterly virtual meetings (our next one is in June TBA) to make suggestions without any real significant progress to ameliorate these effects (even offering a comprehensive 10-page proposal to offset their impact on us) — but this latest event is too much and falls squarely on the Town, DEP, and CenHud’s shoulders.

Our immediate demands (paid for by the Town and/or CenHud and at NO EXTRA COST to Ulster County taxpayers): 

1. We would like a study conducted and a short-term and long-term solution implemented for how the runoff will be dealt with on Glenerie Blvd. Eastern Parkway, 9W, and Katrine Lane in subsequent storms

2. Testing of drinking water for any of us on well water

3. We would like an acoustic engineer to study what can be done in the way of landscaping or infrastructure to absorb the additional train and traffic noise, and then a solution implemented based on their recommendations

4. We would like an expert to recommend screening and planting solutions to give us back some quality of life, cleaner air, and visual privacy from the site with absolutely no more clearcutting whatsoever

5. We want CSX to inspect the tracks from the crossing at Eastern Parkway to the switching station along the Glenerie Blvd. side to make sure the flooding has not compromised their tracks

6. Demand DEP provide the flood protection they promised

7. Community benefits: We can’t safely swim in the creek or hike the forest trails now, so we would like nearby public space dedicated or donated for recreational use for our kids and dogs to offset what’s been taken. This would partially compensate for the unbelievably negative impact and inconvenience this project has had on our community. 

Your hasty approval of this project has created emergencies and environmental disasters on multiple levels. As tax-paying citizens, residents, and neighbors, we demand accountability by the Town of Ulster and Central Hudson and retroactive solutions. We look forward to your timely response before any of these situations deteriorate further. “

Sincerely,

50+ Esopus Creek Neighbors
Esopuscreekneighbors@gmail.com

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.

Kingston resident submits letter regarding Fair Street Extension Public Hearing

On December 2, 2021, the City held a public hearing which took place as a hybrid remote/in-person meeting, based on the modifications to the Open Meetings Law by NYS Chapter 417 of the Laws of 2021.  The Hearing was overrun with technical errors that led to a legal action including an affidavit filed by City of Kingston resident James Shaughnessy (who paid for his own representation in order to participate) who was present – in person – that evening. Mr. Shaughnessy’s comments were not heard through Zoom or on YouTube due to the technical difficulties.

Judge Richard Mott issued a stipulation that rescinded the Kingston Common Council vote on December 7 that approved the partial abandonment of Fair Street Extension. The judge required a new public hearing to be set for January 12 at a location that could accommodate 200 people under Covid restrictions.  That location must be designated by the Kingston Common Council no later than December 24.

In a letter dated December 27 and submitted to the City of Kingston Corporation Counsel Kevin Bryant, Alderperson-at-large Andrea Shaut and the Honorable Richard Mott as a follow-up to his stipulation, the lawyer Wayne Thompson, wrote on behalf Kingston resident James Shaughnessy regarding the Common Council’s proposal to abandon Fair Street Extension and identified the following:

“…the order (stipulation) included the directive that the City name a location for the hearing by December 24. As of the time of this writing, counsel has not been notified of the location nor has any information regarding this important hearing been put on the City’s website calendar.”

He also wrote that given the current surge of Covid-19 cases at this time, the circumstances dictate the necessity for modifications to the original order (stipulation) to protect the safety and heath of the public that would include a hybrid meeting and that if the City chooses, it could hold an in-person meeting only at a later date when the current surge of infections have passed.

“…the City must safeguard the health and safety of its residents and take steps to ensure that any interested member of the public can fully participate in the (January) public hearing.”

Questions and Answers on Fair Street Extension

The City of Kingston will hold a new public hearing on Wednesday, January 12, 2022 at 6:30pm (location TBA) that will lead to a new vote on the proposal for a “partial abandonment” of Fair Street Extension. With many questions coming forward from Community members, we have pulled together the best information that we could gather so that it could live in one place. We’ll update this post as more information comes in.

Why is there a new public hearing?

On December 2, 2021, the City held a public hearing which took place as a hybrid remote/in-person meeting, based on the modifications to the Open Meetings Law by NYS Chapter 417 of the Laws of 2021.  The Hearing was overrun with technical errors that led to a legal action including an affidavit filed by City of Kingston resident James Shaughnessy (who paid for his own representation in order to participate) who was present – in person – that evening. Mr. Shaughnessy’s comments were not heard through Zoom or on YouTube due to the technical difficulties.

Judge Richard Mott issued a stipulation that rescinded the Kingston Common Council vote on December 7 that approved the partial abandonment of Fair Street Extension. The judge required a new public hearing to be set for January 12 at a location that could accommodate 200 people under Covid restrictions.  That location must be designated by the Kingston Common Council no later than December 24.

Will the public hearing be hybrid?

In the stipulation, Judge Mott states that, “A new public hearing with respect to the partial abandonment of Fair Street Extension is to be held January 12, 2022, at 6:30 P.M. at a location to be determined that can accommodate at least 200 people under applicable COVID restrictions…”. 

As it pertains to Covid restrictions, according to Part E of Chapter 417 of the Laws of 2021 amends Article 7 of the Public Officers Law (“the Open Meetings Law”) that went into effect on September 2, 2021, it says that any local body “…shall be authorized to meet and take such action authorized by law without permitting in public in-person access to meetings and authorize such meetings to be held remotely by conference call or similar service, provided that the public has the ability to view or listen to such proceeding and that such meetings are recorded and later transcribed.”  This remains in effect until January 15, 2022.  Given the concerns of both the Delta and Omicron variants, a hybrid public hearing would be most appropriate. 

What does it mean that the Council vote in December on the “Partial Abandonment” of Fair Street Extension was “Rescinded” and what happens after the new public hearing in January? 

Judge Mott’s stipulation included “rescinding” the council vote in December and requiring both a new public hearing and another council vote.  The resolution will likely go in front of the council on Tuesday, February 6.  Of note, there will be four new council members who haven’t yet had an opportunity to voice an opinion on Fair Street. These are Ward 1, Barbara Hill, Ward 2, Carl Frankel, Ward 5, Naimah Muhammed, Ward 7, Michael Oliveri  (their official city information will be available on the City of Kingston’s website following the first council meeting/swearing-in in January, 2022).

If I provided public testimony or submitted written comments during the December public hearing, should I speak or submit again in January?

Yes. Everyone should plan to speak or resubmit their comments in January, as it’s not clear whether or not the old record will be counted given the flaws and – this will be the new Council members’ first opportunity to engage.

Where can I review Resolution 251  “Requesting Authorization of Partial Abandonment of Fair Street Extension and Authorizing the Mayor to Execute any and all documents necessary”

The materials for the public hearing can be found on the City of Kingston, NY website on their calendar for December 2, 2021 “Public Hearing”.  The resolution itself can be found HERE

The Developers and several of our elected officials say that the public knew all along that the closure of Fair Street Extension would be necessary for the Kingstonian project to proceed.

As part of the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR), the  Kingstonian project’s Environmental Assessment Form (EAF) and application (see page 2), states that the Kingston Common Council would decide on the “sale or lease of land” (21 North Front Street) and “closing of Fair Street Extension.”  Because of the EAF, the public anticipated the opportunity to engage with its Council through robust processes in both cases following the environmental review. The Mayor, however, had other plans and placed the 21 North Front Street public land sale into the hands of the Kingston Local Development Corporation, an appointed body, of which he is the President, which was not listed in the developer’s EAF. He also changed the original action of “closing” Fair Street Extension to a “partial abandonment.”

Fair Street Extension is an active public street. What would the process be to discontinue it? 

“The rights of the public in city streets are unable to be given away, and may only be sold in limited circumstances. (NYS General City Law § § 20(2), (7)).” If Fair Street Extension were to get through that first test, then the Planning department would determine whether or not the street is used as a public thoroughfare (it has been, and continues to be). The City would then be required to follow the requirements set forth in Chapter 355 of the City of Kingston Code.

Kingston’s Assistant Corporation Counsel points to the City of Kingston’s Charter C14-1 Sub B, that states that the Department of Public Works may exercise  “…the following powers and duties: to lay out, open, extend, alter, widen, straighten, construct or discontinue streets…” as a determining factor in deciding Fair Street Extension’s fate.  How the city intends to work around its own code in this case to discontinue an active public street is unclear.

Why wouldn’t the city follow its own code when discontinuing a working public street like Fair Street Extension?

In February 2021, Mayor Steve Noble was reported as saying “… the city might not have to go through a formal process of transferring ownership of what is now Fair Street Extension to a private developer as part of the proposed Kingstonian project….the land transfer process originally envisioned may be unnecessary because the short thoroughfare connecting Schwenk Drive and North Front Street will remain public space as an entrance to the Kingstonian parking garage.”   What part of the law is the Mayor referencing that would allow an active public street to forgo a formal process?

What is the value of Fair Street Extension?

A current fair market value of Fair Street Extension, if it exists, has not been made available to the public. What’s more, the majority of Kingston’s Common Council voted in favor of giving away Fair Street Extension, a public asset, without that crucial information.

What are the community benefits for an exchange of Fair Street Extension and how do we know the public is getting a good deal? 

Without knowing the value of Fair Street Extension and all relevant public assets, there isn’t any way to know whether the community benefits are a good deal for all Kingston and Ulster County residents.

The community benefits in exchange for tens of millions of dollars in public funding (see below) start with a parking garage and additional public parking space. The Kingstonian developers promised a 420-space parking structure with at least 250 spaces devoted to public parking, however based on our zoning code, the Kingstonian residential, commercial retail space and boutique hotel requirements will lead to a net loss of public parking spaces.

New floor plans were recently submitted to the City, and the amount of public parking has been further reduced due to the increase in residential parking: 

ORIGINAL FLOOR PLANS (1/21/19) 
Apartment Parking: 51
Other Parking 359
Total: 410

MOST RECENT FLOOR PLAN (11/4/21)
Residential: 234
Public, Hospitality, and Retail: 203
Total: 437

Additionally and eventually, the cost of public parking at that location would become privatized and managed by the developer. 

Other claimed benefits include a couple of public bathrooms located inside the Kingstonian, 14 affordable housing units (that were hard won by the community as the developers and our elected officials initially rejected adding affordable units to this project), jobs that are primarily below living wage for an individual or couple with one child (in Ulster County and the City of Kingston), commercial retail space and hotel rooms. 

How much public funding has already been provided to the Kingstonian developers?  

The Kingstonian developers have received:

  • $3.8 million from Governor Cuomo’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI);
  • $2 million has been granted by the Empire State Development Corp;
  • A $1 million Restore NY Grant; 
  • A 25-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) worth $25 million dollars; 
  • 21 N. Front Street assessed at $850,000 (as of 7/15/21);
  • An unknown amount from the project being located in a Federal Opportunity Zone (there are three in Kingston), a program that offers tax breaks for capital gains reinvestment.   

Read Village or New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers “Why does the Kingstonian need a local PILOT if it’s in a Federal Opportunity Zone?

The public is still in the dark about the value of Fair Street Extension (which will be eliminated), the municipal parking revenue that will be lost once the public lot is sold, and the cost of any infrastructure upgrades the City will undertake to accommodate the project.  

What traffic study did the Kingston Planning Board use as guidance for the Kingstonian project’s environmental review process?

The traffic study that the Kingstonian developers provided and that guided the Planning board throughout the Kingstonian SEQR process was prepared by Creigton Manning on July 23, 2019.  In the study, they describe “intersection turning movement counts” conducted at the study area intersections on Thursday, May 9, 2019 from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m., with the exception of the North Front Street/Frog Alley intersection, which was counted on Wednesday June 19, 2019. In addition, traffic associated with the existing driveways on Fair Street Extension was “observed.” This traffic study focuses on the weekday PM peak period only. 

After more questions from the Planning board, on October 7, 2019, the board received a letter from HVEA engineers essentially confirming the results of the study.

Later, at the request of Rodenhausen Chale & Polidoro LLC, a Peer Review for the Kingstonian project’s Traffic Study (11/23/21) created by Brian Weinberg, PE of Langan Engineering was submitted to the City. It outlined several significant problems with the Creighton Manning traffic study and approach:

  • “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”;
  • “Key intersections were left out of the study area and thus the intersection capacity analysis was not completed. Among 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 diverted 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.”;
  • “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”.

What does a negative declaration in SEQR mean going forward for all necessary permit approvals? 

On December 16, 2019, the Kingston Planning Board voted 5-0 in favor of a negative declaration of significance for the massive Kingstonian project in the Stockade Historic District (that included Fair Street Extension). A negative declaration in SEQR means that the Planning Board, as the lead agency for the review, sees “no substantial evidence that the project may have a significant effect on the environment.” The environment in SEQR also includes traffic, community character, historic preservation, economic development and more.  

When the environmental review process is complete, agencies listed in the applicant’s Environmental Assessment Form as having discretionary authority in this project can proceed with their reviews. What remains is the Kingston Common Council (closing of Fair Street Extension); Kingston Planning Board (site plan approval and special use permit); Zoning Board of Appeals (area variance); Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (design approval). The Planning Board’s negative declaration determination will be factored into these future decisions.  Any of the potential environmental factors already reviewed during SEQR may not be reconsidered. 

Unfortunately, our Council (as an involved agency) missed every opportunity to ask questions publicly to the Planning Board during that critical time.

RESOURCES

No one likes to look at PILOT arithmetic”  by Mayor Tim Rogers, VoNP

Kingstonian: Listen to the Community / Escuchar a La Comunidad”  Kingston Tenants Union

Planning Board sees no potential impact on character of Stockade District by Kingstonian Project (with video)”  KingstonCitizens.org

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.

NYSDEC issues a Notice of Violation for Central Hudson “Gas Village” in Town of Ulster for Stormwater Discharges from Construction Activity

Back in August, we reported on the Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation Training Center and “Gas Village”, a new construction in the Town of Ulster. With a speedy environmental review process, the Town of Ulster Town Board determined that the project would have no significant adverse environmental impacts.

Construction on the site destroyed nearly 30 acres of forest located in the Lower Esopus Creek watershed. Complaints about stormwater, erosion and turbidity started to roll into the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and on October 29th, a notice of violation (NOV) was issued for the projects State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) Permit for stormwater discharges caused by construction activity. On that very same day, another NOV was issued for another contentious local project known as “850 Route 28” also for stormwater pollution.

In the case of Central Hudson, the state wrote that, “At the time of the inspection, the water quality in the wetland was indicative of pollution from discharges from stormwater runoff related to construction activities. This is a violation of Article 17 of ECL. Please be advised that violations of the ECL are subject to penalties of up to $37,500 per day per violation.”

A final determination on enforcement is not yet known, though we are all pleased by the DEC’s initial action.

What is a State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) Permit?

On the NYSDEC’s website, it says that ‘”New York is rich in surface and groundwater resources”, it says on the . “Article 17 of the Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) entitled “Water Pollution Control” was enacted to protect and maintain these valuable resources. Article 17 authorized creation of the State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) program to maintain New York’s waters with reasonable standards of purity.

The SPDES program is designed to eliminate the pollution of New York waters and to maintain the highest quality of water possible– consistent with public health, public enjoyment of the resource, protection and propagation of fish and wildlife and industrial development in the state.

New York’s SPDES program has been approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency for the control of surface wastewater and stormwater discharges in accordance with the Clean Water Act. However, the SPDES program is broader in scope than that required by the Clean Water Act as it controls point source discharges to groundwaters as well as surface waters”.

RESOURCES

VIEW Central Hudson “Gas Village” training facility in Town of Ulster Destroys 28 Acres of Forest (KingstonCitizens.org)

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.

NYCDEP holds important public meeting on Ashokan Reservoir/Catskill Aqueduct Shutdown on 11/18 at 6pm

“New York City is dumping millions of gallons a day of muddy water from its Ashokan Reservoir into the Lower Esopus Creek. For over a decade, Ulster County residents have been demanding that they find a better way to manage their drinking water supply in the face of climate change – and protect communities downstream.”

On November 18 from 6-8pm, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) and towns along the lower Esopus Creek are hosting a public meeting to provide information about Ashokan Reservoir, its operations during the ongoing Catskill Aqueduct shutdown, and an overview of the protocols that currently govern releases from the reservoir.

Although the public may not impact decision-making for the October aqueduct closure (that is scheduled to remain closed through January), it is an important (and rare) opportunity for community members to learn more and to publicly hold New York City and the NYSDEC accountable. 

We received a copy of this letter from a community member who resides on the Lower Esopus Creek in the Town of Ulster. She wrote to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio with an invitation to tomorrow’s meeting that we are sharing with permission:

Dear Mr. Mayor, 

As you know, New York City has closed its Catskill Aqueduct for repair work through mid-January – a change that will have major effects on the Ashokan Reservoir and the region. Specifically, the Lower Esopus Creek will experience increased releases from the Ashokan Reservoir, causing damage to the stream beds and surrounding areas. We can expect erosion to the existing shoreline and turbid water that severely affects water quality, wildlife habitat and recreation. The impacts also reach the Hudson River, a drinking water source for seven mid-Hudson communities.

On Thursday, November 18, we (residents of the lower Espous) have an important chance to hear directly from the city’s Department of Environmental Protection – and to be heard.

I’m writing to urge you to assign someone to attend the meeting, or attend it yourself. Since this work is being done to benefit New York City your office should be aware of just how adversely it affects the homeowners, business owners and communities of the lower Espous Creek. I have a dual interest in this in that I reside in New York City where I am able to enjoy the clean drinking water we are provided from the Catskill region but I also own a waterfront home in the Town of Ulster in the hamlet a Lake Katrine.  My house backs right up to the Esopus Creek where we have seen massive erosion over the past two decades due in large part to the releases from the Askokan reservoir. We have all but lost our entire retaining wall and are now experiencing massive erosion including trees falling off of our land into the creek. We are not receiving any relief or any assistance from New York City or the Town Ulster. We can no longer swim or fish in the creek because if it’s high turbidity. This has gone on for decades and it’s only getting worse.

Another fact that you should know is that we do not even have clean safe drinking water. After hooking up to “city water“ a couple of years ago we quickly found out that we could not even drink the water that we are paying for. It is not the same clean water brought down from the reservoir to New York City but water from a well that has now been determined to be cancerous.  All of this is completely unacceptable and that’s why I’m bringing this to your attention.  This work is being done, in part, so that New York City can continue to receive the beautiful clean water from the Catskill region, while the communities who are continually flooded out so that New York City can boast clean drinking water don’t even have clean water themselves. 

Excess water needs to go somewhere. Without adequate planning, the reservoir is forced to discharge its waters when it fills beyond capacity – typically through controlled releases to the Lower Esopus, or spills over the reservoir. Without the aqueduct drawing down the reservoir’s waters, such events become more likely, and Lower Esopus communities are left more vulnerable to flooding. Under the current operations protocol, the combined discharges into the Lower Esopus Creek may total up to 1 billion gallons a day. When faced with the addition of such large volumes of water, the Lower Esopus will see damage, as it has in years past and a much higher level.

These new challenges add to existing ones. For years we’ve been calling on New York City to stop its massive muddy releases into Lower Esopus Creek as a solution to its turbidity problem in Ashokan Reservoir. 

The event will be located at the Frank D. Greco Senior Center at 207 Market Street in Saugerties at 6:00pm (masks will be required for any attendees who are not vaccinated).

We sincerely hope that The New York City Mayor’s office will be in attendance and support the residents and communities of the lower Esopus Creek. 

Thank you

Kingston’s Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC) prepares Preservation Notice of Action for Kingstonian proposal

Last week, the Kingstonian project development team that includes Michael Moriello (legal), Dennis Larios (engineering) and Scott Dutton (architect) joined the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission’s (HLPC) monthly meeting to discuss the required Preservation Notice of Action and demolition permit that the developers will need to proceed.

Click on image to watch the HLPC meeting with Kingstonian development team

HLPC chairman Mark Grunblatt outlined concerns raised in a letter dated 9/6/19 for the developers to prepare to address during their upcoming presentation and public hearing in January.

They include:

  1. Clarifying the boundaries of the Historic District and whether or not they cover Schwenk drive;
  2. A plan to preserve and properly handle any archeological artifacts found during demolition and construction by a certified archeologist professional;
  3. Addressing visual impacts to the historic district and surrounding area;
  4. Address potential damage to neighboring properties when demolition and construction begins.

City of Kingston Assistant Corporation Council Dan Gartenstein noted that the project’s State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) negative declaration decision had fully resolved several of the issues identified by the chairman that evening, and that the Preservation Notice of Action items would pertain to some items such as visual impacts and demolition.

Dutton said that the team is working to define their plans and that they were not making any dramatic changes, only refinements and improvements to the visual and facade, to take it to “another level”. Moriello added that there would be no dramatic moves, and that although SEQR had concluded, the applicant could continue on with visual impacts and analysis.

Gartenstein said that according to the City of Kingston’s code 405-49 (Building Permits), the project would require an application for a building permit for demolition, and that the building safety division would notify the commission, who would reply to the request for demolition.  When asked if a demolition permit had yet been requested, the Kingstonian attorney answered that it had not.

As a side note, we would be remiss if we didn’t point out the irony that while the Friends of Historic Kingston (located only blocks away from the Kingstonian project) and others host exhibits mourning the demolition of the Kingston post office and urban removal, we continue to tear down buildings and this time, in the heart of Kingston’s historic district. “History teaches us that we learn nothing from history” is fitting here.

The Applicants’ attorneys will prepare information to present to the commission and members of the public regarding the necessity to demolish the building at the next HLPC meeting on December 2. Moriello pointed out that according to 405-65 (d), a public hearing will be required, suggesting that the presentation and public hearing could all be held on the same day. City of Kingston Planning Director Suzanne Cahill said that the city should hold off scheduling a public hearing until the materials were released, and that it would not be fair to the public to not have those materials in order to make comments in December.

A public hearing will likely be set in January, 2022. The Commission tabled the application until their next meeting on December 2.

ADDITIONAL SELECTED RESOURCES: by historic preservation specialist Marissa Marvelli

2/27/20: The State Preservation Office does about-face for Kingstonian project amid political pressure

11/15/19: Planning Board sees no potential impact on character of Stockade District by Kingstonian Project (with video)

9/26/19: The Kingstonian to be Jointly Reviewed Tonight; State Preservation Office Finds ‘Adverse Effects’ in its Evaluation of the Project; Confusion about Historic District Boundaries

7/28/19: Building on the past: the Stockade District’s tipping point (HV1)

9/1/18: GUEST EDITORIAL: Beyond ‘Streamlining’ – Improving Kingston’s Preservation and Heritage Programs

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.

Demand Central Hudson make their informational meeting virtual for their “Gas Village” training facility project located next to a residential neighborhood and in the Esopus Creek Watershed

Community members in the Town of Ulster have asked Central Hudson to hold a virtual informational meeting in order to answer questions and concerns regarding Central Hudson’s “Gas Village” training facility project next to a residential neighborhood and located in the Esopus Creek watershed. They rejected that request and instead, scheduled an in-person meeting at their headquarters even in the midst of surging Covid-19 infections.

TAKE ACTION: You can support residents in the Town of Ulster to make this meeting virtual in order to be seen by more community members by contacting John Maserjian of Central Hudson Gas & Electric at: jmaserjian@cenhud.com

From Town of Ulster Community members to Central Hudson:

“We appreciate your response to our request for a community meeting to address the many concerns that we have for the environment, Esopus Creek watershed water quality, long-term noise and aesthetics due to the construction of your Gas Village next to a residential neighborhood and in the Esopus Creek watershed located off of route 9W. Being in-person as well as the format however, is not what we asked for and therefore we will not be attending.

The indoor in-person meeting that you have scheduled for September 22 at CenHud Headquarters is dangerous and irresponsible given the current realities of Covid-19. Your current plans will end up excluding a large segment of our community in the same way that 60% of our community members living directly adjacent to the construction site did not receive your 2019 notification letter about the approved project or its timeline.
Regarding the immediate concerns of public health and in-person meetings, they are not ours alone. Recently, Governor Kathy Hochul signed into legislation last week a law to extend remote town meetings due to safety concerns, our neighbors in the City of Kingston just this week reinstituted remote city meetings for the foreseeable future and in a recent Ulster County update, County Executive Pat Ryan wrote, “Due to the rapid spread of the Delta variant, Ulster County reported 573 active cases of COVID-19, on August 26 – the highest number of reported cases since April.

The roving meeting format does not allow for complete transparency. This unstructured way of questions and answers facilitates sidebar conversations either muffled due to mask-wearing or inaudible to the rest of the public. Furthermore, you are forcing strangers whose vaccination status is unknown to be confined in a room for an hour or more and to walk around the room to see your displays and converse with each other. This increases risk and exposure.

If you choose to proceed despite these concerns that is your prerogative. But we request that you provide us with your construction timeline, as we asked for two weeks ago, by September 17, 2021.

Once we have that we can adequately review your plans and hold our own remote community meeting to compile town members’ and CenHud customer concerns and present those to you to address them.

Our goals are safety, inclusion, transparency, and collaboration. Respectfully, we urge you to reconsider and to make your upcoming meeting virtual. “

RESOURCES

READ:  Central Hudson “Gas Village” in Town of Ulster Destroys 28 Acres of Forest