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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

Central Hudson “Gas Village” training facility in Town of Ulster Destroys 28 Acres of Forest

By Rebecca Martin and Tanya Garment

Last week, we met a resident who lives on Glenerie Boulevard in Lake Katrine. Her home is sandwiched between the Lower Esopus Creek and the CSX train tracks.  We got the call because of the ongoing muddy releases in the Lower Esopus Creek and offered to come and look to see the creek from her property. 

In December of 2020, she had witnessed the massive muddy pollution released into the Lower Esopus from the Ashokan reservoir first hand during an unprecedented storm event. A mix of rain and snow melt resulted in 63 billion gallons of water flowing into the Ashokan reservoir during a 48-hour period, making it one of the largest runoff events in the history of NYC’s water supply. 

The releases turned the Lower Esopus into a thick chocolate milk colored mess, and the harms to the creek have been ongoing throughout the spring and summer months. Furthermore, our area has experienced heavy rains this year, leading to the Town of Ulster recently issuing an alert that more releases from the Ashokan reservoir were to be expected.  New York City had measured the rainfall in July to be 5.31 inches at the reservoir, more than the area typically receives for the entire month and falling into the 90th percentile conditions for runoff.  

Climate change is no longer some future existential threat. It is here, now. 

During our visit, we learned about a recent clearing of nearly 28 acres of forest between 9W and Glenerie Boulevard.  “It’s now a huge hole in the ground and none of us were informed it was even happening, “ she said. With the daily dynamite blasting, residents complained and were finally given an auto bot call an hour before and loud horns moments before each incoming blast.  Residents reported damage to their foundations and roofs.  

“What is it?” we asked.  Turns out, it’s a large training facility and Gas Village project for Central Hudson. How did we miss this?

When we left, we made several calls to local advocates to find out if they were familiar with the project. Most were as surprised as we were. After some digging, we learned that Central Hudson purchased property in this area to the south. For the present project, they purchased a separate 56 acres from Carriag Properties, an apparent Callanan Industries affiliated entity and needed a 1+ acre lot line adjustment from Largay LLC (Bread Alone) to connect the two parcels.  The lot line adjustment occurred in 2019 at the Ulster Planning Board and Town Board together with site plan approval. No one appeared at the public hearing. At that time it appeared from the Town minutes that various residents were focused on Glidepath (a fossil fuel project that was proposed in the Town of Ulster that we, along with residents, NGOs and county representatives, were able to transition into a battery storage proposal outcome).

Residents who own property on Glenerie Boulevard are faced with three serious environmental and economic harms: Muddy pollution from the Ashokan Reservoir into the Lower Esopus Creek;  a freight train that carries hazardous materials (such a Bakken crude oil); and now, deforested lands that many believe has displaced thousands of animals in order to build a Central Hudson training facility and outdoor gas ‘village’. Where are the Town of Ulster representatives? Where is the county?

The Town of Ulster is notorious for bad planning and projects that are shortsighted and potentially harmful to their community and our area at large.  They were nearly successful in selling the City of Kingston’s drinking water supply back in 2014 (Niagara Bottling Company) and welcomed a fossil fuel power plant a few hundred feet from a residential neighborhood (Glidepath).  Luckily, both projects were forever changed for the good by the hard work of local advocates. 

Unfortunately, with the Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation Training Center’s speedy environmental review process completed some two years ago where the Town Board as lead agency found that the project would have no significant adverse environmental impacts and made a determination of nonsignificance within a month’s time. It’s anyone’s guess what the residents living nearby can expect.  

This project caught us by surprise, so there is a lot of catching up to do. It’s uncertain what long game strategies there can be. But in the short term, Town of Ulster residents should demand that the Town Board implement environmental oversight of any future developments.  

The Town of Ulster is one of the few municipalities in Ulster County that has rejected the implementation of a Conservation Advisory Council (CAC). CAC’s are important bodies created by a municipal board to advise local agencies on development, management and the protection of natural resources. Even though residents have asked for and offered to participate in a CAC for nearly a decade, the Town Board, led by Supervisor James Quigley did not support it and what Quigley says, so goes the board.  

In June of this year, graduate students from the Center for Environmental Studies at Bard College alongside the volunteer advocacy group TownOfUlsterCitizens.org presented the results of a gap analysis of strengths, opportunities and recommendations for funding options for enhanced resilience in the Town of Ulster, a framework that was taken directly from the Climate Smart Communities initiative. The group was hoping that the town would join the more than 248 municipalities throughout the state and take the Climate Smart pledge.  Quigley refused the request to work with and aid the Bard students in preparing the Gap Analysis, then rejected working with residents to pursue their recommendations. The Town Board agreed, as what Quigley says, so goes the board.

Additionally in June, the Town of Ulster – one of the impacted communities on the Lower Esopus Creek – declined to submit comments to the New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation during the public comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement on behalf of their constituents. Again the Town Board, led by Supervisor James Quigley did not support it and what Quigley says, so goes the board.  

There is an election this fall, where Supervisor Quigley is up for re-election. Without anyone running against him, he is sure to win another four years. There are also two town board seats up for grabs, but they, too, haven’t any real competition. It is so important that we nurture new leadership in the Town of Ulster.  If you are a resident there, consider challenging future elections. They have it in mind to keep passing the baton to those who think like the current administration does.  Get in there.

TAKE ACTION:   In the short term, Town of Ulster residents are encouraged to join members of TownOfUlsterCitizens.org to insist that the Town of Ulster take the Climate Smart pledge. Residents can also demand that the town initiate a Conservation Advisory Council in order to help shape good protections for its remaining natural assets.  Consider asking them how you can run for office in your town.  Contact: townofulstercitizens@gmail.com

A Timeline of Transactions: Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation Training Center

1982-1983: Callanan Industries buys land located at N.Y.S. Route 9W and Eastern Parkway in the Town of Ulster. The Covenant is not mentioned in these documents that turns up later on.  

10/25/12: NOTORANGE, INC. & Mary A. Orange sold land to Largay LLC (Bread Alone) for $10.00.  The land is also mentioned later in the Lot Line Revision Map.

1. Callanan Industries sells the 56.43 acres to Carraig Properties.

  • 6/4/18: Contract for sale from Callanan Industries Inc. to Carraig Properties LLC.
  • 7/31/18: Callanan Industries Inc. sells 56.43 acres of land to Carraig Properties LLC. for $70,000

2. Central Hudson starts preparing for their application by having an Existing Conditions map drawn and then a lot line revision map based on a plan to swap land with Bread Alone.

3. The application is submitted. Bread Alone is not yet under contract with Central Hudson, but is helping, by signing a consent letter, that is submitted along with the applications/site plan/etc.

“The Applicant, Central Hudson Gas and Electric Corporation, is proposing to construct a 40,351 square foot Training Academy that will feature offices and classrooms, a separate 31,358 square foot indoor training area and an outdoor gas ‘village’ containing (6) 120 square foot residential training buildings, (1) 800 square foot commercial training building, (1) 240 square foot apartment training building, and simulated electric transmission and distribution pole yards. A 41,550 square foot Electric Transmission and Distribution Primary Control Center will be developed adjacent to the proposed Training Academy. The site will tie into an existing municipal water main and a request to extend the existing municipal sewer district will be made to allow connection to an existing sanitary sewer pressure line. The buildings will utilize proposed parking areas on the north and south of the Training Academy and Primary Control Center providing 226 parking spaces. The project area is a 56.51 acre wooded site located on New York State Route 9W and Eastern Parkway. The project area is situated in Highway Commercial (HC) and 1-Family Residence District (R-30)  Zoning Districts. A 1.8 acre land swap with the adjacent site, Bread Alone (Largay, LLC), is also proposed.”

  • 3/12/19:  Date on the Existing Conditions document prepared for Central Hudson
  • 5/2/19: Proposed Lot Line Revision Map “revised” to finalize subject boundary (as listed on map)
  • 5/16/19: Proposed Lot Line Revision Map revised to revise wetland (as listed on map)
  • 7/30/19: Date of Submission Letter addressed to the Planning Board. Did they obtain (or need to) a zoning variance for the 1-family Residence district portion? (need to look at zoning code and ZBA agendas and minutes)

“The applicant, Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation, is seeking site plan, special use permit and lot line realignment approval for the development of a 56.51-acre parcel located in the Highway Commercial HC) and 1-family Residence (R-30) zoning districts. The proposal includes a 1.8-acre land swap with the adjacent Bread Alone site to allow Central Hudson to access the proposed Training Center, Primary Control Center, Training Annex and outdoor training facilities through their site.”

Submitted with this letter

4. The State Environmental Quality Review (SEQRA) process and public hearing are wrapped up in about 2 months.

  • 8/15/19: The Town of Ulster initiates Lead Agency status in the SEQR Type 1 Action – Coordinated review
  • 9/19/19: The Town of Ulster Town Board issues a Negative Declaration in SEQR.   REVIEW resolution (page 17)

“WHEREAS, the Town of Ulster Town Board, as Lead Agency issued a SEQRA Negative Declaration on September 19, 2019 on the Proposed Action (Lot Line, Site Plan and Special Permit)…”

  • 10/3/19: Special Permit public hearing.  REVIEW resolution (page 17)

“WHEREAS, the Town of Ulster Town Board…opened and closed its Special Permit public hearing on October 3, 2019…”

5. Carraig Properties LLC sells 56.43 acres of land to Central Hudson.

  • 12/10/19:  Having gone to contract just 2 1/2 months after the Callanan Industries/Carraig Properties sale, Carraig Properties LLC. sells 56.43 acres of land to Central Hudson for $630,000, nine times the price they paid.   In the deed, the land has a covenant that prohibits “overburden” (a term that in this case is a product of mining).

Did Callanan Industries know that this was (evidently) purchased to sell to Central Hudson?  Would that include clear cutting?

Central Hudson purchased a large piece of land, which the subdivision map calls “Glenerie Lake Park”, from Carraig Properties LLC (who, as per the 7/31/18 deed listed above, held the deed for less than a year after purchasing it from Callanan Industries LLC).  This piece of land had a covenant attached to it (that may prohibit clear cutting) that prohibits “overburden” (a term that in this case is a product of mining), which was also in the deed from it’s previous sale, less than a year prior. 

6. “Land Swap” is documented in 7/30/19

“…Land swap with the adjacent Bread Alone site to allow Central Hudson to access the proposed Training Center, Primary Control Center, Training Annex and outdoor training facilities through their site.”

7. The Lot Line Revision Map is stamped “filed”

8. Bread Alone and Central Hudson essentially swap two small pieces of land, to connect Central Hudson’s older land and newer land, as was planned in the second steps.

  • 3/4/20: Sharon Burns-Leader, co-owner of Bread Alone signs the Lot Line Revision Map, as an owner (also see consent letters on the Application for Preliminary Subdivision Plat Approval
  • 3/9/20: Lot Line Revision Map stamped “Filed”
  • 9/30/20: Contract for sale from Largay LLC (Bread Alone) to Central Hudson 
  • 9/30/20: Contract for sale from Central Hudson to Largay LLC (Bread Alone)
  • 12/02/20: Largay LLC (Bread Alone) sells 1.7 acres to Central Hudson for $100,000
  • 12/02/20: Central Hudson sells 1.8 acres to Largay LLC (Bread Alone) for $100,000
    • Central Hudson already owned land, just below the Bread Alone Land. In order to connect their old land with their new land, Central Hudson traded a section of their new land with a section of Bread Alone’s land.
    • Business transactions between Largay LLC (Bread Alone) Bank of Greene County are also listed on UC Deeds filed on the same date (12/22/20)

“Holding a gun to our city” Censure Ward 5 Council member Don Tallerman

Tonight, as the council discussed a draft resolution for charter reform that we helped to create, we listened in shock as Ward 5 Council member Don Tallerman accused KingstonCitizens.org of corroborating with Neil Bender’s Kingstonian lawsuits, saying that our volunteer advocacy group was “Holding a gun to our city”.

When charter reform was introduced last year, the concept was delayed in part because of Council member Hirsch’s concerns of KingstonCitizens.org’s support of a city manager form of government.

Resisting charter reform means a delay, in part, of the council being able to hire their own staff and having a voice in the decision making process for boards, committees and commissions. This is all due to the City of Kingston having a strong mayor form of government governed by a city manager charter from a 1993/1994 decision. It is well documented and it is why our current strong mayor system holds so much power over our legislative body.

A year later, and in support of our entire community, we created draft language to help our council, taking the time to do some research and looking at communities similar in size and scale locally (all of which is cited in the original google document for the entire city to review) for a resolution that would allow the council to hire its own staff, have a say in the appointments/removal of committee, boards and commission members and formalizing mandatory training for council members (the Board of Education has yearly trainings).

Disregarding the substance, Tallerman said that KingstonCitizens.org’s main supporter is engaged in a dozen lawsuits. “Why would we entertain a suggestion from an entity who is holding a gun to our city…if a constituent comes to me with a good idea, and at the same time they are holding a gun up to the head of my family, no I’m not going to listen to that constituent when they are holding a gun up at my family’s head.”

Is it appropriate for an elected official to use a gun reference to describe the advocacy work of constituents? What’s the message he is trying to deliver? He ought to be censured for what he said tonight.

“Holding a Gun to our City”

Let’s set the record straight.

  • KingstonCitizens.org has been advocating for a transparent process from the start as it pertains to the Kingstonian project. As community members, we have that right;
  • We do not condone a $25 million dollar/25 year PILOT for luxury housing;
  • We haven’t any lawsuits against the City of Kingston;
  • Our organization hasn’t a relationship with Neil Bender.  

We are not alone with our concerns about the Kingstonian project.

Why is Ward 5 Alderman Don Tallerman Angry at KingstonCitizens.org?

Over the years, we have called for Council member Tallerman to recuse himself from any Kingstonian project vote due to his conflicts. We’ve created a timeline of those items as well as to how it pertains to our recent charter reform request. REVIEW the timeline

CORRECTION:  The speaker Jessica’s title is Empowerment Coordinator. Her comments regarding the Kingstonian are her personal opinions and do not reflect the opinions of the YMCA. 

Kingston Resident Changes NYSDOT Sites Statewide

WATCH/LISTEN: “Here is the audible improvement, the last of the three segments is where we are now. The birds are louder!” said Lisa Darling

This is such a great story!

AFTER ONE WOMAN’S PURSUIT OF PEACE, CHANGES COME TO THE NYS DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION SITES STATEWIDE 

Kingston, NY: Assemblyman Kevin Cahill’s office ensured positive change for neighbors of 60 NYS Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) facilities throughout the state, an initiative stemming from efforts spearheaded by Kingston, NY resident and sound healing artist Lisa Darling. A few months after moving into her new home, Darling was stunned to hear the ongoing sound of a loud-piercing backup beeper throughout the night as the facility operated to maintain winter roads. When Darling approached the DOT, their response was that they were getting accolades for the good work they were doing, and they were not going to change anything”. They said, “this is how it has always been”. 

In her original outreach, after making calls to state officials with no response, Darling took the advice of a friend and reached out to KingstonCitizens.org, a local non-partisan citizen engagement organization. They provided a roadmap of Kingston’s local government, along with a direct introduction to Darling’s council member Jeffrey Ventura Morrel (D-Ward 1). Darling created a petition with her neighbor Chas Gritman and together, collected 40 names asking DOT officials to consider alternatives to the high-pitched alarms. Morrel involved Darling’s County Legislator Abe Uchitelle (D-District 5), and leveraging the petition, Uchitelle gained the attention of state Assemblyman Kevin Cahill (D-Kingston)’s office. Darling also reached out to noise-reduction advocates, researched the link between noise and erosion of health, and looked for OSHA-approved alternatives, discovering that federal workplace safety rules offer options to traditional backup alarms. The equipment used by the DOT was in use for the simple reason that it came pre-installed on the agency’s loaders and other vehicles.

Staff at Cahill’s Kingston office reached out directly to the DOT, who agreed to pilot a less intrusive white noise reverse alarm, finally deciding to approve the alternative device at the Kingston location and at all DOT facilities statewide. 

“It’s thrilling to make a change in your local community and transform a problem at home and for communities throughout the state,” said Darling. “I hope that others can become inspired to work with their local officials. Being civically engaged really works.”

For more information, please contact Lisa Darling lisamdarling (at) gmail.com

No Time to Waste: Zero Waste in Ulster County

By Rebecca Martin

With much emphasis on solid waste management issues in the Hudson Valley, what short term solutions are there to our current unsustainable consumption of stuff?

City of Kingston Recycling

The City of Kingston has a weekly recycling program where the materials are taken to the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency (UCRRA). It removes accepted materials out of the waste stream, but there are many gaps where we end up throwing much of what we consume away in the trash. From clam shells and toothbrushes to single use batteries and latex paint, in Ulster County, these are just some of the materials that end up in the Seneca Meadows landfill that is set to close in 2025 some 235 miles away from here.

Ulster County Recycling Oversight Committee and UCRRA

The Ulster County Recycling Oversight Committee is a committee that meets quarterly and has some authority in determining any new types of recyclable materials accepted in Ulster County. This becomes complicated, as the potential investment of equipment and capacity must also be accounted for for any new materials not currently accepted. This can be costly out front. However, the costs to travel our waste so far away and with tipping fees, or establishing a new landfill in Ulster County? How about calculating the environmental harms? What are those costs and in the long run, would they offset the needed investment? Imagine if companies were made to include the backend of disposing of their packaging? There are probably large lobbying efforts against it, because it would be cost prohibitive for them. But if lawmakers are serious about solid waste, then those brave souls who are in it for the public good come together and push back to succeed, it would certainly provoke a nearly immediate culture shift. (1)

Last I knew, the Zero Waste 2020 plan in Ulster County stalled in the Energy and Environment committee due to timeline differences between the legislature and UCRRA. UCRRA recently was selected as “one of eleven recipients of the 2020-2021 Community Grants Program, a project of the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute (NYSP2I). UCRRA will launch a county-wide community engagement campaign, the UCRRA Zero Waste Seminar Project, to raise awareness of the environmental impacts of single use plastics, and how waste reduction and reuse can be practical strategies for pollution prevention.” So it appears to be coming.

Out of site, out of mind

Meanwhile, the Ulster County Solid Waste Management plan was recently approved by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC). Written into it, an “emerging technology” known as BioHiTech that we lobbied against. BioHiTech is merely a Refuse-Derived Fuel (RDF), first in collecting municipal waste. After removing any valuable metals, the plastic and fibers are dried and shredded into confetti.  They are then trucked away to cement plants where it is incinerated to supplement coal in creating energy. The remaining waste is dumped in unnamed landfills or garbage incinerators. It is unprincipled for materials to be trucked away as far as Pennsylvania where the output of the incineration is dealt by the neighboring communities several states away from where the waste was generated. Most of the time, these are environmental justice communities that lack resources or a voice to improve their circumstances. We mustn’t contribute to it.

Last year, KingstonCitizens.org reached out to Institute for Local Self Reliance who generously reviewed Ulster County’s Solid Waste Management Plan. They summarized the good and the bad, stating that “Citizens should request participation in the decision-making process used by UCRRA to determine how the Plan will be implemented. The City Council of Honolulu just passed a resolution calling for zero waste experts to be part of decision-making for the $2 billion of federal pandemic relief funds that have been allocated to the city. The County should develop a zero waste purchasing/procurement guidelines that are available from organizations. These programs reduce costs and reduce the County’s environmental footprint.”

Zero Waste now

In the meantime, there are a couple of local opportunities that can help.

In Red Hook, The Ozone Sustainability Center provide options, including taking in some of those hard to recycle items by partnering with Terracycle. (2)

They also accept single use alkaline batteries that are currently being encouraged to be thrown in the trash. This is partly due to the Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act passed in 1996 that phased out the use of mercury in alkaline batteries, making them less of an issue when disposed in landfills. But this doesn’t mean alkaline batteries are not recyclable. The Ozone in Red Hook is the only place we’ve found within 25 miles of Kingston that takes them. The cost is $0.10 per battery, and a non-conductive clear tape must be used on the positive ends when they are returned to keep them from sparking. I personally haven’t felt comfortable throwing them out and I’ve kept a bucket in the basement for them for years. Today, we delivered nearly 200 of them and the effort and the cost gave me pause. It’s easy to understand why they will mostly end up in the dump.

In Kingston, the brand new Village Grocery & Refillery located at 2 Jansen Street in downtown Kingston has a fill-up station for laundry & dish soap, shampoo and all sorts of other household and personal items. Check it out.

We’ve got a “mountain to climb

Seneca Meadows’ mountain of trash is going to come to a screeching halt soon. Those who are passionate about this issue can reach out to the Ulster County legislature, who have direct oversight of UCRRA, to learn how to plug in. You can also contact your Kingston Council member and let them know that you want Kingston to do more on the zero waste front. It’s a problem that can only be solved when we are all involved.


ADDITIONS (7/5 @ 9am)

(1) The proposed “Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act” (Federal), offers some hope that we can stop some of the production of plastic and hold producers accountable.  Learn more and take action by clicking the link. (Thanks Tanya!)

(2) Unfortunately, Terracycle also sends materials to the incinerator. https://www.terracycle.com/en-US/about-terracycle/how_we_solve

Kingston’s Charter prevents checks and balances

By Rebecca Martin

In the City of Kingston’s Charter Article X section C10-1 (a)  it says that “The Corporation Counsel shall be appointed by the Mayor. The Corporation Counsel will serve at the pleasure of the Mayor.”

That means that the mayor can hire/remove members of the corporation counsel at any time, serving at their “pleasure”. They haven’t civil service protection.

In section (b):  “The Corporation Counsel shall be the primary legal advisor of the Mayor, Common Council and of all commissions, departments and other offices of the city. The Corporation Counsel shall conduct, supervise or monitor, as required, the prosecution and defense of all actions or proceedings brought by or against the city or by or against any of its officers in their official capacity and appeal from all such orders, decisions and judgments as he or she deems advisable.”

Building on that, the mayor’s counsel represents the mayor (executive branch) all boards, committees and commissions as well as the council (the legislative branch) and department staff too – who like everyone else at city hall, may or may not have civil service protection and can be hired/removed at the mayor’s whim.

Going further, in Article XV section C15-4 “other boards and commissions”

“…Successors to these other commissions, boards or agencies shall be appointed by the Mayor as their terms severely expire or as vacancies occur.”

In other words, the mayor has the authority to also appoint/remove all members of committees, boards and commission members, the community volunteers who we rely on to freely interpret our current policies and laws for the public good, are also guided by city hall staff. Going backwards, many of those city staff are beholden to the mayor.

That’s a whole lot of influence by one person and that’s obviously not a good scenario for a healthy democracy in Kingston. A monarchy is more like it.

The council understands that Kingston’s charter needs to be addressed in order for the legislative branch to provide its critical work in providing checks and balances to the executive branch. On June 17 of 2020, they invited Wade Beltramo, General Counsel of the New York Conference of Mayors – NYCOM to give a presentation and overview on charter reform. 

You can watch it from the start HERE

So what’s getting in the way of charter reform moving forward?   Ward 9 Alderwoman Hirsch, a “progressive” democrat, provides a clue. She is not alone in her concern of the public’s voice here. It’s a bitter pill for the old guard to contemplate losing an ounce of power that they have and that she is upholding.

As of late, the Kingston democrats have ushered in the Kingstonian PILOT for luxury housing, and initially worked against a censure for Hector Rodriguez’s reprehensible behavior in order to hoard power. But the recent Board of Education election and David Donaldson’s shocking loss of the recent primary to newcomer Phil Erner is proof that what once worked without question in Kingston isn’t going to work any longer.

If a holistic look at Charter reform is too much for Kingston right now, then how about amending the items we outlined above in a referendum including the council having mandatory training? It may not cost the community anymore then it does currently, as the mayor’s office has two full time corporation counsel staff. How about we move one of those salaries over to the council to hire their own?

DRAFT REFERENDUM Council Staff and Boards, Committees and Commissions

We’ve done the work for the council and the community to begin with a resolution that is ready to workshop. If the current chock-hold blocks the community from holistic charter reform, then let’s do it piecemeal and get the show on the road. Let’s bring the obvious changes that we all can agree to in the charter to referendum in 2022 and let the public decide

RESOURCES

VIEW: How Kingston got its strong mayor form of government

KLDC hires lawyer to advise the transfer of public lands to Kingstonian developer

By Rebecca Martin

In May, there was a significant Kingston City School District Board of Education and school budget vote. In what was described as a referendum on the Kingstonian PILOT the turnout – nearly four times the number of what is typical from past years – overwhelmingly elected incumbents Jim Shaughnessy, Robin Jacobowitz and Herb Lamb who beat out candidates Milgrim and Branford.

Several days later during a regular monthly meeting by the Kingston Local Development Corporation (KLDC) the board continued to consider a transfer of title of 21 N. Front Street to the Kingstonian developers for a parking garage. It is now one of the final critical decisions to be made before the Kingstonian project as planned may proceed.

It might have seemed to the city that the KLDC handling a transfer to the Kingstonian project developers to be the most streamlined approach. However, with known questions and concerns as to how the Request For Qualifications process was handled, if the KLDC were to proceed and the process was indeed flawed, could the board be at risk for charges that its members acted in bad faith?

Article IX:  No Officer, Director, or Member of the Corporation shall be personally liable … for any of his acts, actions or omissions either to the Corporation or anyone else in the absence of bad faith or fraud.

That is perhaps why the KLDC requested an outside lawyer to review the 21 N. Front street transfer. After a selection process, Harris Beech was selected to advise the KLDC on its transfer of 21 N. Front Street. Bob Ryan from the firm was in attendance at the May meeting.

What follows is a loose transcription of the May KLDC meeting. Video is available by visiting the City of Kingston’s YOUTUBE channel.

Mayor Noble, who serves as the chair of the board of the KLDC, introduced attorney Ryan as having, “been able to look at all of the documents, policies and procedures” in order to provide some initial thoughts on the transfer.

Ryan’s recommendation for the city owned parcel was to create a three-way land development agreement between the city, the KLDC and the developer. This agreement would lay out and set forth all the terms and conditions for the transfer of the property as well as the development once that agreement was negotiated and developed. “Obviously we would come before the board with an authorizing resolution to consider in accepting the property and executing the land development agreement as well as make determinations that would be necessary under the Public Authority Accountability Act in addition.”

Once the land development agreement was authorized then the board could proceed.

“Why would a development agreement with anyone come before a discussion and a decision on whether or not to even accept the property into the KLDC?” asked Board member Hayes Clement.

“Because if you don’t like the terms and conditions you wouldn’t accept the property. I wouldn’t recommend that you accept the property without knowing the terms and conditions of the disposition of that property and the development of that property…” Ryan said to describe the KLDC as being implemented to be used as the agency to best advance the city’s project.

“When the Common Council approved to turn the land over to the KLDC was it to be used for a specific development?” Clement continued.

“It has a specific purpose in the city’s resolution to be used for public parking and a park…We would start by drafting the land development agreement and try to work with all the parties to come up with an agreement that is acceptable to all parties that would be reviewed by the board. If acceptable then the agreement would be authorized and take place prior to a fee title being transferred from the city to the KLDC. Once that agreement is developed and all parties are in agreement, the board would approve to execute it and issue a 90-day notice under the Public Authority Accountability Act. At which point we can work on the actual transfer of title from the city to the KLDC. The subsequent step would be transferring fee title from the KLDC to the developer pursuant to this land development agreement.”

Ryan recommend an appraisal of the property as a first step to be placed in the file of the disposition and also, because under the land development agreement there might be additional steps required by the Public Authority Accountability Act.

“Have you seen or personally had all the contracts that originated with the city and the developer starting from the Request For Qualifications (RFQ) to know that everything is in order?” asked board member Glen Fitzerald.

“I believe I’ve seen everything.” said Ryan. “There may be stuff that I have not, but I do have the RFQ and the agreements going back a number of years.”

“The answer seems a little vague,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s been quite a bit of reporting that some contracts aren’t available or haven’t been seen and so our question is we don’t want to transfer something or get involved in something that is not precise right from being the initial RFQ. I would say that if you’ve seen it and had it in your hand it would be part of your file.”

Ryan assured Glen that by the time that a resolution is put before the board that he would ensure that he would have seen the entire record and would provide an opinion as to “the sufficiency of what took place”.

The board agreed to select an appraiser located out of the area. Board member Paul Casciaro asked whether the appraiser would take into account the value of the property at the time the RFQ was initiated, as in today’s market, it would likely be valued at ten times more than it was back then. Ryan answered that the original value of the property might not have been originally based on its highest value but rather on other goals that could take precedent such as parking. The appraisal that the KLDC would ask for of 21 N. Front Street would therefore reflect the fair market value at the current time it is transferred. Board member Feeney reminded the KLDC that it was not involved at that time.

It is significant to remind readers at this point that in the developer’s original application, the KLDC was not listed as an involved agency. The transfer of lands and Fair Street Extension was to all be handled by the Kingston Common Council. During the May Board of Education vote, the public sent a clear message that it understood the devastating impacts the Kingstonian PILOT could have on Kingston’s school budget. With nearly all of the Kingston Common Council members voting in favor of the Kingstonian PILOT last year, they are likely heaving a sigh of relief that they are not embroiled in negotiating more public assets during this years election cycle. Hopefully, the public will not forget the council’s involvement in the PILOT approval. The same is true for David Donaldson who is facing a primary for his seat (District 6) on the Ulster County Legislature on June 22 and who championed the PILOT process from start to finish.

Toward the end of the meeting, board member Miles Crettian asked Ryan, “Is it an issue that the original RFQ from 2016 was not and could not be awarded to the current Kingstonian developers (although the transfer was to JM Development Group, Brad Jordan’s Herzog Supply Co. was a partner and at the time served also served as a member of the City of Kingston’s KLDC and police commission) and in terms of the KLDC’s disposition, how can it know it is following the guidelines laid out in that RFQ if the original recipient of the RFQ was another entity which is no longer a party to this process?”

“We can certainly discuss these issues…and into the possible ramifications…but I’d prefer to do that in a non-public attorney/client privilege situation.” said Ryan.

The next KLDC virtual meeting is on Thursday, June 17 at 8:00am. WATCH on the City of Kingston’s YouTube channel or call in to listen:

Dial In: 1-646-558-8656
Meeting ID: 870 4145 8548
Passcode: 07008811

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

READ Hudson Valley Vindicator: “Kingstonian Saga Continues. Are KLDC Members Liable if They Gift Land in Bad Faith?”

KingstonCitizens.org takes Comprehensive Plan Form Based Zoning Code on the road

Recently, KingstonCitizens.org’s advisor Tanya Garment appeared on two radio programs to discuss the City of Kingston’s upcoming Form Based Zoning Code process and why it’s important for Kingston.

For more information, community members are invited to email: kingstoncodereformadvocates@gmail.com

May 29, 2021: Speak Out! (starts at 1:02:25). Click on the image to listen. Tanya Garment and Rebecca Martin of KingstonCitizens.org

“Form based code is about how the public realm is shaped. It is more about how the buildings shape the public realm and the experience outside of the building, or the shared community experience. The needs of the community can be changed over time this way…It would allow for more incremental development. Form Based Zoning Code would allow more locals a chance to develop so that we are not left begging for all of these big developments by those who can borrow on a large scale. Right now, the zoning code doesn’t allow small changes, leaving us to give big developers land, PILOT agreements, all sorts of stuff so that it becomes a large bet, and we are not necessarily going to get what we need when it’s such a large bet.” – Tanya Garment, KingstonCitizens.org

May 2, 2021: Let’s Talk, Kingston! Click on the image to listen. With City of Kingston Council President Andrea Shaut and KingstonCitizens.org’s Tanya Garment

“Why do we have a traffic problem? Why don’t we ever seem to be able to solve our problems? Why are the processes given away? Seeing how power is brokered by some people who have specific ideas and narrow goals that think about people as collateral damage rather making changes that can serve the greater good…I’m thinking a lot about the history (of urban renewal) and how to repair the damage of the policies put into place over the course of the last century that have done so much damage to communities. ” – Tanya Garment, KingstonCitizens.org

Form Based Code is what Kingston needs

Click on image to watch the recent Strong Towns webinar about the City of Kingston’s zoning and Form-based code.

On Tuesday, April 6 at 7:30pm, the Kingston Common Council will vote on whether or not to invest in a critical form-based zoning code proposal.  Community members are encouraged to sign-up to speak in favor.

By Tanya Garment

You may have heard that the Common Council is considering approving a significant investment for the development of a new city wide zoning code.  It is wise as keeping with our current zoning and relying on spot zoning, which has been our band-aid approach for decades, would move us further down the inequitable road we are on.

What has been proposed by the Kingston zoning task force, a group of volunteers appointed by the mayor of Kingston, is a completely different kind of land use regulation than we have now. “Form-based code” that would cover the entire City and drafted by a firm of leaders in the field of planning and form-based codes. One of the leads grew up in the area, and members of the sub-consultant team are based in New York. The bulk of the work that the firm will perform is through public engagement, and that community input will lead to a code that is responsive to the needs of the whole community.

Here is a timeline of some of the events that led to where we are now:

  • The City of Kingston adopted a new comprehensive plan on April 5, 2016 that would finally replace our old 1961 Comprehensive Plan. This new plan is called Kingston 2025. Active members of the community made sure to get the public’s input into the Kingston 2025 plan, as unfortunately, the consultants did very little to facilitate this. Public input should be the primary focus of developing a document about the goals of the City, but with such a small budget ($50,000 for the Comprehensive Plan and $50,000 for the zoning work to follow, both by Shuster-Turner Associates), the amount to do such a big job was inadequate. (Shockingly, Daniel Shuster was the primary consultant for both of Kingston’s comprehensive plans in 1961 and then in 2016. The 1961 Comprehensive plan was created to secure funding for and ushered in Urban Renewal to Kingston).
  • After Kingston 2025 was adopted, a committee to produce a new zoning code, the rules that support the goals of the plan, was formed. The committee (also facilitated Dan Shuster) met sporadically over the course of approximately a year. They held some informational sessions and public forums (though public input was not reflected in any changes), and submitted Proposed Comprehensive Amendments to the City before Shuster-Turner’s contract concluded on December 31, 2017. That proposed zoning document was incomplete and only covered a fraction of what the comprehensive plan called for. What’s worse, it was still the same problematic type of zoning code that we already have. Use-based code separates the city into areas with “uses” with many restrictions as to what can be done or built in each.  Sprawl and cars are prioritized over housing. Accessibility, inclusion, and efficiency suffer without any sort of predictable result.
  • Around the same time, Mayor Noble stated that there was much rezoning work still to be done, and announced that a new group would be assembled to continue the job. In February 2019, a newly appointed Zoning Task Force began to meet and within nearly a years time, developed a request for proposals (RFP) to find planners to rewrite Kingston’s zoning code as a form-based code. Four proposals were submitted in reply to the RFP, and the task force chose Dover Kohl and PartnersDover, Kohl and Partners’ proposal for crafting new code for Kingston is available for review
  • In February of 2020, the Kingston Common Council’s Finance and Audit Committee voted unanimously in favor of funding the work of Dover, Kohl and Partners. However, before the resolution could be voted on at the April 2020 Common Council meeting, the COVID pandemic took hold and with all the unknowns then, the item was sent back to committee. Since that time, bidding wars on homes in Kingston have become the norm, the Planning Board has seen multiple lot line adjustment requests, and the Common Council has been asked to consider many band-aid style, site specific zoning code changes.
  • I belong to a group called Kingston Code Reform Advocates. We formed in late 2020, to encourage people to think about planning, and the importance of a clear, fair, and responsible code. We hosted a Strong Towns event in February which is now available on YOUTUBE.  Strong Towns wrote a great ARTICLE about the benefits of adopting a form-based code.  We’ve also been working with Ward 1 Alderman Jeffrey Ventura Morell and Common Council President Andrea Shaut. Our group’s email address is KingstonCodeReformAdvocates (at) gmail.com
  • The Common Council ‘s Finance and Audit Committee met with Dover Kohl for the first time this March, to pose some questions, and get a better sense of what their proposal would include. At a second Finance and Audit meeting, the committee confirmed that the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process would be assisted by the firm as well – a big benefit – and voted 3-1 in favor of funding the creation of a new zoning code for Kingston. 

If we want to have a city built by many hands and that can result in a resilient and equitable community, then we must replace our current overly complicated and divisive zoning code with something that allows neighborhoods to grow incrementally from the ground up. Form-based code can do that.

On Tuesday, April 6 at 7:30pm, the Kingston Common Council will vote on whether or not to approve the form-based code proposal.  Community members are encouraged to sign-up to speak in favor.  To get the call-in number and directions on public speaking, please visit the City of Kingston’s FACEBOOK PAGE

Additional Resources

1. Form-based codes definition  
2. How Form-based codes designate zones  

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

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

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

Here are several highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bruderhof community:

The Jordan Family:

Scott Dutton/Architecture:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHEN
Thursday, February 25th at 6:30pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RESOURCES

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

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

The Kingstonian Developer’s Environmental Assessment Form (EAF)

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

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

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

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

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

Mayor requests Fair Street Extension be transferred to Kingston Local Development Corporation for Kingstonian Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the KLDC?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit KingstonCitizens.org’s FACEBOOK event

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

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

RESOURCES

Kingston Common Council Contact information

IDA Resolutions On The Kingstonian  by Hudson Valley Vindicator

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

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

By Rebecca Martin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communities throughout Ulster County take a stand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, in today’s Daily Freeman:

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

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

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

By Rebecca Martin

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

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

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

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

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

THE UCIDA’S CLEVER “HOUSEKEEPING”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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