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Judge Richard Mott issued a stipulation that rescinded the Kingston Common Council vote on December 7 that approved the partial abandonment of Fair Street Extension.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
MOST RECENT FLOOR PLAN (11/4/21)
Public, Hospitality, and Retail: 203
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.
“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