Criticism of Ulster County’s Independent Review for the Kingstonian PILOT

Click on image to listen to a February 15, 2019 interview of Ulster County Executive candidate Pat Ryan respond to the lack of affordable housing at the Kingstonian as “unacceptable” and “absurd,” adding, “The parking is great, but if you can’t afford a place to live, parking is the least of your worries.”  Image courtesy of the Kingston Tenants Union.

By Rebecca Martin

As we have recently reported, “The Kingstonian is a proposed $58 million dollar project. It promises 129 high-end units (to date, rents will range from $1,500 – $2,850), 14 affordable units (with Area Median Income (AMI) based on Ulster County, nearly ⅓ higher than the City of Kingston), a 32-room luxury boutique hotel, 9,000 square feet of retail space, and a 420 parking space complex.  The developer is asking for a deviated Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) agreement where they will pay nominal taxes for 25 years. Community members who have been following the Kingstonian project’s PILOT request have asked for more detailed financial information to understand the potential impacts (including the developer’s “trade secrets,” which are fair game for a public/private partnership). Others are up in arms that a wealthy developer who wants to create high-end housing and a luxury boutique hotel in Uptown Kingston would have the audacity to request a 25-year, 100% tax exempt PILOT agreement worth $30.6 million dollars. Nearly seven months after the SEQR process concluded (where the full value of public subsidies should have been revealed but were not), the developers finally shared their PILOT request with the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (UCIDA) and threatening the board that without approval of the PILOT, they would not secure the financing that they need and that the City of Kingston was at risk for the project and the Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) grant to “go away.”   

Ulster County Legislative and Executive Branch throw curveball

On October 1st, Ulster County Legislator Lynn Archer appeared before the UCIDA during a Public Hearing on the proposed Kingstonian PILOT to announce that she and her colleagues were in favor of an independent, third party study of the proposed Kingstonian PILOT.  “We are currently relying on the people benefitting from the project to provide the projected costs of the project without validation from an independent third party who has the knowledge of these types of complex endeavors,”  she said.  With the Kingstonian PILOT up for a vote in October it was a surprise and relief for a legislator to make that  request.  Up until that point, it seemed likely that the full legislature was poised  to approve the PILOT terms even with so many outstanding concerns.

Several days later, County Executive Pat Ryan echoed those sentiments with his own press release, pledging that the county would pay for the independent cost benefit analysis.  “Before a decision of this magnitude (the Kingstonian PILOT) is made, the public deserves an impartial assessment of the costs and benefits of the project. Therefore, I am calling on the project developers to disclose their financials to an independent evaluator so that we can have a full picture of the project. This level of transparency is critical given the scale and impact of the proposed PILOT agreement,”  Ryan said.

On the same day of the County Executive’s announcement about his support for an independent review of the Kingstonian PILOT, a second announcement was sent from his office of a change in the Economic Development office.  Tim Weidemann, who had served as Director of Innovation, was tapped as Director of Economic Development, replacing Lisa Berger who would now serve as Director of Tourism.  Weidemann would coordinate the Kingstonian study on the county’s behalf with the National Development Council (NDC), a not-for-profit led by Daniel Marsh, a consultant who has a long history in the Hudson Valley.

When news hit about the selection of the NDC and Marsh in particular, some were concerned as to whether the organization could be impartial.  Having served in a number of positions in Orange County, Marsh had also served as a consultant to the Kingston’s Local Development Council (KLDC) during the recent Gallo administration when Brad Jordan, one of the principal Kingstonian developers, was the council’s secretary. 

The study was originally meant to be ready in time for the October 20th Ulster County Legislature Ways and Means Committee meeting and Kingstonian PILOT vote, and would cost somewhere in the vicinity of $10 – 15k, money that the county said it hoped would be reimbursed (by the developer, we presume).  The promise for a study to examine the PILOT terms encouraged all of the other involved agencies to table their votes that month (that included the full legislature, Board of Education (BOE) and UCIDA) until the study was complete and each body had had the time to review it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RESOURCES

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

CALL TO ACTION:

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

City of Kingston Board of Education

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

Ulster County Legislature and County Executive

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

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

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

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

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

The Ten Things We Know about the Kingstonian PILOT and Remote Press Conference on 9/15/20

“Say NO to the Kingstonian PILOT” is a remote press conference on Tuesday, September 15th at 5:30pm.  Get ready and CLICK ON OUR VIDEO LINK to join us and to learn what you can do.

Or, visit our FACEBOOK EVENT for up-to-date information on the Kingstonian PILOT process.

The Kingstonian is a proposed $50M, 143-unit luxury housing complex with a 32 room boutique hotel, 8,000 square feet of retail space and a 420 parking space complex. It also includes a walking bridge to the Herzog’s Plaza, which is owned by one of the developers. In exchange for closing a public street to create a “pedestrian plaza”, the developer promises a couple of public toilets. 

The developer is asking for a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement where they pay no taxes for 25 years; a subsidy worth approximately $30.6M.

The Kingston Common Council unanimously approved the PILOT’s general terms. Although the Council may believe that the tax-free deal for luxury apartments is a good bargain for Kingston, it is only one of the three involved agencies that would be impacted by the PILOT and have to agree to the terms in order for the PILOT to go through. The other agencies include the Ulster County Legislature (UCL) and the Kingston City School District Board of Education (BOE).

A tax-free deal for luxury apartments in Kingston would be felt beyond the Kingston city boundary. Municipalities that pay Kingston City School taxes include the Towns of Esopus, Hurley, Marbletown, New Paltz, Kingston, Rosendale, Saugerties, Ulster and Woodstock.  As a result, it’s not just Kingston that will be left with higher school taxes. PILOTs result in less tax revenue, which requires everyone else to make up the difference for a developer that stands to make a windfall in profits with a $30.6 million subsidy courtesy of the City of Kingston’s Common Council. 

At a time of financial crisis when the coronavirus pandemic has led to cuts in city services and jobs, loss of tax revenue on this scale could be simply devastating. The proposed Kingstonian PILOT deal could potentially harm the least well off in the city as well as hardworking taxpayers who already struggle to pay high school and property taxes while wealthy real estate developers get a free pass. For county legislators advocating for social justice in housing, services for the poor, and children in need, the PILOT should be particularly worrisome. While not all PILOTs are exploitive, they must be balanced against the potential gains an investor or industry may bring to the area.

There is still an opportunity to stop the giveaway that Kingston’s Common Council shamelessly endorsed. CLICK ON THIS LINK to send a letter to the Ulster County Legislature and say no to developer welfare and tell the Kingston City School Board that education is a public good. Everyone should pay their fair share of school taxes, including wealthy real estate developers.

The Ten Things We Know about
the Kingstonian PILOT

Read more…

The State Preservation Office does about-face for Kingstonian project amid political pressure

By Editorial Board

Rendering by Mackenzie Architects

Without any significant changes proposed by the developers, the New York State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) has chosen to unsee the adverse impacts that it had identified in September 2019 in the course of its review of the Kingstonian. The only rational explanation for this unexpected and illogical about-face is that this is the result of political pressure exerted by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and by extension, Governor Andrew Cuomo. 

According to a February 14 letter to the ESDC from John Bonafide, Director of the Technical Division Bureau at SHPO, “After considering the material presented at our meeting and the subsequently submitted information, we have found that the evolution of the proposal has addressed many of the open preservation issues raised by this office.” However, the only change that has been made since his office last reviewed the project in September is that the Schwenk Drive portion of the development grew another story. Impacts that were identified in the agency’s September 19 letter, such as the project’s size, its monolithic scale, and its eradication of Fair Street Extension, have not been mitigated in the least. 

SHPO’s comments on the Kingstonian are part of a consultation mandated by Section 14.09 of the New York Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Law. It is required for projects that are funded, licensed or approved by state or federal agencies. The Kingstonian is set to receive $3 million in funding from the ESDC. The majority of the project site lies within the National Register-listed Stockade Historic District.

We do not know yet how this will impact the active Article 78 suit filed by a consortium of Uptown business entities against the City of Kingston and the developers. SHPO’s latest findings do not detract from the main premise of the lawsuit—that the Kingston Planning Board failed to take a “hard look” at the facts of the project during the State Environmental Quality Review. 

SHPO’s findings also do not negate the project’s pending review by the local Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission, whose responsibility it will be to scrutinize the design details big and small, something that SHPO does not do in its review. 

As KingstonCitizens.org has reported in the past, the developers of the Kingstonian are the beneficiaries of substantial taxpayer-funded state grants. In addition to the $3 million from the ESDC, they have been awarded $3.8 million from Cuomo’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative Grant. They are also likely to seek an unknown sum of municipal tax breaks through the Ulster County IDA. In addition to all of that and perhaps of most value, they have a political leader like Mayor Steve Noble for a partner, who over the course of the past year, has seemingly gone out of his way to use the powers of his office to influence the outcome of the project’s regulatory review, whether by having his corporation counsels mislead and bully individuals, removing members of the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission, or by seeing to it that the zoning law is disregarded. 

From the recent effort to merge departments and provide his spouse a new position with increased pay to creating positions for housing initiatives, this mayor’s determination to muscle through his agenda with or without the Common Council’s consent—and sometimes at the expense of others—is infuriating. The pressure on the Council to unquestionably support the Kingstonian is great. We hope they hold the line for our community. 

Note: For an excellent in-depth background on the developers of the Kingstonian and the origins of the project, listen to the August 16, 2019 episode of “The Source with Hillary Harvey” on RadioKingston.

City Government is not a Mayor’s Oyster: The Restructuring of DPW, Parks & Recreation and Nepotism.

By Rebecca Martin

On January 25th, Kevin Gilfeather announced his retirement as Superintendent of Kingston’s Parks & Recreation Department after 23 ½ years in the position.  Just six days later, Mayor Steve Noble, who for many years worked under Gilfeather as one of two environmental educators, submitted the following communication to the President of the Common Council with the hope of getting special business added to its February agenda. It read:

Dear President Shaut, 

With the impending retirement of Kevin Gilfeather, Superintendent of Parks and Recreation, I have been working with my staff to develop a long-term plan that supports the continued operations of our incredible parks and programming and identifies opportunities for improvement. As part of this process, I have been in discussion with not only the leadership of Parks and Recreation, but also of the Department of Public Works. While each Department serves critical and unique functions, I believe wholeheartedly that these departments can and should work closer together for the benefit of our community. By collaborating together, we have the opportunity to improve our system so that the services to our community and taxpayers are delivered in an economical, efficient and sustainable manner. I am respectfully requesting that this matter be referred to both the Finance and Laws and Rules Committees. I will be in attendance at both of these meetings to present my proposal and answer any questions the Council may have. Additional documents supporting this proposal will be sent under separate cover, prior to these meetings, so that the Council members may familiarize themselves.  

Mayors and citizens alike can submit communications, by letter or email, to the Common Council requesting that it take up a certain issue. From stop signs to Department requests, the Council President will assign the matter to whichever Council Committee she deems appropriate.  In Kingston, these communications are made publicly available as hyperlinks in the online agenda for the Council’s regular monthly meeting. This helps the public to anticipate forthcoming issues that may be taken up by the Common Council. 

In this case, the Mayor’s communication arrived without any detail as to what he had in mind, only the promise that “additional documents supporting this proposal will be sent under separate cover, prior to these meetings, so that the Council members may familiarize themselves” and a request to be added to both the Finance and Laws & Rules Committee agendas. 

Then, late in the afternoon of the following day,  the Mayor got more specific in a press release, announcing his plans to “integrate leadership teams” of the Department of Public Works (DPW) and Parks & Recreation Department by creating two new positions and expanding the role of the current Superintendent of DPW.  Serving as the new Deputy Superintendent of Environmental Services would be his wife, Julie Noble, who would be “provisionally selected” until she sits for a New York State civil service examination. According to a recent news article,  Julie Noble’s new salary would rise by as much as $23,000. The Mayor’s plan also calls for the creation of a new Recreation Director position, which would be filled by his former Confidential Secretary.  (Please see clarification below)

The Mayor’s announcement occurred before the Council knew the details of his proposal. His press release was likely news to most of them, as it was to the public. 

The Mayor’s rush to accomplish his desired Department restructuring creates a messy situation for everyone. It might very well jeopardize a possibly sensible idea. Examining its merit is the responsibility of the Common Council, beginning with its Laws & Rules Committee and later, the Finance Committee. According to Kingston’s Charter, reorganizing Departments calls for a local law process.  

The most perplexing part of this whole thing is the Mayor’s intention to fill the new positions with a family member and a friend—the very definition of nepotism. The Deputy Superintendent of Environmental Services, a position intended for Julie Noble, would report to the Superintendent of Public Works, who serves at the pleasure of the Mayor without any protections in place for his own job. If he takes issue with the Mayor’s wife down the road, who is more likely to have the Mayor’s ear?  Needless to say, this structure creates a conflict of interest and could violate the City of Kingston’s ethics law (see 49-3 Standards of Conduct).

We reached out to Council President Shaut today to ask if the Council had received any more information outside of the posted agenda packet from last evening’s Council meeting on the Mayor’s proposal and whether or not the item would be sent to two Council Committees at once. 

“The Mayor has not submitted any more detail to the Council at this time. The Mayor did request the communication to be sent to both the Finance Committee and Laws & Rules Committee for February,”  wrote Shaut.  “Originally, I did assign it to both Committees for the month; however, after learning more about his request and the fact that it does need to be a local law process,  I have determined it would be inappropriate to discuss at Finance before it is vetted by Laws & Rules.”  

Shaut also included her response to the Mayor’s communication.  “After gathering more information on the specific process that will need to take place with the Council regarding your communication of a collaboration between DPW and Parks & Rec, I am taking off the communication to the Finance & Audit Committee for the month of February. According to our Charter, restructuring departments can only happen through a local law by the Common Council. The appropriate Committee to address your proposal first would be Laws & Rules. The Finance Committee’s decisions will happen only once, and if, the Local Law is shaped.”  

The Council President’s clarity in these communications helps to outline the proper process that should be followed. 

City government is not a Mayor’s oyster. It belongs to the public, and a good government has a strong system of checks and balances to protect the public interest.  In this case, the merging of Departments, the immediate creation and filling of new positions, and the reorganization of current DPW staff should be placed on hold until after the Common Council has had the opportunity to weigh the Mayor’s proposal and hear from the public.

Clarification:  Although the executive branch has not provided more detail about plans to restructure the DPW and Parks & Recreation, we have learned in the meantime that Lynsey Timbrouck who would be hired as the Director of Recreation took the civil service exam in 2018, prior to any knowledge of Gilfeather’s plans to retire. On the exam, she scored a 90, making her 2nd on the list.

Zoning, the Mixed Use Overlay District, Comprehensive Plans and the Kingstonian Project

A comprehensive plan is a powerful document in New York State that creates a framework for making important decisions while guiding growth and development. Kingston’s own plan, adopted by the Common Council in April 2016, quite forcefully calls for an affordable housing requirement in new developments:

“Strategy 1.1.2: Require affordable housing for any new or expanded residential building or development project.  The City should consider expanding the number of projects that must provide a ‘fair share’ of affordable housing. Currently, affordable housing is only required for projects taking advantage of the mixed-use overlay district provisions.” (p. 21, Kingston 2025)

The City of Kingston continued to promote that goal in its 2017 Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) application in which the Kingstonian Project was proposed:

“Housing development in the Stockade Business District (SBD) has been limited, and a significant percentage of renters in the SBD and surrounding area are cost burdened, spending more than 30% of their incomes on housing costs.”  (Executive Summary of the City of Kingston’s 2017 DRI application).

However, in February of 2019, the developers of the Kingstonian Project submitted an application that includes 129 market-rate residential units in the Stockade District. The mandate for affordable housing that is outlined in Kingston’s Comprehensive Plan seems to be ignored with this substantial project.

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Public Input with a Positive or Negative Declaration in SEQR

In this image taken from the SEQR Cookbook, the top line “POSITIVE DECLARATION” illustrates robust public input for a pos dec determination in SEQR with many steps and opportunities. The bottom line “NEGATIVE DECLARATION” illustrates a neg dec determination where the review process concludes and there is no further opportunity for the public to participate as it relates to environmental impacts.

By Rebecca Martin

A recent Kingston Times article reported a claim by a member of the Kingstonian development team: “Dennis Larios is a civil engineer with long experience in Kingston. He’s currently working with JM Development Group on the Kingstonian project. Earlier this month, in a Facebook post, Larios suggested that his clients would likely walk away from the project if the planning board issues a “positive declaration of environmental significance.”

A day later, the Daily Freeman reported that a second member of the Kingstonian development team suggested that a determination of significance (and likely a negative declaration) would not be made for a very long time, as they had not yet provided the lead agency with all of the necessary information.

Attorney Michael Moriello said in a statement, “It is beyond presumptuous for these opponents to attempt to subvert the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) review process by insisting upon a positive declaration of environmental significance before any potentially large impacts have had an opportunity to be identified and mitigated….Because we intend to follow all environmental review requirements and as we have not yet provided all of the necessary information and studies, we do not anticipate a determination of significance under SEQRA for (a) fairly lengthy period of time….we are confident that we will ultimately obtain a negative declaration of environmental significance so that the vast majority of city residents, visitors and business owners will ultimately benefit from the environmental review and the Kingstonian’s attendant economic, cultural and employment benefits.”

When SEQR begins, a series of specific actions are to take place starting with a 30-day window for the involved agencies to approve or deny the request for lead agency.  An involved agency may also “state their interests and concerns regarding selection of lead agency and potential impacts of the overall action” (SEQR handbook, page 66, item #5).  That’s exactly what the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission has done as a responsible involved agency along with three interested State agencies which submitted comments to the Kingston Planning Board within the 30-day window for lead agency selection or the 20-day window for determination of significance which I describe next.

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Mayor Steve Noble’s State of the City Address 2019

(This video brought to you by The Kingston News)

Good evening everyone and thank you for coming tonight. I want to thank President Noble and my colleagues of the Common Council for giving me the opportunity to share the State of the City. I also want to recognize our elected officials with us tonight. 

In addition, I want to acknowledge the members of our local media reporting here tonight. You have always had a tough job, but now, more than ever, we need journalists. 

About Growth 

Our city is growing. And growth can sound scary sometimes. It might seem easier to remain still, to keep things the way they’ve always been. It may feel more comfortable to ignore new ideas and to be surrounded by people who look and think alike. But that’s how cities crumble. We have far too much at stake to be lulled into complacency. Not when we’ve come this far. I believe wholeheartedly that we can continue to move forward while still holding on to all that makes Kingston special. Our city has strong roots- we were made to grow. 

Smart growth is possible, especially in a city as capable and committed as Kingston. We have a diverse, creative and engaged community, eager to build a successful city where everyone can prosper. We’re building new sidewalks, fixing underground utilities, improving our public transportation, creating socially responsible and progressive policies, preserving our historic assets, protecting our natural resources, and making the city’s largest investment into quality housing in decades. 

There is no doubt- the state of our city is strong. 

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VIDEO: City of Kingston and UCRRA Board and Staff Discuss Transition Strategy for Recyclables.

Today, Mayor Steve Noble and DPW Superintendent Ed Norman met with the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency (UCRRA) requesting a short-term extension from single-stream recycling to dual stream recycling through June 30, 2019.   It appears some headway was made – and we appreciate everyone’s efforts.

You can review the full discussion below thanks to The Kingston News and brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org.

VIEW:  “Kingston Residents Can Mix Recyclables Beyond Jan. 1, 2019” in the Daily Freeman

 

VIDEO: Kingstonian Proposal Informational Meeting at the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The Kingstonian proposal will appear on the Kingston Planning Board Agenda on December 17th at 6:00pm.

 

By Rebecca Martin

In what was a ‘coordinated review’ of sorts, project spokesman Joseph Bonura and members of JM Development Group LLC gave an informational meeting at the City of Kingston’s Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC). It’s smart, because by meeting with our HLPC early – they will benefit by getting feedback on the proposal before their review process begins. This not only saves time in the long run, but it puts their best foot forward by starting off with a more realistic project in one of our historic districts. Already the project has improved by doing so – and we would expect that it will continue to go in the right direction with the input and guidance of our historic professionals.

The Kingstonian project will be on the agenda of the next Planning Board meeting on Monday, December 17th (new business) Items #11 and #12.  AGENDA

Video from last evening was made by The Kingston News, brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org.

 

City of Kingston Requests Additional Outreach for Citizen’s Potentially at Risk in EJ Area For Proposed Power Plant Project

By Rebecca Martin

Last evening, the Kingston Common Council unanimously passed Resolution No. 227 “Requesting an (Enhanced) Public Participation Plan for Lincoln Park LLC (also known as GlidePath and/or the Lincoln Park Grid Support Center) as per the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Policy (CP) 29.” This relates directly to a fossil fuel peak energy power plant being proposed in the Town of Ulster, where only 1.3 miles away (and downwind) is Kingston’s Rondout that includes an environmental justice area identified by the DEC.

What’s this all about and why is it significant?

For the last 12 months, KingstonCitizens.org – along with our environmental and citizen partners – have been following the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process for the Lincoln Park Grid Support Center, a 20 MW natural gas fired generation plant with diesel backup and battery storage project being proposed in the Town of Ulster, NY.

VIEW “Toolkit and Video: Residents of Ulster County and “G” Zone Counties: Temporary Moratorium on Fossil Fuel Power Plants to Address Zoning. 

During the public scoping process, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation in its “Comments on Draft Scope” (March 20th, 2018) for the proposed “power plant” under Air Resources stated that, “Air Permit Applications are subject to the Department’s Environmental Justice Policy (CP-29).”

The intent of the Commissioner’s Policy (CP) requires the applicant to incorporate environmental justice into the permitting process and prepare a Public Participation Plan.

Kingston’s Environmental Justice area that was identified as being potentially impacted (in Rondout, Kingston, only 1.3 miles South of the proposed project location) would be provided with sufficient time, tools, and the opportunity to clearly voice, and have their comments be considered.

On July 23rd, 2018, Mayor Steve Noble wrote a letter to Kelly Turturro (DEC Region 3) as a follow-up, asking that the DEC “…send a written notice to the applicant requesting that it immediately commence compliance with the requirements of the Department’s Environmental Justice Policy, as specific in the Department’s March 20, 2018 Comments on Draft Scope.”

Process Steps:  Passing Resolution No. 227.

As we awaited an update from the DEC and GlidePath on this matter, on October 29, 2018 KingstonCitizens.org asked that the Kingston Common Council amplify the Mayor’s request and also ask that the DEC direct the applicant to prepare and submit an enhanced Participation Plan for review and approval, so that it can be implemented before the public comment on the DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact Statement) is opened – which we are expecting to be delivered at any time.

VIEW: Page 1 of request
VIEW: Page 2 of request

The process steps included getting the item on the Public Safety Committee agenda for November for discussion. The resolution language was looked over by Kingston’s Corporation Council, and sent out of committee to caucus where it went to the floor to be voted on last night – and passed unanimously.

It was a great night for this item to be on the agenda, too, as we also got to witness the Municipal ID program as well as the Mayor’s 2019 Municipal budget all pass unanimously.  We’d like to thank our elected and appointed officials and staff alike for their thoughtful leadership and hard work.

Part One
18:20 – 21:40
Rebecca Martin, KingstonCitizens.org

Click on image for individual testimony.

 

 

 

 

 

 

37:15 – 38:40
Sue Rosenberg, CAPP-NY

48:55 – 51:33
Iris Marie Bloom, CAPP-NY


Part Two
Local Law of 2018 Municipal ID Program passes unanimously

Part Three

Resolution #220 to approve the city’s general fund budget for the fiscal year 2019, as Amended.

8:58 – 11:30
Ward 2 Alderman Doug Koop (Chair of Finance Committee)

11:34 – 14:06
Ward 3 Alderman Rennie Scott Childress (Majority Leader)

14:08 – 15:01
Ward 9 Alderwoman Andrea Shaut

15:02 – 17:19
Ward 5 Alderman Bill Carey

17:24 – 18:08
Ward 7 Alderman Patrick O’Reilly

Resolution is adopted 9/0

Resolution #227 requesting public participation for lincoln park llc per dec policy 29 

23:57 – 27:13
Ward 6 Alderman Tony Davis

Resolution is adopted 9/0

GUEST EDITORIAL: A Landmark Day for Landmarks

By Marissa Marvelli

October 17 was a great day for historic preservation in Kingston for three reasons:

1) Mayor Noble, in presenting his proposed budget for 2019, announced that he is creating a permanent part-time preservation administrator position in the Planning Department. Members of the community have been advocating for such a position for years. If the Common Council approves the Mayor’s budget, The City of Kingston will soon have a knowledgeable person on staff to answer questions about district boundaries, help applicants with projects needing commission approval, promote historic tax credit opportunities, advance municipal preservation goals, and more.   (Click on image to review Mayor Steve Noble’s 2019 Budget Announcement starting at 15:50 – 16:36)

2) Following the Mayor’s budget presentation, the Common Council’s Laws & Rules Committee convened for its monthly meeting. Chair Bill Carey announced that the committee is no longer considering the Corporation Counsel’s draft legislation to merge the Heritage Area and Historic Landmarks Preservation Commissions (HLPC). Instead, other solutions are being studied to improve the efficiency of the two commissions, such as eliminating overlapping application reviews.  

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Fabian Marshall and the Kingston Police Commission.

 

CITIZEN CALL TO ACTION

  1. Request that the City of Kingston condemn police brutality in the City of Kingston.
  2. Request that the City of Kingston Police Department:
    • Provide a summary of changes that have been made to the City of Kingston Police policies and procedures since the Fabian Marshall incident in 2015;
    • Provide an action plan for continued improvements to the Department’s policies and procedure;
    • Provide an overview of trainings completed by Department personnel on an annual basis, as well as a  comprehensive description of the Department’s sensitivity training.
  3. As per Citizen Action of the Hudson Valley’s Petition  VIEW
    • Stop data by race and ethnicity, and use of force data including pepper spray and taser use;
    • Inform the public on the complaint process, including a detailed overview of the process beginning with the submission of a complaint form and through the Police Commission review, ruling, and if applicable, appeal;
    • Provide information on selection guidelines and term limits of Kingston Police Commission;
    • Release of information on the number of investigations into complaints against members of the department concerning domestic violence, excessive force, coercion, and verbal abuse, and the results;
    • Release of an immediate process to begin creating a community policing model that includes non-appointed members of the community as a civilian oversight board which would;
      • Conduct investigations into all cases in which a department member discharges his or her firearm, stun gun, or taser in a manner which potentially could strike an individual, even if no allegation of misconduct is made;
      • Systematically review reports and footage to conduct investigations into complaints against members of the department concerning domestic violence, excessive force, coercion, and verbal abuse, even if no allegation of misconduct is made;
      • To investigate the the conduct of members of the Department concerning any investigative category, (excessive force, sexual misconduct, a false arrest, or illegal search or seizure, and/or committed another civil rights violation or tort.) even in the absence of a civilian complaint, when, based on information and belief.

 

 

Tomorrow, the Kingston Police Commission will assemble for their monthly meeting to be held at 4:00 pm at Kingston City Hall at 420 Broadway in Kingston, council chambers (top floor). We are told that there will be a sign-up for citizens to speak at the beginning of the meeting, so please plan to arrive at 3:45 to do so and to secure a seat.  

As part of the agenda, the Police Commission will be reviewing a complaint filed by City of Kingston resident Fabian Marshall for discussion of an incident that occurred in 2015. 

According to the Daily Freeman VIEW, “Fabian Marshall, 27, was found guilty Friday of obstructing governmental administration, a misdemeanor, following a jury trial before City Judge Lawrence Ball. The trial began last Wednesday. The case against Marshall dates to September 2015, when members of the Kingston Police Department were responding to a report of an assault on Broadway, the District Attorney’s Office said in a press release. The release said officers tried to interview Marshall, who was in the same area of the reported assault and matched the description of the assailant, but that he refused to comply, became uncooperative and fought with police.”

The event was captured on a police cam and cellphone which was fortunately released for the public to review. (GRAPHIC)

“…officers tried to interview Marshall, who was in the same area of the reported assault and matched the description of the assailant, but that he refused to comply, became uncooperative and fought with police.”

Interviewed?

Being innocent of the alleged crime, Marshall seems uncertain as to why he was being approached by the police officer who acted in an aggressive manner without an explanation at the onset.

Uncooperative?

Marshall doesn’t appear to pose any danger to the officer carrying a gun and a taser.  In the video, it is alleged that he is tasered 21 times. One time, in this case, was too many.

STATE OF THE CITY 2017: Mayor Steve Noble Annual Address.

 

Mayor Steve Noble’s annual “State of the City” address. This video was brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org with thanks to Kingston News.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mayor Steve Noble
State of the City Address
2017

“Good evening. I want to thank you all for joining us tonight for what I am confident will be another fine example of democracy in action. While I appreciate the opportunity to share with you what I believe are a number of significant accomplishments we have achieved together, tonight, just like any other night, is about the work. Following this annual message, the Common Council will resume its regular business, starting with an opportunity for public comment. It is this mechanism- this opportunity in which any individual can independently and respectfully express their support, opposition or general thoughts on city matters- that ensures your elected officials hear you. For those of you who showed up tonight to support a memorializing resolution I proposed reaffirming our great city as a welcoming and inclusive community- thank you. For those of you who showed up tonight to oppose this memorializing resolution- I want to thank you as well. If one of our greatest achievements will be to have created an environment in which the public is welcomed and engaged in the decision-making process of its local government, then I know we will have done right. While it is uncomfortable to hear opinions or views that are in such great conflict with our own, it is how we handle this conflict and how we treat those with whom we are in conflict that defines who we are as a community. I believe that tonight, just like any other night, Kingston will shine.

This year, some of our most challenging issues transcended the boundaries of our small city and reflected a greater divide of philosophy and values in our nation. Questions of gun control or immigration, both of which are long-standing, divisive topics that have yet to be resolved on the national level, entered into our daily conversations with our neighbors and friends. We eventually updated our City’s firearms law and are now considering a memorializing resolution to reaffirm the City of Kingston as a welcoming and inclusive community for all, including immigrants- something that has never been done before in our community. These have not been easy topics to broach and deliberate. Even our discussions around parking fees, an issue that most cities must grapple with, have delved into important questions of fairness and equity.

However, the fact that our community members hold such conflicting and opposing values from each other reminds me that Kingston is indeed a diverse community. It is my responsibility as your Mayor to ensure that each of you, regardless of our differences, is heard.

As we reflect upon our successes and challenges of 2016, I am more confident than ever before that we are moving forward. As you will see from the annual report that will be posted on our website this week, our departments are providing an incredible variety of essential public services.

A glimpse into our successes

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