Though many obstacles could intervene, Midtown Kingston is well on its way to getting 72 new units of affordable housing for seniors and the disabled. An audience of about sixty people showed up at a public hearing heard by Kingston’s planning board this past Monday night in the common-council chambers. Though concerns were raised about the location of the $16-million project at the dead end of Bruyn Avenue next to the busy CSX rail line passing through the city, the tenor of the public comments were for the most part sympathetic to the Birchez Associates goal.
The project, according to Birchez principal Steve Aaron, is permitted by right (it’s in a special-use overlay district) at that location. The Cooperage at Kingston, as the proposed development is called, is seeking site-plan approval from the planning board. It already has obtained conceptual approval, but far detailed plans are required.
Two aldermen, Tom Hoffay and the newly elected Bill Carey, and county legislator Pete Loughran were among those who spoke in support of the proposal. “We need this facility,” said Carey earnestly. “There’s no other option. The need for this is tremendous.”
The neighborhood near the railroad tracks contains a mix of land uses, including decrepit former manufacturing facilities either converted in recent decades to miscellaneous business uses or still vacant. There are some residences on most nearby blocks. The project is of sufficient magnitude that the presence of its additional residents might transform the vicinity of the site, two blocks up Cornell Street from the central post office, in a more residential direction.
The complex will consist of a substantial new four-story building (the rendering shows three different colors on the face of the building, which makes it less monotonous-looking) on the corner of Cornell Street and Bruhn Avenue. There will be 54 units plus 28 parking spaces underneath the structure. The existing former cooperage building at the cul-de-sac up Bruhn Avenue adjacent to the railroad tracks will be rehabilitated. It will contain 18 residential units. The site plan proposes an additional 27 parking spaces tucked in back of the new structure. Aaron said the development would be staffed “24/7.”
Though the proposed use for the property is radically different from its historic use, Ulster County planning director Dennis Doyle said the Birchez initiative did not seem to him “out of character” for the neighborhood. He pointed to the New York City DEP’s office on Smith Avenue and Mike Piazza’s Shirt Factory as two other examples of relatively recent substantial transformations in use. The Birchez property could be a catalyst for further change, he said.
Several speakers at the Monday hearing voiced concern about the presence of the busy rail line so close to the site. The planning board may require extensive mitigation through installation of sound barriers and special windows in the renovated former cooperage.
Aaron has arranged to set aside eleven units for the physically and developmentally disabled in partnership with the Ulster Association of Retarded Citizens, a neighbor. This set-aside also strengthened his application for state funding.
Traffic, including truck traffic, was another concern. “Wouldn’t you want to build in a quieter neighborhood?” asked Glenn Fitzgerald, who owns a business across Bruyn Avenue from the proposed project.
Ellen DiFalco said bluntly that the location “doesn’t work.” She also advised the planning board to withhold its decision until a dispute with Aaron over what property taxes ought to be paid on another Birchez property is resolved.
Several tenants at Birchez properties praised the management of the senior complexes where they live. Loughran went so far as to report that “every [Birchez] senior I have talked to without exception has been happy with their housing.” And a Chambers Court resident from Aaron’s The Birches at Chambers in the town of confidently predicted the developer would “make a sow’s ear into a silk purse.”