RUPCO’s proposal to build an affordable housing complex on the site of the former Mid-City Lanes bowling alley at 20 Cedar St., in the heart of Kingston’s Midtown, was unanimously heralded as exactly the development Midtown needs by approximately 15 speakers at the public hearing held by the Kingston Planning Board at City Hall on Monday, July 13.
Especially as a zero-net energy project, utilizing solar panels and geothermal to meet all its energy needs, the 61-unit building “is a tremendous project for Broadway,” said Pat Courtney Strong, a Kingston-based consultant whose clients include the New York State Energy Research Development Authority (NYSERDA). Referring to a series of design guidelines that were developed for Midtown in the mid-2000s, she added that “this is probably the first building that comprehensively addresses those design guidelines.”
Noting that Midtown is “the forgotten place” that’s now experiencing revitalization, Ward 4 Alderwoman Nina Dawson said the RUPCO project “is an opportunity to improve the quality of life” — a viewpoint echoed by several Midtown residents who spoke at the hearing. Not only will the building, which at its highest point is five stories tall, have such amenities as elevator access and central air, things usually missing from the existing Midtown housing stock, but “it’s an opportunity for people to use 30 percent of their income to pay the rent,” said Dawson. “Right now, people spend most of their money on rent and do what they shouldn’t do to survive.”
Most of the project’s 61 units would be available to households consisting of one to four people with 60 percent of an income from $31,000 to $41,000, explained Kevin O’Connor, CEO of RUPCO, in his introductory presentation. The remaining 15 percent of apartments would be available to households with 90 percent of that income.
Trying to get a taste of $1.5 billion
RUPCO bought the defunct bowling alley in May and has applied for $20 million of a $1.5 billion pot of state money targeted for upstate revitalization to fund the project; the nonprofit is applying for the money through the Mid-Hudson Region’s Consolidation Funding Application, which is due at the end of July. The project requires a zoning change from commercial to residential, which is currently under review by the Laws & Rules Committee of the Common Council.
O’Connor cited a study assessing the affordable housing needs for Ulster, Dutchess and Orange counties written by economist Jeffery Carr in 2009 which forecast over 900 units of new rental housing would be needed in Kingston to meet the need by 2015. He also said RUPCO would pay “at a minimum double the taxes paid by the bowling alley” on the building once the project is completed.
Scott Dutton, a Midtown resident and the project architect, showed the latest visuals for the project and said the building “would be the most sustainable building in Kingston or the county.” Besides employing solar and geothermal, it would greatly improve the storm water runoff on the site, which currently is completely paved. Some of the runoff “would be captured for irrigation.” Besides featuring a roof garden with views of the Catskills, RUPCO plans to create a greenbelt along Greenkill Avenue, which abuts the south side of the project and would connect with the street improvements planned for Cornell Street as part of an in-city rail trail currently under construction.
‘Opportunity to create a new culture’
RUPCO’s reputation for quality, reflected in the thoughtful design — the proposed building abuts the street and is broken up into a series of facades to harmonize with the urban and industrial traditional character of the surrounding streetscape; landscaped areas would provide for pedestrian interaction and possibly urban farming — was cited as another positive by several speakers.
“RUPCO cares, instead of throwing people into projects,” said Juniper Blum, a mother of three with an income under $20,000. She said she had recently visited RUPCO’s Lace Mill project, the recently completed conversion of a former factory into 55 artists’ live/work lofts, and been blown away. The proposed Cedar Street project “could be a model for Kingston to incorporate ideas beyond housing. It stands as a symbol for everyone involved. It’s an opportunity to create a new culture.”
The Cedar Street project would also include 15,000 feet of space rented to three civic organizations: the Center for Creative Education, the youth dance and music group which is expanding from its current location in Midtown; Hudson Valley Tech Meet Up, which plans to create a techie incubator space; and Ulster County Community Action, a nonprofit that plans to open up an organic grocery and catering business, according to its executive director, Mike Lamoree. “We’re in the middle of two food deserts and this would allow farmers to bring produce in for retail,” he said, adding that an after-hours catering and possibly a rooftop cafe would be available in conjunction with evening performances at nearby UPAC.
Some of the 70 people attending the meeting wore T-shirts affiliated with the Center for Creative Education. CCE executive director Evry Mann and Drew Andrews, founder and director of CCE’s hip hop dance group, both spoke briefly, as did several people, including neighborhood youth, who noted their lives had been changed by their involvement with the CCE. “That organization is a family for us and has helped us,” said Blum, who credited the CCE with helping transform her son “into an amazing person. He gives back every day because of the opportunity he had.”
Better spent elsewhere?
While there has been criticism of the project, especially on social media and at a public information meeting held last month at City Hall, the critics were mum at the hearing.