A letter to the Common Council
My name is Vince Rua and I reside at 214 West Chestnut St., Kingston. I cannot be here as I am traveling to Birmingham, Ala. to represent New York State in this year’s Senior Olympics.
I oppose RUPCO’s proposed use because it is fiscally irresponsible, lacks transparency, reeks of crony capitalism and is not the best use of this valuable asset located within the City of Kingston.
The zoning at 300 Flatbush Ave. needs to be changed … at some point. I urge the Common Council to change the zoning to as broad a definition as possible … not the limited change that RUPCO has requested.
Changing the zoning code to include commercial and multi-family, will maximize the future value of this property in the event RUPCO’s financing falls through. We know that others are interested in this property. There are two boutique hotels now in planning in Uptown Kingston with another party interested in the Cioni Building on Crown Street, appraised at over $2 million on a tiny lot.
RUPCO’s financing and ability to finance this project is dubious because of the following:
- RUPCO’s Kirkland Hotel is still partially unoccupied after 10 years.
- RUPCO’s Energy Square Proposal is still not financed after two years.
- RUPCO’s Masterson Filmworks Proposal is still not financed after two years.
- RUPCO is a non-profit which made $1.4 million in 2015 and has a fund balance of almost $12 million on which RUPCO has paid no federal or state income tax. RUPCO could have some very real tax exposure for what the IRS refers to as “Unrelated Business Income,” requiring payment of back taxes, interest and penalties. Should that occur, their tax-exempt status could be in jeopardy as would be all state and federal grants which are only available to tax-exempt organizations in good standing.
It is fiscally prudent for the Common Council to plan for this possibility and either table this request pending investigation into these concerns or change the zoning as I have suggested to include commercial uses.
RUPCO’s reply will undoubtedly be “but this isn’t about RUPCO’s ability to finance the project, it is about a zoning request.” And so it is. But there is no Constitutional nor legal obligation for you to approve any zoning request. You can modify it. You can table it for more information. Or you can deny it.
At the end of the day, zoning is a concept that exists to protect neighborhoods. One need only drive through the Sixth and Seventh Wards to see dozens of “No RUPCO” signs. The neighborhoods directly impacted are thoroughly against this zoning change. Many are against it because of concerns with the impact on their sewer systems. Many are against because the Pilot [payment in lieu of taxes agreement] is not fiscally responsible. Most are against it for financial reasons. Some are against it because Kingston has a disproportionate share of low income housing. Kingston has 13 percent of the County’s population, but according to the Ulster County website, Kingston has over 60 percent of the county’s subsidized rental units! It is time to look to other municipalities like New Paltz, Rosendale and others to shoulder their fair share of any more low-income housing. Ask yourself, “Where does RUPCO’s CEO live?” Where does Mr. Kempe live? I believe the answer is a town with no subsidized rental units, according to the county’s website. Coincidence?
An electronic petition has over 140 signatures against this project. People from every ward are asking for “No RUPCO” signs, indicating a citywide opposition to this proposal. So do not be bullied by RUPCO’s attorney who sent you what other attorneys consider a threatening and inappropriate warning letter. Vote as your constituents desire. That is your duty.
In closing, there is no question in my mind that a zoning change is required for 300 Flatbush Ave. a.k.a. the Alms House. If you decide to change the zoning based on RUPCO’s proposal which has received no support from the majority of Kingston’s voters, make a fiscally responsible change to as broad a zoning definition as possible.
If, however, you are not sure and want to support your constituents, please consider RUPCO’s history that includes poor delivery and slow financing performance in the past coupled with the understanding that zoning exists to protect neighborhood.
Look around Kingston. No RUPCO signs are everywhere. You do not have to approve this zoning change request but if you feel threatened, and your in-house counsel does not support your right to make an independent decision without the threat of a lawsuit over your heads, vote for a broad zoning change including commercial uses.
Another letter to the Common Council
Good evening, Chairman Eckert. I am Jonathan Drapkin, the president and CEO of Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress, a regional planning and policy organization. Pattern’s highest priority is the revitalization of urban centers, including Kingston. I appreciate the opportunity to provide remarks on the proposed amendment to request a zoning change for this RUPCO-sponsored project, the Landmark Palace Senior and Supportive Housing residences.
I began my career 33 years ago when I was asked by my boss at the time, the Honorable Edward I. Koch, the mayor of the City of New York, to defend the placement of a jail in the heart of the Chelsea section of Manhattan. Nine-hundred people came out to oppose that project. I never got to say a word.
The RUPCO proposal is not that. I have familiarized myself with the project and comments from those for and against it. As all too often happens, supporters on both sides seek to discredit each other — and they lose focus on the project’s pros and cons. While it helps sell newspapers, it doesn’t help determine whether the project is good or bad for the community. We have learned over and over, in attempts to site a “controversial project,” that passionate feelings become heated to the point that neither side can hear the other.
Make no mistake: Pattern For Progress supports the zoning change and the developer of this project, RUPCO. We have worked with this nonprofit group for years. It simply is among the most reputable housing organizations in the entire Hudson Valley. The city of Kingston is lucky to have an organization of RUPCO’s stature. In addition, this project is being brought forth by a local developer who lives among you with a track record of successful projects.
We have learned, by working closely with RUPCO over the years, that they do not imagine a need and then build to it. Instead, RUPCO seeks to solve existing community problems through a variety of housing alternatives.
Kingston is revitalizing; Pattern is working with the mayor as part of our Urban Action Agenda. But there are still people with needs in the city. Poverty still exists. Homelessness. Mental illness, and more. You cannot wish it away. There is a moral obligation to say “There are residents of Kingston that need our help.” That is what strong cities do.
Some might wish that “these people,” a phrase I do not like, would leave or live somewhere else. Today, New York City’s economy is more vibrant than ever — and yet there is an increasing number of homeless and mentally ill within its midst. In other words, even growing cities must recognize the needs of all of its residents.
RUPCO cites that by 2020, Kingston will be short 2,300 units of affordable housing. This project proposes 66. I have learned to understand issues voiced by those opposing such housing. But would it not be more constructive to work with RUPCO to craft a project that addresses those concerns? More security? More supervision? Other issues?
You will not find a better partner to work with; RUPCO would like nothing more than for tenants with special needs to transition to lives of independence. And, so do most of you. Please consider the zoning change. Please invest your time not in a contentious, possibly legal battle, but instead working to achieve the best project possible. Thank you.
Jonathan Drapkin, president and CEO
Pattern for Progress