It was a good holiday season for housing not-for-profit RUPCO, as a court decision and new funding cleared the way for two of its Kingston projects to move forward. RUPCO Executive Director Kevin O’Connor said this week he expects the group’s Energy Square and Landmark Place projects to begin construction as soon as this spring.
The Energy Square proposal calls for a modern 57-unit apartment building at the site of a former bowling alley at 20 Cedar St., just off Broadway in Midtown. The building would provide one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments for tenants from a mix of income brackets, with sliding-scale rents ranging from near-market rate to significantly below. Some 10,000 square feet on the ground floor would be set aside for commercial use, including a new home for the Center for Creative Education — a local not-for-profit that provides arts education to underserved communities. Plans call for the building to include geothermal climate control, solar-powered electricity and other features that will render it “net-zero for living,” meaning that tenants will not have to pay utility bills.
RUPCO unveiled the plan in 2015 and closed on the property last fall. But work has been delayed as the not-for-profit sought state low-income housing tax credits as the final piece of a $22 million funding package. RUPCO had asked for the credits and been turned down twice previously leaving the housing plan stalled. That changed last month when the nonprofit got word that they had been included in the latest round of allocations. With the tax credits (which are exchanged on the market for cash) in hand, O’Connor said that construction on Energy Square was slated to begin on April 1.
“Sometimes it takes a while to get these things developed,” said O’Connor. “There’s competition for these tax credits up and down New York State and across the country.”
Issues around the proposed Landmark Place plan were thornier than a lack of state-issued tax credits. The plan to build 66 units of permanent supportive housing for low-income adults ages 55 and up touched off controversy among neighbors in the Flatbush Avenue area. The Landmark Place proposal calls for refurbishing the former city alms house into studio apartments, while a new building on that old alms house campus would hold one-bedroom apartments. Thirty-four of the units would be set aside for vulnerable populations, including the recently homeless and people with mental health and substance abuse issues. RUPCO officials say the proposed development would fill a crucial need for permanent housing with onsite support services for a population that currently lives in substandard boarding houses, county-funded motel rooms and other temporary accommodations. Much of the opposition to the plan — as voiced in hearings before the planning board last year and during last year’s Common Council elections — focused on beliefs about the impact of Landmark Place’s proposed tenants might have on the surrounding residential neighborhood. Neighbors expressed concern over security and quality-of-life issues and some opponents erroneously described the project as a “homeless shelter.” Other opponents objected to the plan because they believed the county, which owns the alms house site, had not done enough to market the property to the commercial sector.
Opponents of the plan zeroed in on a requirement for the Common Council to approve a zoning change for the site from its current single-family housing designation to one that would allow the Landmark Place plan. Neighbors invoked a section of the city code that requires a seven-vote supermajority for any zoning change opposed by owners of at least 20 percent of the property adjacent to or directly fronting the parcel in question. In July, one week before the council was set to vote on the zoning change, neighbors submitted such a petition; acting on the advice of city lawyers, Council President Jim Noble accepted the petition. The council subsequently voted 5-4 to approve the zoning change, but the measure failed to get the supermajority and thus failed.
In response, RUPCO filed an Article 78 challenge in state Supreme Court which accused the city of acting in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner when it accepted the petition. Attorneys for the nonprofit argued that the petition had not been properly witnessed and that the signatories did not meet the 20 percent threshold. In his Dec. 19 order, State Supreme Court Judge Richard Mott agreed with RUPCO. He ruled the petition invalid and 5-4 vote sufficient to enact the zoning change. This week, Mayor Steve Noble said that the city had no plans to appeal Mott’s ruling.
“My understanding, after talking to corporation counsel, is that there is no fitting basis for an appeal,” said Noble.
O’Connor said that with the legal hurdle hurdled, talks with the state about funding the plan, which had been on hold, were set to resume later this month. Meanwhile, the plan will return to the city’s planning board for one last round of review before construction can begin.