Revote on alms house zoning change seems unlikely

The old alms house. (photo by Dan Barton)

Three aldermen are pushing for a new vote on a zoning change for a proposed supportive housing project at site of the former city alms house. But Kingston Common Council President Jim Noble said this he does not see any legal basis to revisit the 5-4 vote in favor of the zoning change.

The issue concerns Rupco’s proposed Landmark Place project. The project aims to create 66 units of senior housing at the alms house campus at 300 Flatbush Ave. The plan calls for the renovation of the historic 19th century Italianate-style edifice as well as construction of a new building at the site. The proposal has generated controversy, in part because about half of the units would be set aside for people struggling with recent homelessness, mental illness, substance abuse and other special needs.

In June 2017, the Common Council was set to vote on a zoning change necessary for the project to move forward to the final stage of planning board review. The site had been zoned for single family use. Rupco lobbied the city to change its status to multi-family to allow the project to move ahead. Backers of Landmark Place argued that a zoning change would be needed for any proposed redevelopment of the site; denying approval to the Rupco project would place the city in danger of a federal housing discrimination lawsuit. Opponents on the council, including then Majority Leader Bill Carey argued that the county-owned site could be put to better use if zoned commercially. Other opponents of the zoning change said that they wanted to delay any action until after the city had had time to revamp its zoning code in accordance with a recently completed comprehensive plan.


The zoning change appeared headed for approval by a narrow margin until about a week before the vote, when neighbors of the proposed project submitted a petition that invoked a little-used section of the city code that requires a seven-vote supermajority on the council to approve any zoning changes that are opposed by owners of 20 percent of the property bordering or fronting on the parcel in question. With little time to vet the petition, city attorneys recommended that the council use the seven-vote standard with the understanding the ultimate outcome would likely be decided in state Supreme Court. The council voted 5-4 in favor of the zoning change, failing to meet the supermajority standard and for the time being shelving Rupco’s request.

Rupco immediately filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s decision to accept the petition and impose the supermajority requirement. Last month, state Supreme Judge Richard Mott sided with the housing nonprofit, ruling that the city’s action had been “arbitrary and capricious.” Mott ruled that the petition had been improperly witnessed and that the signatories did not meet the statutes requirements to invoke the supermajority rule.

At a Jan. 10 council meeting, Noble read a statement explaining that, with the supermajority requirement tossed out in court, the 5-4 vote was sufficient to pass the zoning change. But three aldermen — Carey, Tony Davis (D-Ward 6) and newcomer Patrick O’Reilly (Ward 7) — argued that the matter should be put up for another vote. They say that aldermen might have voted differently had they known the issue would be decided by a simple majority.

“This is something that is close to my heart,” said O’Reilly who ran a campaign based on opposition to Landmark Place. “I don’t think Rupco should have a problem with us going back to take a look at this and make sure it was done right.”

Jim Noble said he’d conferred with O’Reilly and advised him that he could send a communication to the Laws & Rules Committee seeking a revote. But, he said, he could see no legitimate reason to revisit the issue. Noble’s opinion was backed up by City Corporation Counsel Kevin Bryant who at the Jan. 10 meeting said he saw “no basis” to take a new vote on the issue. Noble added that the corporation counsel’s statement prior to the June vote that the supermajority requirement would likely be decided in court had given aldermen sufficient notice that they should vote as if it were a simple majority vote.

“It’s decided. We can’t just string [Rupco] along for another six months,” said Noble. “You can’t retake a vote just because you didn’t like how it went the last time. If we did that we’d be re-voting everything.”

It is unclear whether a revote would reverse the council’s majority vote for the zoning change. The fourth “no” vote belonged to former Ninth Ward councilmember Deborah Brown. Brown was defeated in November by Democrat Andrea Shaut. Besides O’Reilly, none of the newly elected aldermen have expressed opposition to the zoning change. Meanwhile, Rupco officials say they hope to complete the planning process and proceed with construction at the site as early as this summer.