Rupco sues after Kingston planners reject affordable housing proposal

The Alms House

The fate of a proposed 66-unit affordable senior housing complex at the former city alms house could be decided in State Supreme Court after the housing nonprofit Rupco filed suit to challenge the Kingston Planning Board’s rejection last month of site plan approval and a special permit for the project. It will be the second time the agency has gone to court over the planned Landmark Place in an effort to overcome strong neighborhood opposition to the proposal.

“Our attorneys filed an Article 78 [motion] with the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of Ulster to seek judicial review of the planning board actions,” said Rupco CEO Kevin O’Connor in a prepared statement.

At issue is Rupco’s plan to build 66 units of low-income housing for seniors 55 and over on an 18-acre parcel at 300 Flatbush Ave. The site once housed the Kingston alms house, a residence for poor and elderly city residents. Rupco’s proposal calls for the creation of 66 studio and one-bedroom apartments split between the historic former alms house and a proposed new building at the site. In accordance with a plan to fund the project using money from a state-backed “supportive housing initiative,” a portion of the units would be set aside for people with mental health and substance abuse issues, the recently homeless, veterans, the disabled and the frail elderly. Rupco’s proposal includes on-site counseling, medical and other support services for residents.

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O’Connor has said the goal of the proposed “Landmark Place” was to provide permanent, secure and supportive housing for a population that often exists on society’s margin, shuttling between shared rooms in boarding houses, homeless shelters and the streets.

In 2015, Rupco entered into a purchase agreement with Ulster County, which owned the site. In April, the agency completed the purchase paying $950,000 for the property. To accommodate the project, the Kingston Common Council voted narrowly to approve a zoning change to allow the plan to move forward. The zoning change became contentious and ended up in court after neighbors of the site invoked a section of the city code requiring a seven-vote supermajority to enact a zoning change if owners of a certain percentage of adjoining property objected. The zoning change initially failed to meet the supermajority threshold. Rupco went to court on the issue and a judge threw out the supermajority requirement on the grounds that the neighbors’ petition had not been properly witnessed.

Rupco hit another hurdle last month when the planning board voted 3-2 to reject a site plan for the project. The plan, which had been before the planning board since February, was turned down with no comment from the board members who voted no. Typically, developers are given guidance from the planning board on how to mitigate issues with a site plan and allowed an opportunity to make changes before the board issues a decision. 

Rejection confirmed

On Monday, Sept. 17, the planning board reconvened and, on the advice of city Assistant Corporation Counsel Dan Gartenstein, held a vote to formally reject the site plan. The result was a 3-1 vote rejecting the site plan (board member Robert Jacobsen was absent). All three members who voted against the plan offered their reason for the rejection in general terms without referring to specific defects in the proposal. 

Board member Charles Polacco said that he cast his vote based on “density, zoning and infrastructure issues” that he felt had not been adequately addressed in the plan. Bridget Smith Bruhn attributed her vote to “zoning and environmental issues.” A third board member, Jamie Mills, said she rejected the plan because she felt that the project would have “significant environmental impacts” on the neighborhood. Mills added that the site was “isolated” and thus inconsistent with a new city comprehensive plan’s preference for bike- and pedestrian-friendly housing. Mills also cited the comprehensive plan in calling the proposed new building at the alms house site inconsistent with the document’s call to maintain traditional architectural forms.

Board chairman Wayne Platte, the only vote against rejecting the site plan on Monday, said that he believed Rupco’s proposal was consistent with the city’s zoning laws and “fell within the parameters of what the planning board is allowed to consider.” 

A copy of Rupco’s Article 78 complaint was not available at press time. But the nonprofit is likely to argue that the planning board’s action was “arbitrary and capricious” and that members had acted beyond their authority.

In May 2017, in response to resistance to the plan from some members of the Common Council, Rupco attorney Michael Moriello wrote that administrative obstruction of the project could put the city in danger of a federal fair housing lawsuit. In the letter, Moriello noted that many of the objections to the plan from neighbors, stated on the record at public meetings, revolved around the presumed profile of the prospective tenants. Federal law prohibits discrimination in housing based on mental health status, as well as race and age.

There are 6 comments

  1. County Taxpayer

    RUBCO ever finish putting in their bar at the building they moved into? That was a good one, the photo of an unfinished bar with the foot rail not completely installed and sheet rock work still be done. Drinks all around for the Planning Board

  2. Noble Fraud

    Where are statements from the Mayor, City Corp Counsel, and more dated from rupcos attorney following the recent vote (who empties a full papermate pen every time he signs his name – seek help dude).

    Why no reference to rupco’s ink wasting attorney requesting and being granted a vote delay in July? Why the delay? (Please let the taxpayers know Mr Chairmen, City Corp Counsel, or circle signature rupco attorney man who runs the Kingston Planning Agenda? Clearly not the Planning Board Chairman.

    Does anyone find it strange that there was a four page resolution to approve the site plan for the August meeting prepared by the City’s Corp Counsel and Papermate Man? Had an illegal poll of the board been taken to draft such a resolution? Why wasn’t there a prepared alternative resolution prepare and available for consideration at the August meeting (opps there goes one of you bs defenses mr Papermate).

    On a side note is the state funding still available for this project….hint it’s not..

    More to follow……

  3. Print It

    How can a law suit be filled before the vote? The first vote was based on a resolution prepared by rupco’s attorney, delayed by said attorney from the month prior. Guessing rupco’s attorney didn’t have the resolution done prior to the scheduled first vote because maybe he ran out of ink to be able to sign his name…that takes at least two full pens. Who controls the Planning Board agenda Mr Planning Board Chair?

    Why no comments from the Mayor? Why no real comments from the “city corp counsel” explaining the process and votes?

    The folks with all the real info better be ready to intervene in this flimsy legal action as the city’s “attorneys” will not be allowed by the mayor, Kevin C, nor Tom h too defend it….nor do they have the knowledge to defend such even without Kevin C or Tom h telling them.

    1. Steven L Fornal

      There was a preliminary vote that went against approval. However, there was never a vote to deny the application. A second vote was held and passed, thus the lawsuit. Neither vote contained sufficient reasoning which is required. Thus, RUPCO will win in court via Article 78 due to the vote being arbitrary and/or capricious.

      1. Johnny Motion

        “Preliminary vote”??? There wasn’t a “preliminary vote”. The August vote was on a resolution that was prepared by the attorneys to approve the application. The approving resolution prepared by the attorneys was done without consent of the board and contained reasoning that a majority of the board did not agree with. The approving resolution was defeated thus the application denied. So how was that “preliminary”? The second vote in September was not necessary.

        Only way rupco wins their article 78 action is if the city does not defend it properly, which is expected.

  4. Citizen In Attendance

    This planning board has not set a precedence in state law. All that is required is a “Yes”, “No” or “I abstain.” The law requires nothing more than that, just like when you go into the voting booth and do the same.
    You’re going to like it in this county.

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