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.
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.
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.