Sixteen years after he bought up a large swath of Kingston’s waterfront, developer Robert Iannucci has announced some ambitious plans for his holdings along East Strand.
At a city planning board meeting on Monday, Nov. 19, Iannucci unveiled his proposal for a four-acre mixed-use development that will include a boat museum and repair shop, enclosed parking garage, retail space and apartments. The developer also laid out a plan to develop as many as seven additional waterfront parcels along East Strand.
“Our objective is to turn around the East Strand and return it to the viability that it had up until the era of World War II,” Iannucci told the planning board. “I’m not a real estate developer, I’m a visionary. I seek opportunities to put things together.”
Iannucci, who made his fortune in Brooklyn’s real estate market, began buying up Kingston’s East Strand waterfront in the early 2000s, eventually securing title to some 100 acres. Over the next decade, Iannucci removed old oil tanks and carried out environmental cleanups in the former industrial area. But, until Monday, he had yet to offer any detailed plans for the property leading to speculation about when, or even if, the parcels would be redeveloped.
Iannucci ended the speculation with a complex he’s calling “The Supergarage.” The plans call for a 12,500-square-foot boat restoration facility and museum to house Iannucci’s collection of four World War II-vintage PT boats. The plan also calls for 60 apartments, retail space, a rooftop swimming pool and skating rink and about 175 parking spaces. Architect Paul Jankovitz said the project would begin with the museum and proceed as approvals for other elements fell into place. The site is currently zoned to allow a museum, but variances are needed for other aspects, and that review process could take years.
“Other aspects of this plan will have to be reviewed in detail,” said Jankovitz. “Significant detail because of the size of it.”
Iannucci told the board that he and his wife held 90 percent equity in the land and did not anticipate bringing on additional partners. The developer added he was seeking community input in the proposal, starting with a meeting slated for Thursday, Dec. 6 at 6 p.m. at the Cornell Steamboat Building on East Strand.
“This is an inclusive project and I certainly don’t want to be mistaken for any other developer besides myself,” said Iannucci.
Iannucci talked to the board about a series of proposed lot line revisions that he said were aimed at developing other sites along the waterfront. The developer said he hoped to create seven sites at the water’s edge to house handpicked commercial tenants with second-floor residential space. He told planners he envisions water-dependent businesses like a kayak rental facility or an eco-tourism hotel.
Despite being in the embryonic stage, Iannucci’s proposal is already drawing pushback from some housing activists who have questioned the need for luxury housing in a city where affordable living spaces are in short supply. A new proposal for “The Kingstonian” a mixed-use complex being pitched for the Stockade District, has met with similar opposition. Rashida Tyler, a Kingston resident who works on housing issues for the left-leaning activist group Citizen Action New York, said she’s concerned that the community hasn’t had more input in Iannucci’s plan.
“This is more of a project of things that he wants,” said Tyler. “It seems exceedingly selfish to use that amount of land for a boat museum because he is a boat enthusiast.”
In other planning board business
Representatives of the Irish Cultural Center of the Hudson Valley appeared before the board to restart the approval process for the proposed 16,200 square foot facility at 32 Abeel St.
This is the third time the ICCHV has gone through the planning board’s approval process as it seeks to build a cultural center on a residential street downtown. Earlier this year, the group actually won approval for the project only to have it revoked after they missed a deadline to obtain building permits to begin construction. The board later ruled that they would need to begin the approval process from scratch.
The ICCHV is seeking permission to build its cultural center into a steep hill between the Strand and Abeel Street. The structure would include an Irish Pub, performance and exhibit space and classrooms to teach Irish music, dance and language. The proposal has faced strong opposition from neighbors who argue the center is out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood and would bring noise, traffic and disruption to a quiet residential area. The controversy grew more heated over the summer when, after winning planning board approval, the group began excavating the site. During the excavation, which took place during a period of heavy rain, a footpath adjacent to the property suffered major erosion. Neighbors, meanwhile, reported damage to driveways that they blamed on the digging.
On Monday, Planning Board Chairman Wayne Platte told ICCHV representatives that the board would need to see a new stormwater management plan as part of the application process. Platte added that the group also needed to submit an updated site plan with a new timeline and pay remediation fees to the city for work performed to stabilize the eroded footpath.
The board also voted to extend a public comment period on the project until Nov. 29 to allow for submission of written comments. Platte said the board would take up the issue again at its December meeting, at which time, he said, he expected to have an opinion on the project from the city’s engineers office.
Opponents of the center are pushing for the board to proceed with the new approval process as a “Type I” action under state environmental review law. That would require the ICCHV to undergo a far more rigorous and expensive process than previous reviews.
“The negative environmental impact of this project is no longer a hypothetical,” said Owen Harvey, who lives adjacent to the site and has filed suit to stop the project. “It is now pretty self evident.”
The board also voted to table discussion of a proposal to install a Verizon wireless cellular tower at 261 Flatbush Ave. A representative for the company requested the tabling because, he told the board, the company was actively considering an alternate site located on town property in the Town of Ulster.