A citizen’s group is calling for an in-depth study of potential negative impacts of a large mixed-use project planned for Uptown Kingston.
In a petition addressed to the City’s Planning Board, the group KingstonCitizens.org calls on the board to issue a “positive declaration of environmental significance” — called Type I — under the state environmental quality review process for the proposed Kingstonian project. The designation, which would mean developers would have to pay for the study or studies required, would add months or even years to the project’s review process. The online petition has garnered 200 supporters so far.
“[The petition] is a chance for the public to understand the [State Environmental Quality Review Act] process from the very beginning,” said Rebecca Martin of KingstonCitizens.org. Martin added that it’s important the public understand the intricacies of approving such a large proposal and know when their input will have the most impact on deliberations. While she said she thinks a Type I declaration for the Kingstonian is very likely, she did note that some projects that she thought would have been a natural for a full review were instead deemed to be Type II actions that would not, according to state law, affect the environment.
The proposal by JM Development Group calls for a mixed-use, multi-site project at the corner of North Front Street and Fair Street Extension. The project incorporates 129 one-, two- and three-bedroom rental apartments that would start at $1,350 per month, a boutique hotel and 8,000 square feet of commercial space. It also calls for a new parking structure with 420 spaces, 250 of which would be public. The proposal also envisions one or two restaurants and a public park.
The project would be split between two sites. A new building at a site of the current large municipal parking lot would house the rental units. A brick warehouse across Fair Street Extension from the lot would be converted into a hotel. The project also incorporates a parcel at the intersection of Schwenk Drive and Fair Street Extension currently occupied by the recently closed Uptown Grill.
The entire project is expected to cost $52 million. Of that, $46 million will come from private investors. The remainder will be paid through public grant funding. Among the grant funding set aside for the plan is $3.8 million of a $10 million “Downtown Revitalization Grant” awarded to the city in 2017 for economic development projects in and around the Stockade District. That money will fund the removal of underground infrastructure at the site and other site prep work.
The project marks the latest effort to develop an underutilized area in the heart of the city’s Uptown Business District. In the mid-2000s a proposal to build a 10-story residential tower at the site of the parking lot fell through after the developer pulled out, citing the length and expense of the review process. Over the years, the city has repeatedly issued “requests for proposals” seeking a developer for the site with no takers.
The current project, a partnership between Orange County-based developer Joe Bonura Jr. and Kingston Plaza owner Brad Jordan, has the backing of Mayor Steve Noble.
“This is something that we and many other administrations over the years have tried to get done,” said Noble. “I feel that now we have the right public-private partnership.”
Despite the promise of major private investment coupled with state grants, the Kingstonian proposal has drawn pushback from affordable housing advocates and others who worry the proposal will accelerate the pace of gentrification in the city and push out existing residents and businesses. Others, echoing the arguments that helped sink the earlier Teicher plan, say the Kingstonian is simply too big and out of keeping with the historic character of the neighborhood. The KingstonCitizens.org petition cites both issues in calling for extensive study of the potential negative impacts of the plan.
How it would work
If the planning board issues a positive declaration, the next step will be the development, with public input, of a “scoping document.” The scoping document will identity potential negative impacts, covering everything from traffic to impact on city schools.
It will then be up to the developer working in conjunction with consultants appointed by the city to produce an environmental impact statement which will lay out in detail how each of the negative impacts cited will be eliminated or mitigated in the final site plan proposal.
Currently, the review process is on hold for a mandatory 30-day period to determine who will serve as “lead agency” in the review. The planning board, as is customary, has announced its intention to serve as lead agency. If no other entity steps forward to claim lead agency status, the board will formally take on the role in March. After that, discussion can begin on how to proceed with the remainder of the review.
“At this stage of the review process the planning board has only expressed their intent to serve as lead agency and that’s it,” said City Planner Suzanne Cahill.