Kingstonian gets a raucous hearing at City Hall

(Photos by Phyllis McCabe)

Battle lines were drawn in the matter of the city’s most divisive development proposal in years when more than 200 people turned out for a public hearing Wednesday night on the proposed Kingstonian project.

While members of the city’s business community came out strong in support of the proposed housing, parking and retail complex in the Stockade District, affordable housing advocates and other activists called for the city’s planning board to reject the $52 million project, claiming that it would fuel gentrification and lead to Kingston’s poorest residents being pushed out of their homes.

The proposed Kingstonian project would occupy two sites on either side of Fair Street extension in Uptown Kingston. One site, on the corner of North Front and Wall Streets would hold 129 units of market rate housing and a 420-space indoor parking structure. The plan states that 250 of those parking spots would be set aside for the public. On the Fair Street side, a brick warehouse owned by project co-developer Brad Jordan would be converted into a 32-room boutique hotel. The proposal also calls for 8,000 square feet of retail space, an open-air plaza and a pedestrian bridge linking the site to Kingston Plaza. The project headed up by Jordan and Poughkeepsie-based JM Development Group is funded with $46 million in private investment and another $ $6.8 million in state grants.

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The April 10 hearing before the planning board at City Hall comes as the board is weighing the scope of the environmental review process for the Kingstonian. Developers are currently compiling studies of the project’s potential impact on traffic, archaeological resources and other issues brought up since the project was first proposed in 2017. The board could accept those studies as sufficient and allow the project to proceed with what’s known in state environmental quality review act parlance as a “negative declaration of environmental impact.” Alternatively, the board could issue a “positive declaration” and require developers to produce a full environmental impact statement (EIS). The EIS process would allow the public and involved agencies to identify potential negative environmental impacts from the project. Developers would then have to provide answers, backed by data, addressing how all of those impacts would be eliminated or mitigated. The process typically takes several years.

The hearing before a packed house in the Common Council chambers was preceded by a rally on the City Hall steps where about 60 Kingstonian opponents voiced objections to the project and called for more resources to be directed towards affordable housing. The rally included speakers from the activist groups Citizen Action of New York State, The Kingston Tenants Union and Rise Up Kingston. Speakers argued that the development was geared towards wealthy outsiders who would inevitably push out longtime city residents and businesses.

“We demand that the planning board take into account how the Kingstonian will affect real Kingstonians,” said Rise Up Kingston organizer Lisa Royer.

Kingstonian principal Joe Bonura Jr.

Inside the council chambers, where activists marched in chanting, the “The rent is too damn high!” JM Development principle Joe Bonura Jr. kicked off the hearing with a presentation highlighting changes to the project made based on input from historic preservation groups and other community stakeholders. Bonura said the exterior changes were modeled on Uptown landmarks, including the Montgomery Ward store that once occupied the site and the former Stuyvesant Hotel on nearby Fair Street. Bonura also stressed the Kingstonian’ status as an “urban infill project” that would simply restore a parcel that had been built upon previously and said the Kingstonian would fill a “missing tooth” in the neighborhood’s architecture. The site, which in addition to Montgomery Ward once housed a city-run parking structure, has been an open-air city-owned parking lot since 2009 when the aging garage was torn down due to safety concerns. Three previous efforts to redevelop the site failed for lack of interest from developers.

“We feel that we finally have the right team and the right project to make something happen,” said Bonura.

Supporters of the plan included representatives from the Ulster County Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Kingston Uptown Business Association who said the project would bring new consumers, new revenue and new vitality to the neighborhood. Several supporters said that the Kingstonian would provide needed housing for its target demographic, seniors looking to “age in place” and young professionals. Supporters of the project also warned that an exhaustive environmental review taking years to finish could kill the project — and send the message to other developers that the city was not interested in their business.

A rendering of the Kingstonian, with North Front Street in the foreground.

“This is Kingston’s Amazon moment,” said one Uptown property owner referring to the internet retail giant’s recent withdrawal from a plan to locate a headquarters in New York City. “We don’t want to repeat that, where 1,000 vocal opponents killed 25,000 six-figure jobs and 100,000 other jobs.”

Most of the speakers either called on the board to support the project, or reject it. One of the few who addressed the issue of the scope of the environmental review was Giovanna Righini. Righini resigned her post on the City’s Heritage Area Commission to protest Mayor Steve Noble’s decision not to reappoint two members of the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission who had publicly argued for a full environmental impact statement. At the hearing, Righini argued that the Kingstonian’s size and potential impact on the neighborhood demanded a more exhaustive review process.

“It is important to allow public participation in anything that affects the community on this grand of a scale,” said Righini. “It is just as important in helping the developers to get it right.”

Some opponents of the plan, meanwhile, called on the board to reject the Kingstonian proposal outright. Others demanded that affordable housing be included in the project. Several noted that the project would only contribute to an ongoing crisis of affordability in the city in general and Uptown in particular.

“This is not being built for us,” said Kingston Tenants Union co-founder Rashida Tyler. “We need equitable development, we don’t need enclaves. Luxury housing is not a necessity. Sorry.”

There are 10 comments

  1. Ponchockie Fullsome

    I honestly don’t understand the protestors’ point. Nobody is tearing down anyone’s cheap housing. There’s no choice being made between market-rate development at this site in uptown and affordable (subsidized) housing at this site or anywhere else. Kingston has a TON of subsidized housing, courtesy of Rupco, and of course there’s section 8. “Kingston” is not choosing between the two; it has both. (And a lot more subsidized housing has been built lately.)

    1. Susan

      You are wrong. Kingston does not have a ton of subsidized housing. RUPCO has been building most of the new subsidized housing, but as of this date, only the Lace Mill has been built with 55 units. 55 units is not a ton of housing!

  2. Sal Paradise

    The article doesn’t mention if the Kingstonian meets the current zoning or if it is getting any special variances or tax breaks. I would think those are central to the story.

  3. Aphrodite

    It was a disappointing display of people who clearly don’t ‘get it’. The meeting was to discuss whether a privately funded development would need to undergo a lengthy and intensive review process.

    It was not to listen to people insult, threaten and harass members of the council, the planning board, business groups, and business owners because the planned development does not offer ‘affordable housing’.

    It is not the developer’s job to address Kingston’s affordable housing shortage if one exists. That is the bailiwick of the City, County, and organizations like Rupco. Unhappy? Go yell at them.

  4. irene schrowang

    I think it is high time for this project to come to fruition. We have enough affordable housing in this city. How about supporting the working class for a change. These are the people who actually give back to their community instead of draining it dry!

  5. Futurist

    So the last time I checked, it was the fine residents of Kingston who were fighting against The Alms House
    redevelopment – which would provide affordable housing in an extremely well-designed development. They fought hard against the Energy Square complex – which will provide affordable housing in a gorgeous new development. In fact, these fine residents of Kingston seem to scream like angry militants pitching tantrums anytime a new proposal comes along. Perhaps less screaming and more respectful discussion with Kingston’s landlords and Rupco would do them a far better service in achieving their goals.

    Anyone fighting against The Kingstonian plan in Uptown is either: Misinformed, Lying to you, or has such a
    twisted agenda they’d prefer to see this city fail instead of succeed.

    Approve The Kingstonian. Get shovels in the ground at The Kingstonian. Build The Kingstonian as fast as you can. These folks need to back off and go into the communities they claim they want to help and actually do something positive.

    I can walk up and down countless blocks and see properties and yards that are so derelict it makes you wonder do these folks really care? Or do they just want to spoil this place entirely.

    Enough.

    Approve The Kingstonian. Build The Kingstonian.

    1. Joan H.

      There’s a number of problems with kingstonian, a number of unexplained things, a number of areas where they can improve the plan.

      The problem is if there’s too much questioning, the Seqr Process will be necessary and it’s doubtful that this will pass.

      Questioning the present plan isn’t the same thing as wanting to shut it down completely.

      And you do understand that there’s thousands tens of thousands of people in Kingston? So it’s not going to be the same monolithic group that’s talking about the almshouse that’s also talking about the kingstonian?

      1. Aphrodite

        “There’s a number of problems with Kingstonian, a number of unexplained things, a number of areas where they can improve the plan.”

        That certainly looks like a lot of personal opinions lightly disguised as facts.

        Personally, I feel very well informed and quite pleased with the present plans.

  6. Susan

    You are wrong. Kingston does not have a ton of subsidized housing. RUPCO has been building most of the new subsidized housing, but as of this date, only the Lace Mill has been built with 55 units. 55 units is not a ton of housing!

    1. Aphrodite

      You’re forgetting The Stuyvesant and all the subsidized housing in city, county and privately owned apartment buildings.

      Colonial Gardens, Seven Greens, Birchwood Village, Broadway East…shall I continue?

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