As the city’s planning board is working to decide just how extensive the environmental review for the Kingstonian should be, an engineer for the developers of the site said this week he believes his bosses will pull the plug on the $53 million proposed residential, commercial and parking project if planners demand they produce a full environmental impact statement.
If approved, the Kingstonian would add 129 units of market rate housing, 420 parking spaces with 250 set aside for the public, a 32-room boutique hotel and 8,000 square feet of commercial space on two adjacent parcels at the corner of North Front and Fair streets in the city’s Stockade District. The proposal was brought forward by the JM Development group in response to request by the city to redevelop the site, which has stood vacant since a former city-owned parking garage was demolished in 2009. The development team includes Kingston Plaza owner Brad Jordan, Patrick Page of Patrick Page Properties in Newburgh and the Orange County-based Bonura hospitality group. The developers have raised $46 million in private funding for the project; another $6.8 million will come from state grants.
The planning board must decide whether the project could produce enough potential impacts to merit a full environmental impact statement under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). A full environmental impact statement is typically a years-long process that involves input from — in the Kingstonian’s case — 10 “involved agencies” and the public. An initial “scoping document” identifies potential negative impacts ranging from traffic congestion to stress on public services. Developers are then directed to produce detailed plans to mitigate or eliminate those impacts. An initial draft of the environmental impact statement then goes up for additional public comment; developers may be asked to produce additional studies before the final statement is accepted as complete and the project can proceed.
Developers of the Kingstonian are currently conducting their own studies on the project’s potential impact on traffic, stormwater runoff and water and sewer infrastructure. The developers have also engaged SUNY New Paltz archaeologist Joseph Diamond to survey potential archaeological resources at the site. The planning board could accept those studies as sufficient and green-light the project without a full environmental impact statement process.
Dennis Larios is a civil engineer with long experience in Kingston. He’s currently working with JM Development Group on the Kingstonian project. Earlier this month, in a Facebook post, Larios suggested that his clients would likely walk away from the project if the planning board issues a “Positive declaration of environmental significance.”
Discussing his statement with Kingston Times, Larios said that he had not discussed the issue with the developers before his post, but based his assessment on his experience with the SEQRA process.
“That’s my opinion based on the time it takes to go through the [full environmental impact statement] process,” said Larios. “It adds anywhere from two to 10 years until you can do anything and it just saps the energy out of the project. Very few of those projects ever get built.”
Larios also suggested that a full statement would be inappropriate for a project like the Kingstonian. The process, he said, was designed for very large projects, like the now-defunct proposal by the AVR Development Group that would have added more than 2,000 units of new housing and effectively created an entire new neighborhood along the city’s Hudson River waterfront.
The Kingstonian, meanwhile, would occupy space that had been previously developed. One site on the project’s footprint had been a seven-story Montgomery Ward department store and a freestanding parking garage. The site of the proposed hotel is a warehouse and had once been the Kingstonian Hotel.
“This is not that big of a project,” said Larios. “And you’re building on sites that have been built on before.”
Despite Larios’ contention, there is precedent for a positive declaration for a project at the site. In the early 2000’s the New Jersey-based Teicher Organization sought to build on the same parcel currently slated to hold the Kingstonian’s apartment and parking structure. The Teicher plan was larger than the Kingstonian, with a 600-space garage and 260 units of housing in a 12-story tower that drew fierce opposition from local preservationists. After the planning board issued a positive declaration of environmental significance, developers spent several years developing a statement before walking away, citing the length, expense and unclear outcome of the process.
Principals at JM Development Group did not say what a positive declaration would mean for the project. In a prepared statement, Joe Bonura Jr. and Brad Jordan wrote the following: “We have not commented ourselves on what we would do should a positive declaration be issued by the City of Kingston Planning Board. We have elected to instead concentrate on doing all things necessary and prudent in order to properly address SEQRA procedurally and substantively. The reasons many developers stop pursuing projects after the issuance of a positive declaration of environmental significance are the associated unknowns and financial impacts that may make a project no longer feasible. Issues such as time delays, potential interest rate movements, changes in the market and/or political climate, upfront developer fees and the extent of SEQRA review procedures all may contribute to a reassessment of a proposed development.”