Engineer says long environmental review for Kingstonian would kill project

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

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.”


The proposal has been criticized by those who see it is part of a trend of high-priced developments that are causing rents across the city to rise, squeezing out low-income residents. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe)


Teicher’s shadow

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.”

There are 7 comments

  1. Adam L.

    There is only one motive in demanding an extensive and complicated environmental
    review – it is political and it is profoundly misguided. Adding market rate apartments,
    and new apartments ultimately reduces rents ans it puts more housing stock on the
    market. Not putting new apartments in Kingston actually squeezes the housing market and drives up rents.

    This site has been empty and generating no benefits for Kingston for 10-years. That’s the shame here. Let’s do this, do this right, and get it going.

    Not doing so is a massive mistake and ultimately only hurts the people that ‘protestors’ say they want to help.

  2. JamaicaontheHudson

    I just don’t understand why Kingston can’t find a sane developer? The RFP was for a parking garage (presumably to alleviate parking issues in Uptown Kingston)…Instead, we get this (and a ridiculous pedestrian mall).

    The developers should work with the community, nix the luxury housing (pedestrian plaza and overpass) and focus on creating the parking garage and some retail space. Build sensibly and with a sane design. It’ll go a long way with the community.

    1. Aphrodite

      You would have to charge New York City parking rates or higher to make a stand-alone parking garage sustainable.

      The developers are providing additional, protected parking where the operating and overhead costs will be offset by the revenue generated by the development. Simple math.

      1. JamaicaonHudson

        Well then “simple math” dictates that it not be built at all…Developers want anything built, they should work with this community–not the one they want, but the one that is here.

  3. Susan Houldin

    I don’t think this development as luxury housing. Nor does a pedestrian plaza, overheard walkway nor pool on the premises makes it luxury housing. It is a mixed development with housing, commerce and public space within a city. This may not be a popular belief but with 131 apartments, perhaps 5 units could be set aside for affordable housing. And it is a practice that is done in developments elsewhere.

    The design of this development brings it in line with what other cities offer to its residents. Sometimes I have been surprised to find out that smaller apartment/condo developments include a pool on their property.

    At first, I may have thought the scale of it was larger than it needed to be, but I find myself being persuaded.
    The architecture is not my favorite, as I have seen several projects similar to it over the past decade across the U.S., but one cannot underestimate the inclusion of a pedestrian walkway complete with greenery, fountains and places to sit. Visiting other cities, one will find themselves welcoming the offer of meandering through such places, even if it is just for walking from one place to another.

    I have come to understand that there is a real need to study the infrastructure of the water and sewer lines to make this project work within the immediate community. No short cuts.

    More parking is being provided to the public, but not enough as a lot will be taken by the inhabitants and workers of the new development. A PILOT is also being sought for the parking garage.

  4. Frances Marion Platt

    I have covered several towns’ planning boards over the years and developed considerable respect for Dennis Larios. But he’s being disingenuous here. Full Environmental Impact Statements are deemed necessary for plenty of smaller development projects, and most of those end up ultimately getting approval. When the developer starts threatening to pull out because the review is going to take too long, that should be an instant red flag. Developer-driven (as opposed to planning-driven) projects almost always turn out to be bad news for the involved municipalities and local residents.

    Part of the problem is that the average citizen doesn’t speak Plannerese. ‘Affordable housing’ doesn’t mean what we think it should mean: rentals that the average Joe or Jane can manage for less than 50 percent of our monthly income. It means a few apartments set aside for folks on public assistance who qualify for Section 8 housing. ‘Market rate’ loosely translates as the maximum rate for this market, and license for all landlords in the surrounding community to raise their rents to match it. Anyone falling in between the two extremes of income is going to be out of luck.

    I had to move to Kingston because I couldn’t afford the rents in New Paltz anymore on my journalist’s salary. The Kingstonian going through will likely mean that I’ll have to move again, sooner than planned. Where is there left to live around here that’s genuinely affordable for people who make the prevailing wage in Ulster? Will I have to live outside the county to cover the county? What we need more of is what, in Plannerese, is termed ‘worker housing’

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