The city planning board could decide as early as Monday, June 3 just how extensive an environmental review will be for a major proposed residential, retail and parking complex in Uptown Kingston.
The board will hold a special meeting at City Hall at 6 p.m. that evening to solicit public input on the vetting process for the proposed Kingstonian project. The meeting is last scheduled open public hearing before the board is set to decide how to proceed with the Kingstonian’s environmental review.
“I can’t predict it, quite frankly,” said City Planner Suzanne Cahill when asked whether the board would issue a positive or negative declaration of environmental significance for the project at the meeting. “It depends on the comment that comes from the general public. It will be up to the board to make a decision.”
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.
Supporters of the project say that it would expand the city’s tax base, create jobs and fill in a “missing tooth” in the streetscape left by the 2008 demolition of a city parking garage at the site.
But the proposal has faced opposition from those who believe the Kingstonian’s high-end apartments and boutique hotel rooms will speed up the pace of gentrification in the city and displace existing residents and businesses.
At issue at the June 3 hearing is how the planning board will proceed with its vetting of the project under the State Environmental Quality Review Act. The law requires the board to issue a declaration of positive or negative environmental impact. If the board goes with a positive declaration, it will trigger an extensive review that will includes the creation by the developer of a full environmental impact statement that lays out in detail how the developer will mitigate or eliminate all issues identified in a public “scoping” process. Alternatively, the board could issue a negative declaration of environmental significance based on the developers’ own studies and mitigation plans. JM Development Group has commissioned studies of the project’s impact and mitigation plans regarding stormwater runoff, traffic, archaeological resources and water and sewer infrastructure. Their findings will be presented to the public at the June 3 meeting. A “Neg Dec” would allow the project to continue to site plan review, which includes its own public comment process.
Developers frequently complain that the “Pos Dec” — the far more extensive SEQRA review — allows small numbers of opponents to slow down, obstruct and often kill a project with endless demands for expensive studies on relatively minor issues. But backers of the process for the Kingstonian say it’s the only way to ensure that the public has adequate input into a project that will significantly alter the character and look of the neighborhood.
JM Development Group has remained largely silent, at least publicly, regarding the Pos Dec vs. Neg Dec issue. But last week, the developers’ attorney fired off a detailed rebuttal to statements made by Rebecca Martin, founder of the civic group KingstonCitizens.org, regarding the SEQRA process. Martin has been a staunch advocate for a full environmental review and organized a May 21 informational forum on the law and its requirements. Last week, Kingstonian attorney Michael Moriello issued a point-by-point analysis of statements made by Martin on the KingstonCitizens.org website. In the statement published on a promotional website for the project, Moriello said Martin, who is not an attorney, had mischaracterized elements of SEQRA law and ignored the law’s clear intent that the vetting process “shall not be a an exhaustive exercise in perpetual environmental review.”
“It is clear that Ms. Martin is seeking to mischaracterize a lawful and comprehensive SEQRA process in an attempt to cozen the City of Kingston Planning Board into summarily dismissing the Kingstonian project applicant’s rights under SEQRA,” wrote Moriello. “Therefore it is likely that ‘forum’ attendees will be treated to further conclusions, speculations and environmental hyperbole, all under the pretense of Ms. Martin’s political agenda.”
Martin denied having any agenda other than ensuring that the project underwent adequate review with sufficient input from the people who will be impacted by it.
“There’s definitely a significant environmental impact associated with this project and on its face I don’t know how it could be mitigated, I hope it can be,” said Martin. “I support [The Kingstonian] with a really well-executed study process that involves the public.”