Thomas Auringer, the Kingston native seeking to expand his New York metro-area construction industry businesses into the Hudson Valley, was given an expensive slapdown by an appellate court last month. The Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (UCIDA) announced in a May 28 press release that it had successful defended “a dispute over sales- and mortgage-tax benefits applied for by project applicant 2-4 Kieffer Lane, LLC.”
According to the court judgment, Kieffer Lane, Auringer’s company, will not get the tax benefits. It will, however, have to pay the county agency’s attorneys’ fees, the five-judge panel ruled. UCIDA chair Randall Leverette did not know these exact costs, but indicated they would be “north of $50,000.”
Auringer has been in the news for a pending application to build a 240,000-square-foot extractive manufacturing facility contiguous to parcels purchased by conservationists and intended within the next year for inclusion in the Bluestone Wild Forest in the Town of Kingston. The application to build that facility by 850 Route 28 LLC is presently before the town of Kingston planning board, which is scheduled to meet June 17.
In addition, the Woodstock zoning board of appeals is being asked to determine what steps could be taken to remedy the clearcutting of trees on Auringer’s property on Tonshi Mountain and the fate of a stainless steel roof on his home there that can be seen for miles.
IDA rejects tax benefits
The IDA’s May 28 press release characterized the lawsuit decided in May as “a dispute over sales and mortgage tax benefits applied for by project applicant 2-4 Kieffer Lane, LLC.” Auringer had sued after the IDA decided not to provide it financial assistance in connection with its proposed crane operations in the Town of Ulster, the release stated. “The Court’s finding held that any granting of benefits is discretionary, regardless of whether the proposed project qualifies for IDA benefits,” the appeals court said.
Auringer, who “grew up in Kingston and now resides in Nassau County,” was identified in published reports two years ago as owning “U.S. Crane and affiliated businesses in Brooklyn and Queens” as well as steel-fabrication facilities in Newburgh and Port Jervis.
“Auringer’s enterprises are non-union, which has made him particularly unpopular with organized labor in the Big Apple, the biggest union town in the nation,” a Woodstock Times story said at that time. “Labor has issued a long list of complaints against Auringer-related enterprises, based on OSHA inspections, ex-employee testimony, allegedly faulty business records and exaggerated job-creation figures.”
Auringer and his attorney, Timothy McColgan of New Paltz, had replied that these legal actions had been settled without an admission of guilt. They said they would “discuss these matters with the IDA only in executive session.”
In the crane case, Kieffer and U.S. Crane were seeking an IDA exemption from sales taxes on some $12.2 million in equipment, or approximately $978,000 in annual sales taxes.
In its May 9 judgment in the Kieffer Lane case, the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department, stated that, “Here, in denying petitioner’s application, the IDA reasonably concluded that the goods/services proposed by petitioner were not sufficiently unique or different from the cranes provided by an existing local crane company and that there was little or no demonstrated need for tower cranes within Ulster County. Indeed, petitioner was unable to identify any existing or anticipated projects in the county that required tower cranes and did not provide any evidence to demonstrate that tower cranes had been recently used within the county.”
The IDA expressed its concern that tax breaks to Kieffer would give it an unfair advantage over local provider Costanzi Crane, Inc. on Sawkill Road. The IDA said there was no record of tower cranes of the kind Kieffer had proposed being used in Ulster County, and that Costanzi was an established supplier of the services of other cranes. Kieffer revised its application, but the IDA turned it down, anyway. Kieffer sued.
Another try in Orange County
The Times Herald-Record reported on another of Auringer’s companies’ attempts to get IDA backing in Orange County. “In Port Jervis, Auringer plans a $27-million, 66,200-square-foot project, including two 30,000-square-foot buildings for storing and transferring construction demolition supplies plus space to fabricate structural steel. In the Town of Newburgh, the planning board recently approved a $21-million, 66,100-square-foot structural steel fabrication plant to be operated by U.S. Crane & Rigging at 18 Route 17K,” the paper reported in July 2017. “The Orange County Industrial Development Agency granted sales- and use-tax exemptions. The IDA declined to provide the enhanced property-tax exemptions that Auringer requested, opting instead to provide the company the equivalent to the easily available 485-B tax exemption. Laurie Villasuso, chief operating officer of the Orange County IDA, said the IDA’s recent decision was based on the town’s recommendation that a smaller benefit was more appropriate given the community’s development needs.”
The Record also mentioned Auringer’s ongoing problems with labor, OSHA, and other critics of his methods. McColgan, Auringer’s attorney, contended that the union-backed worker advocacy group’s claims were “a smear campaign launched because the family owns and operates some of the largest non-union crane and construction companies in the city.”
Trying for “a nice balance”
Auringer’s 850 Route 28 LLC application in the Town of Kingston proposes two 120,000-square-foot buildings for a steel and precast concrete manufacturing operation. A May 20 public hearing was extended until June 17 after representatives from the Open Space Institute (OSI) and Woodstock Land Conservancy noted that they, adjacent landholders with a keen interest in the area, had neither been notified of Auringer’s application, first filed last autumn, nor been consulted about the effects of the proposed manufacturing facility on the wild forest or the nearby Onteora Lake day-use recreation area. The organizations recently purchased lands to augment with new trails immediately contiguous to Auringer’s 110-acre parcel, which contains a number of junked vehicles within a heavily scarified landscape that once hosted a bluestone quarry.
“We have serious concerns that the proposed project will have significant adverse impacts to the OSI property and the Bluestone Wild Forest,” wrote Tom Gravel, project manager for OSI. “OSI does not believe the applicant provided the kind of analysis necessary to allow the planning board to take a hard look at the environmental impacts to neighboring properties as required by law.”
The Town of Kingston decided earlier this year that the project would have no significant environmental impact.
Maxanne Resnick, executive director at the Woodstock Land Conservancy, augmented Gravel’s comments with a 15-page letter that asked for a redo of Auringer’s application and the planning board’s negative declaration.
The county planning board weighed in last month with concerns about what it inferred was the fast-tracking of a project that seeks to remove 21-plus acres of trees and approximately 150,000 yards of material, via blasting and the use of a rock crusher twelve hours each day, for a period of at least 18 months.
Auringer’s representatives at the May 20 meeting in the Town of Kingston spoke about his push for “real jobs” versus recreational use.
“We’re going to weigh the needs of the state and local residents with the business and try to get a happy compromise,” Kingston planning board chair John Konior replied on May 20. “We’re going to try and get a nice balance and are interested in what’s best for the town under the laws that we have.”
On May 21, Auringer himself fired off a letter to Konior and the planning board countering complaints about noise at the site, as well as about his proposed factory’s work hours. He demanded that “we be placed upon the Planning Board Agenda within two (2) weeks from the date of this letter. Time is of the essence in that we are now delayed in meeting our construction schedule contractual obligations.”
His demand was not met.