The Kingston planning board this week declined to make a key ruling on the scope of an environmental review of the Kingstonian, the proposed residential, parking and hotel project in Uptown Kingston.
Instead, the board at a special meeting on Monday, June 3 instructed developers to finish up a series of studies on potential environmental impacts from the project and conduct further ones before returning to the board later this summer.
The proposed Kingstonian project would replace a municipal parking lot that sits between Schwenk Drive and North Front Street in Uptown Kingston with a three-story building holding 129 units of market-rate housing placed atop a 420-space parking garage. A second component would remake a historic brick warehouse across Fair Street into a 32-room boutique hotel and commercial space. The two sites would be joined by a public plaza on what is now the Fair Street Extension, linking Schwenk Drive with North Front Street. (A pedestrian overpass, part of the original plan floated in 2018, has been deleted from the proposal.)
The project by Orange County-based JM Development Group and Kingston Plaza owner Brad Jordan is expected to cost $53 million. Some $46 million of the total cost will be borne by developers while, $6.8 million in state grants will pay for the removal of existing infrastructure and other prep work at the site.
It will be up to the planning board to determine the scope of the vetting for the project under the State Environmental Quality Review Act. The board could choose to simply request studies on particular topics and, if satisfied with them, issue a “negative declaration of environmental significance,” a.k.a. “neg dec,” allowing the proposal to move forward to site plan review and eventual construction.
Alternatively, the board could issue a “positive declaration” (a.k.a. “pos dec”) triggering a more extensive review process. That process, which includes multiple rounds of public comment to seek to delineate every possible harmful environmental impact and determine how it will be mitigated, typically adds years to a project’s approval process. Opponents of a positive declaration claim that it’s unnecessary, since the project is relatively modest in scope and would occupy land that once held a department store and a multi-level garage. Those in favor of the positive declaration, including some who are outright opposed to construction of the Kingstonian as market-rate housing, argue that a full environmental review is needed to avoid potential damage to the character of a vibrant and historic neighborhood.
May 31 marked the end of a months-long public comment period on the environmental review. On June 3, the planning board convened to determine the next steps in the process. Project engineer Dennis Larios and Kingstonian attorney Michael Moriello spoke with the board about progress on studies already underway or completed regarding geology at the site and impact on the city’s sewer, water and stormwater infrastructure. Larios added that the developers planned to carry out a traffic study using data culled from seven intersections around Uptown Kingston.
Following the discussion, the board unanimously passed a resolution that outlined a series of further studies, authorizations and other actions required of the developers. City Planner Suzanne Cahill said that the board would wait until those tasks were completed before issuing a decision on environmental significance. Cahill added that she hoped that process would be complete by early September.
Among the studies requested by the board was a visual impact analysis to determine how the new building would affect the city’s skyline and determination on how it might impact plant and animal life, including endangered species, as well as possible archaeological resources at the site. The board also asked developers to report on green technology and energy efficiency in the project and an estimated timeline of construction. The developers will also need to follow guidance from the State Historic Preservation Office, and make applications to the city’s Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals for a special use permit.