The Kingston Planning Board may, at a special meeting set for Sept. 11, be ready to decide just how thorough a review the proposed Kingstonian condo-hotel-parking project will get. Or it may not.
The 9/11 meeting was set at the end of a public hearing Monday evening at City Hall. Board Vice-Chair Charles Polacco, who conducted the hearing in the absence of Chair Wayne Platte Jr., and City Planner Suzanne Cahill both said it’s not a certainty that the board would vote next month on whether the project gets a negative or a positive declaration under the State Environmental Quality Review Act. A negative declaration would presumably make for a shorter site plan approval process, but a positive declaration, which would trigger SEQR requirements for more studies and public input could make for a longer — perhaps years longer — site plan approval process.
“If we don’t have everything we need, we won’t vote,” Polacco said.
The Monday, Aug. 19 hearing at City Hall was for the public to give input to the board as they deliberate the matter; a deadline of 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6 was set for written comments to be delivered.
Happening too late for this edition of the Kingston Times was the Wednesday, Aug. 21 meeting of the Common Council’s Laws & Rules Committee. The committee will make a recommendation to the full council on whether the council should allow a rezoning request by the Kingstonian developers to extend the zoning code’s Uptown MUOD — mixed-use overlay district — to cover the parcel containing the former Elena’s Diner/Uptown Grille, a ruling developers need to go their way for the project to move forward.
If approved and built, the Kingstonian would occupy two sites on either side of Fair Street Extension in Uptown Kingston. A new building at the corner of North Front and Wall would hold 129 units of newly constructed market-rate housing and a 420-space indoor parking structure. The garage would be operated and maintained by the developers and include 250 public parking spots.
On the Fair Street side, a brick warehouse owned by Jordan would be demolished. The new structure in its place would incorporate some elements of the original 19th century Kingstonian hotel on the site and serve as 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 is being funded by $46 million in private investment and another $6.8 million in state grants; developers are seeking a payment in lieu of taxes agreement to defray the costs of the parking garage.
Decently well-attended, something like two dozen speakers offered their comments to the board at Monday’s hearing. Many advocated the project, saying it would bring more people and their money to an Uptown where the sidewalks tend to roll up after a certain point at night. Supporters also touted the local cred of Herzog’s owner Brad Jordan, who’s teaming up with the New Windsor-based Bonura family’s JM Development to put the project together. “This family [Herzog-Jordan] has always been a tremendous benefit to this city,” said project supporter and Adirondack Trailways President and CEO Eugene Berardi Jr.
“I welcome the Kingstonian with open arms,” said John Krenek, owner of Uptown’s Exit Nineteen boutique and design-services concern. “It will only add to the greatness of Kingston. … approve the damn thing already and stop stalling the process.”
Don Tallerman, co-founder of Dragon360 and running for Ward 5 alderman this fall, said the Kingstonian would bring two things he said Uptown needs — more parking, and more residents who’d spend locally. “This project is the forward thinking this city really needs,” he said.
Ruth Mandelbaum of the Town of Ulster said she wants to sell her house and continue to live in the area by moving into the Kingstonian. “We’d like to live and spend money in Kingston, instead of having to go to Arizona or Florida or California,” she said.
Critics also had their say. Some said for them, the fact that there’s no affordable housing component in the Kingstonian is a dealbreaker. Others said the large buildings would be out of character with the historic Stockade district over which they would stand. Many panned the proposed architecture, calling it generic and ill-suited to the neighborhood’s multiple architectural jewels. There were many calls for the kind of thorough review that would only come with a positive declaration under SEQRA.
Ilona Ross, resident and independent journalist who’s been writing extensively about the Kingstonian and its labyrinthine path through the approval process at hvvindy.com, said she was concerned that soil sampling at the site wasn’t sufficient, and that the buildings may go up on unsteady ground. In light of incomplete soil studies and the possibility of climate change making things less stable, she said for the planning board to issue a negative declaration “either approaches or crosses into the territory of reckless endangerment.”
Resident Darren O’Sullivan said he didn’t like the design. “It doesn’t seem compatible,” he said, adding “maybe [there should be] a few more design alternatives.”
That sentiment was echoed by local author and historian Lowell Thing, who called the current design “an example of fake vintage.”
“These buildings could be anywhere,” Thing said. “I don’t see any character, I don’t see any architecture.”
“People come to Kingston for art and history,” said Uptown resident Tony Romeo. “This design is neither artistic nor historic.”
Some expressed stronger distaste and distrust for the entire idea. “The last time a group of people were this bent on destroying Kingston, they were wearing red coats and flying the Union Jack,” said city resident beetle bailey. “Kingston’s soul is being turned into a place that looks like everyplace else.”