City officials say that the developers of the proposed Kingstonian project have completed a series of studies on the environmental impact of the mixed-use complex eyed for Uptown. Now the city’s planning board will decide whether to accept those studies as sufficient, or seek a more exhaustive environmental review process.
The board is expected to take up the issue at meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 11 at 6 p.m. in Common Council chambers at City Hall.
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 demolished to make way for a 32-room boutique hotel. The proposal also calls for 8,000 square feet of retail space, an open-air plaza built over what is now Fair Street Extension and a pedestrian bridge linking the site to Kingston Plaza. The project headed up by Jordan and Poughkeepsie-based JM Development Group would be funded with $46 million in private investment and another $6.8 million in state grants.
The project has garnered support from Mayor Steve Noble and was an important factor in the city’s award of a $10 million Downtown Revitalization Grant through the New York State Economic Development Council. But the proposal has also faced opposition from critics who cite a lack of affordable housing in the project. Others have criticized the look and size of the development, calling it out of scale and out of character for the city’s most historic neighborhood.
Those criticisms were leveled during public hearings last month before the planning board and the Common Council, which needs to OK a zoning change for the project to move forward. The planning board will continue to accept written comment on the potential environmental impact of the Kingstonian until 4 p.m. this Friday, Sept. 6.
City Planner Suzanne Cahill said this week that the planning board would begin discussing the studies and the public comments at the meeting on the 11th, but would probably not make a decision on the scope of the environmental review that evening.
While the planning board will have to make a decision on how extensive of an environmental review they will require of the Kingstonian, city zoning officials will take up another issue — whether the city’s zoning code mandates the inclusion of affordable housing in the project. The site of the Kingstonian lies within the city’s Mixed Use Overlay District. The district was formed in 2005 to encourage the redevelopment of former commercial and industrial sites in Uptown Kingston for a mix of commercial and residential use. Last month, three residents — Rebecca Martin, Sarah Wenk and Ted Griese — submitted to city Assistant Corporation Counsel Dan Gartenstein a “request for interpretation” of a section of the zoning code which requires residential projects in the MUOD to set aside 20 percent of all units for affordable housing. In his response, Gartenstein wrote that he issue has been referred to city zoning enforcement officer Eric Kitchen for a formal interpretation, and that response can be expected “in due course” after Sept. 9.
But in an Aug, 28 memo addressed to Kitchen and sent out to Martin, Wenk and Griese, Kingstonian attorney Michael Moriello offered a rebuttal to the claim that the city’s ignoring the MUOD’s 20 percent set-aside rule. Moriello cited language in several sections of the overlay district’s zoning code regarding the affordable housing mandate which include the phrase “to adaptively reuse commercial and industrial buildings.” In Moriello’s analysis, he writes that the 20 percent mandate was clearly intended to apply to the redevelopment of existing buildings, not new construction like the Kingstonian.
“Conjecture, speculation and conclusory claims by the project opponents cannot lawfully constitute substantial evidence sufficient to overrule the rationally based administrative determination to permit the forwarding of the Kingstonian project before the City of Kingston Planning Board without an affordable housing component,” wrote Moriello.