City official says Kingstonian doesn’t need affordable housing to move forward

The city’s zoning enforcement officer handed developers of the proposed Kingstonian project a victory last week when he rejected arguments by an activist group that the controversial market-rate housing, parking and boutique hotel complex eyed for the Stockade District had to include affordable housing to comply with the requirements of the zoning code’s Mixed Use Overlay District (MUOD) where it would be located.

The ruling by Zoning Enforcement Officer Eric Kitchen was issued on Sept. 27. The city requested a formal determination on the issue after members of Kingstoncitizens.org — an activist group that’s criticized the review process for the project — brought up language in the MUOD code which they said would require developers to set aside 20 percent of the proposed 129 apartments in the building for affordable housing. Earlier this month, an attorney hired by Kingstoncitizens.org to address the zoning issue went further, arguing that the code did not allow for any new residential construction at all in the MUOD. Developers of the Kingstonian have said that a requirement set forth by the city that they build, operate and maintain 200 public parking spots as part of the project makes the inclusion of affordable housing financially unfeasible.

The MUOD was formed in the early 2000s as the city sought to redevelop vacant department stores and industrial facilities in the Uptown neighborhood into mixed-use residential and commercial spaces. In his decision, Kitchen pointed to language in the zoning code that set forth two goals for the new district; to promote the adaptive reuse of existing commercial and industrial buildings to provide rental multi-family housing — including affordable housing for city residents — and to encourage the development of “mixed-use, mixed-income pedestrian based neighborhoods.” Kitchen noted that the Kingstonian does not include any adaptive reuse; the proposal calls for the construction of one building on a site that is now a municipal parking lot and the demolition of a warehouse to make way for another newly built structure.

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“Affordable housing is not a requirement because what is being proposed is new construction,” Kitchen wrote.

Kitchen added that it would be up to the applicant, over the course of the review process, to demonstrate that the project met the code’s requirement that it promote a mixed-use, mixed-income pedestrian-friendly neighborhood. Kitchen also wrote that he was “not persuaded” that the term “mixed-income” included in the code “necessarily includes all hypothetical income levels, particularly those eligible for affordable housing.”

Kitchen also addressed the argument by attorney Emily Svenson on behalf of Kingstoncitizens.org that the MUOD prohibits the new construction. Kitchen said that Svenson had ignored language in the code addressing “site improvements” or new construction as distinct from “building improvements” or adaptive reuse of an existing structure.

“The terms are not used interchangeably. The code clearly differentiates between adaptive re-use and other types of development,” Kitchen wrote. “It is my opinion and interpretation that the code allows for the new construction of residential units in the Mixed Use Overlay District.”

The zoning issue has led to breech between Mayor Steve Noble and Kinsgtoncitizens.org which had previously supported many of his progressive-minded initiatives. After Svenson weighed in on the zoning issue on behalf of the group, city Corporation Counsel Kevin Bryant declared that her involvement constituted “notice of appearance of counsel” and that all further communications between the city and officers of Kingstoncitizens.org regarding the Kingstonian take place through attorneys.

Bryant’s memo signaled that the city anticipates litigation by the grassroots activist group around the zoning issue. In response, a coalition of activist groups published a “group editorial” on Kingstoncitizens.org’s website last week accusing Noble’s administration of using “bullying” and “intimidation” to freeze them out of the Kingstonian’s review process.

There are 7 comments

  1. Rebecca Martin

    It is distressing that the Kingston Times simply repeated the Building Inspector’s opinion without checking the facts. A simple word search of the zoning code (https://ecode360.com/12699974) shows that the term “site improvements” is not in the code. KingstonCitizens.org’s attorney did not ignore this language; the language is non-existent. That is just the tip of the iceberg of the errors in the Building Inspector’s letter. If the Kingston Times had researched this issue, it would have learned that the Ulster County Planning Board, in a detailed and well-reasoned letter, came to the same conclusion as KingstonCitizens.org — that new construction of housing is not currently allowed at the Kingstonian location. The County advised updates to the code that would correct this problem and ensure affordable housing is included. We expect that the Common Council will comply with its responsibility to adhere to the Ulster County Planning Board’s requirements, which it can only override by a supermajority vote.

    1. Steven L. Fornal

      Sorry, Rebecca…Site Improvements is the generic term for ALL improvements proposed. Search “improvements” and you’ll see a lot of references especially in the bonding sections. What the ZEO was stating is that adaptive reuse in the MUOD requires 20 percent affordable. It does NOT state that new buildings in the MUOD require same. (This is a caution against simple word search when seeking to parse zoning code).

      As for the UCPB letter, again, unfortunately while it focuses on the newly adopted Comprehensive Plan (2016) as pertains to MUOD, the CODE hasn’t evolved yet. Therefore, current projects and determinations by the ZEO and Planning Board are necessarily required to be premised upon the Zoning Code in effect.

      So, in essence, you’re right but wrong. Your underlying desire for affordable housing is needed, should be required and, perhaps will be once the City’s Zoning Code is updated. However, because the Zoning Code hasn’t yet been updated, then your demands don’t apply and, in this case at least, the ZEO is correct in his determination.

      HOWEVER…and this is a HUGE however…the UCPB recommendation does point out an extremely crucial point: The underlying C2 district does not allow for either mixed use nor multi-family structures. If that is a fact (the schedule of uses per C2 district is not available online so I can’t say one way or another) then the Kingstonian is NOT ALLOWED at all. That is an inconvenient truth that should NOT be over-ridden by a supermajority vote. Either the entities involved have to show that mixed use and or multi-family uses are allowed in a C2 zone (underlying the MUOD) or the project cannot legally be built without a zoning code change (which would smack of spot zoning).

      Of course, perhaps the rationale of PB and ZEO is a hugely overbroad definition of what a Special Use Permit allows; meaning even uses not listed (which usually means not allowed) are allowed with a SUP. Shaky at best. E.G. 405.27.1 D 2 “Site and building enhancements that promote a mixed-use, mixed-income, pedestrian-based neighborhood. Such uses will be subjected to § 405-30, Site development plan approval.” Which 405-30 A 4 allows for, ” The erection or enlargement of all structures, including one-, two- or three-family residences, in all L Landmark Districts and in the RT Rondout District” in which the C2 district resides.

    2. Hy Phyvah

      Why not put the Homeless in all the apartments and worry about the laws later? That’s the only type of “affordable housing”.

  2. Saul and Mary

    Thank you. The Kingstonian is an extremely positive project for Kingston. Build. The. Thing. Already.
    The local owner and developer who are paying more than 90% of the cost using private funding (unheard of anywhere) have proposed a smart, concientious, aesthetically accurate 21st Century development and the
    ‘activists’ against it have no leg to stand on. They have consistently used scare tactics, falsehoods, fear, and
    a little intimidation (not necessary kids) to attempt and block this. Everthing from the parking entrances, to
    public space, view sheds, all of it – has been thoughtfully presented and voluntarily gone through rounds of
    improvements based on the input of the people.

    Stop blocking this. Start building this. Uptown needs more residents living abover our businesses, more hotel guests, and more activity to keep what we’ve got going, going strong. We are so fortunate to have a business district that is coming back to life, and people who want to live here, who want to work here, who want to move here, and want to own business here. Let’s not be complete and utter idiots and let this plan die.

    This is a fantastic plan. Get on with it!

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