Mayor Steve Noble said this week he’s reached a compromise solution on the thorny issue of affordable housing at a major residential, commercial and parking complex proposed for Uptown Kingston.
If approved, the proposal would add 14 below-market rate studio and one-bedroom apartments to the Kingstonian project. Developers JM Development will cover all costs associated with the 14 units.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction. It complements the affordable housing policies that we already have,” said Noble. “And it shows that the developers are hearing from the community.”
As originally proposed, the Kingstonian would consist of a 129-unit apartment building and 400-car parking garage on the site of what is now a municipal parking lot at the corner of Wall and North Front streets. Across the street, on the corner of North Front Street and Fair Street Extension, a brick warehouse would be demolished to make way for a 29-room boutique hotel. The project also includes commercial space, a public plaza where Fair Street Extension now sits and an elevated walkway across Schwenk Drive linking the site to Kingston Plaza. 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.
A city-issued request for qualifications to develop the site did not include an affordable housing requirement; instead the document called for developers to maintain 200 units of public parking. Developers have previously argued that the cost of building, maintaining and operating the public parking facility would make subsidized housing unfeasible. Rents are expected to start at $1,350 per month.
The lack of an affordable housing component has formed one core of opposition to the new project. Local housing activists fear that the Kingstonian will contribute on ongoing gentrification and displacement of existing residents and businesses. Activists have also argued that the city’s own zoning code mandates that 20 percent of all new housing units be designated as affordable in the zoning code’s Mixed Use Overlay District where the Kingstonian would be located. The city’s zoning enforcement officer has ruled that the 20 percent rule does not apply to the project because it is new construction and not adaptive reuse of an existing building — an interpretation challenged by some activists.
Under the new proposal, the total number of residential units at the Kingstonian would rise from 129 to 143. The 14 new units would be designated “workforce affordable,” meaning they would be open to people making between 60 and 110 percent of Area Median Income. Studio apartments in the subsidized units would range from $475-$871 depending on income. One-bedroom units would rent for between $580-$1,064. Overall, the affordable units would make up about 10 percent of the total apartments in the complex.
Noble said the affordable housing plan emerged from talks between himself and the developers that began in February 2018. Noble said they had initially hoped to find a program through the state’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal, or a partnership with local housing nonprofit RUPCO to offset the costs of the subsidized units, but that they were unable to come up with a suitable funding stream.
“In the end, this is what we were able to come up with,” said Noble.