A real estate investor with extensive holdings in Uptown Kingston has filed an action with city zoning officials that could derail or at least seriously delay a proposed mixed-use development project in the Stockade District.
Attorneys for Neil Bender argue that a ruling by the city’s zoning enforcement officer places owners of existing properties at a business disadvantage and creates an incentive to demolish buildings in the historic neighborhood — rather than adapt them to new uses.
The brief, filed with the city by Rhinebeck-based attorney Victoria Polidoro on Nov. 26, asks the Kingston Zoning Board of Appeals to overturn a finding by Zoning Enforcement Officer Eric Kitchen regarding the proposed Kingstonian project.
The proposal by JM Development LLC — a partnership between New Windsor developer Joe Bonura Jr. and Kingston’s Brad Jordan — would replace a municipal parking lot on North Front Street with a 143-unit apartment complex and 400-space parking garage. A second element of the proposal calls for demolition of a brick warehouse on Fair Street Extension and its replacement with a 29-unit boutique hotel and commercial space.
Kitchen’s ruling came in response to a legal memo from an attorney hired by critics of the project who argued that the city zoning code’s Mixed Use Overlay District, where the bulk of the project would sit, does not permit new construction, only adaptive reuse of existing structures. In his decision, Kitchen rejected that argument and determined that another requirement of the MUOD — that 20 percent of all new residential units in the district be set aside for affordable housing — did not apply to new construction.
The project was initially designed without an affordable housing component but in October, following negotiations with Mayor Steve Noble, the developers agreed to add 14 affordable units to the proposal — 10 percent of the total.
Polidoro mounted her challenge on behalf of Neil Bender. Bender owns an extensive portfolio of residential and commercial holdings in Downtown Manhattan and Rhinebeck. In recent years, Bender has invested heavily in Uptown Kingston real estate. He is currently the owner four properties within the MUOD, including the former Kingston City School District headquarters at 61 Crown Street and 311, 317 and 323 Wall Street. In her appeal to the ZBA, Polidoro argues that Kitchen’s ruling that new residential construction is both permitted in the MUOD and exempt from affordable housing rules renders the zoning code “meaningless” — and places owners of existing buildings, like Bender, at an unfair disadvantage.
In her letter, Polidoro argued the intent of the MUOD was clearly to encourage the adaptive reuse of existing structures. Such development, she noted, is significantly more costly than new construction. If allowed to stand, Polidoro wrote, Kitchen’s ruling would place the burden of the MUOD’s 20 percent affordable housing set-aside entirely on owners of existing structures, while letting developers of new buildings off the hook.
“The determination incentivizes the demolition of historic structures and places the owners of existing buildings on a lower footing than owners of vacant lots,” Polidoro wrote. “The applicants are compelled to appeal the determination because of the disparate impact that it has on their ability to develop their properties for residential uses.”
In the appeal, Polidoro urges the ZBA to overturn Kitchen’s ruling and find that new residential construction is not permitted in the MUOD or, if it is, is subject to the same affordable housing rules as existing buildings. Polidoro and Bender did not return a call seeking comment.
‘Diligent eyes and thorough process’
While Bender issued a challenge to the zoning determination, the soon-to-be-second-ranking elected official in the city has taken aim at the Kingston Planning Board’s review of the proposal. Alderwoman Andrea Shaut (D-Ward 9) is set to become alderwoman-at-large next month when she takes over from long-serving Common Council President James Noble Jr. In a Nov. 25 email to the Planning Board, Shaut, after thanking the board for its hard work with “the complex dealings” of the Kingstonian, characterized as “discouraging” the board’s recent decision to quantify the proposal’s visual impact on the neighborhood as “No/Small,” rather than “Moderate/Large” on a form describing the project’s possible impacts.
Shaut wrote she believed a project the size of the Kingstonian would inevitably have a significant visual impact on the neighborhood. “Many folks eagerly await positive aspects of the Kingstonian, but the desire of the positive impacts should not blind the possibility of consequences that such a development can bring,” wrote Shaut. “Only with diligent eyes and thorough process do I trust that this project can become a valuable asset to Uptown and the entire city.”