An August 11 virtual public hearing on the possibility of Ulster County transferring the old jail and its adjacent property to a developer to be used for affordable housing drew comments from neighbors who opposed the plan, citing concerns over traffic and a disproportionate amount of affordable housing already in Kingston.
The old jail complex has largely been vacant since 2007, and legislators are now looking at finding a way to get it off the county’s books and into the hands of someone willing to address the housing crunch in the county. This would create a local development corporation, transferring title to that corporation, and allow its board members to review pitches by five developers about how they would utilize it to meet housing goals.
According to legislative chairman David Donaldson, the board of this local development corporation would have five members, with two selected by legislators, two by county executive Ryan, and “one from the outside.” Proceeds from the sale would flow back to the county. With sales tax down significantly this year, Ryan has ordered 10 percent cuts across the board, and legislators have cut program spending as well. Selling the property could provide both a one-time cash infusion and the potential to generate more sales tax by bringing in more people who want to buy things. Housing is in short supply across the board, legislators say; there is a need for more affordable units for lower-income workers, as well as lower-maintenance townhouses that might be attractive to senior citizens looking to downsize, which would in turn open up those larger homes for resale.
The specifics of the plans submitted by developers, which may or may not make use of the jail building for housing, haven’t been released.
Wary of more traffic
Nearby residents say traffic in and out of the Golden Hill complex, which also contains the Golden Hill Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, the offices for Ulster County Area Transit, and the county health department, has been a problem since the 1970s and should be addressed before any new projects are built.
That’s the crux of a petition signed by 45 neighbors. They say residential Glen Street is used as the primary entrance rather than Golden Hill Drive (accessible via Rt. 32), and that it has an annual average daily traffic volume of 655 cars. They want legislators to look at improving the infrastructure at the Rt. 32 intersection to handle that volume and more before this plan is moved forward.
Speaking for the signers, Matt Colangelo said that they largely support the idea of housing, but that “our gripe is longstanding.” The traffic volume is “ridiculous,” he said, and addressing that issue is “long overdue.” Colangelo promised litigation if legislators did not accede to this request.
Too much affordable housing in Kingston?
Neighbor and 2019 Kingston mayoral candidate Ellen DiFalco submitted her own comments and spoke as well, making it clear that she is not in support of this site being used for housing in this way. “I believe the city of Kingston has its fair share of housing complexes, and when there are 20 towns and three villages in the county, it’s time for other communities to be part of the affordable housing equation,” she said.
DiFalco asserted that Kingston, home to 13 percent of people in the county, has half of the subsidized rental housing and 39 percent of affordable units. Acknowledging that “county finances are shaky,” she nevertheless feels that “it doesn’t seem fair” that this parcel “should be the first site chosen for housing development.” She asked legislators, “Can you guarantee that all of that nonsense isn’t going to come onto my property, once all of this low-income housing is brought into this area?”
DiFalco also called for the various proposals by developers to be released to the public early on in this process, to allow for a thorough vetting by residents. She added that “it is disingenuous, in my opinion, to move on this property transfer now during the pandemic when residents and stakeholders find it difficult to participate in virtual conversations, and are not able to attend meetings to have open dialogues in person. This should be quite concerning for you. What’s the rush now?”
Legislators closed the hearing and may choose to act on the proposal as soon as their August 18 meeting.