On November 17, the Ulster County Legislature approved a tax break for The Kingstonian, a mixed-use $60 million development project in Uptown Kingston. The resolution was passed, 17 to 6 in support of the revised payment-in-lieu of taxes (Pilot).
The City of Kingston’s Common Council has approved the original Pilot but will need to approve the revised one. The Kingston school district, The Kingston School District, the third jurisdiction involved, has held off is vote.
There was controversy discussing this agreement. Legislator Al Bruno said deal was probably one of the “most difficult decisions all of us have had to make over the last year.” Other legislators said they have also struggled with their vote.
There were public comments from seven individuals opposed to the tax breaks.
“One really anti-racist action that can be taken is instead of privileging these white, wealthy developers, would be to prioritize our communities of color, especially our young people,” said Kingston resident Kristine Winbish. “I feel strongly that the Pilot should not be approved for The Kingstonian and the developers need to pay their fair share.”
Charlotte Adamis, retired teacher, Kingston resident and member of Citizen Action Committee for Education Justice, said that in her opinion it came down to values. “What do we as a community value?” asked Adamis. “What message are we sending our young people? I’m certain that business people would argue that this benefits our community. But if it does, it does on the backs of our school district. It does so at a disproportionate amount.”
Proposing the project are Kingston Plaza owner Brad Jordan and Poughkeepsie-based developer Joe Bonura Jr. They originally proposed the project a $28.2-million reduction in property taxes over 25 years, a $1.4 million waiver from local sales and use taxes, and a $325,000 exemption from mortgage recording taxes.
The deal was revised after an independent study on the project ordered by County Executive Pat Ryan ordered. The National Development Council (NDC) proposed a revised financial incentive package where the Kingstonian would pay $5.057 million in taxes, three times as much as the original tax break. This would reduce the property taxes. Should revenues of The Kingstonian exceed the developer’s expectation, more changes could be made. No other changes were included in the revision.
After the NDC report and further discussion, the developers agreed to share some of their success with the school district in particular,” said minority leader Kenneth Ronk, a supporter of the tax breaks. “If the project is more successful, the school district will get a higher amount of money based on the metrics that they agreed to.”
Other legislators said that tax breaks should be used for projects that will give back to the community more. Legislators Lynn Archer and Tracey Bartels both said they had been “thankful” for the third-party review.
“I do have a concern that the final negotiation terms were not reviewed in great detail, and this was an accelerated review process,” said Archer. “Therefore, I am a no on this resolution.”
“I remain concerned that the proposal that we’re being asked to consider is not at a minimum the proposal recommended by NDC,” said Bartels. “Fundamentally, I’m opposed to incentivize market-rate housing.”
Other legislators believe the project will be beneficial to Kingston in the long run, that it will alleviate the housing crisis, and that it will spur economic development.
Legislator Abe Uchitelle, one of three legislators who represents the City of Kingston, voted no for The Kingstonian tax break. “I came here to represent the residents in my district,” said Uchitelle. “That is what I’m going to be basing my decision on .… I understand that this project may create a more prosperous set of constituents within my district/ However, I believe that it would be doing so only by replacing those who I was elected to represent in November and who I continue to represent today.”
Mayor Steve Noble has been a consistent supporter of The Kingstonian project.
On the other side, legislators believe the project will be beneficial to Kingston in the long run, “I think this is the cornerstone to an economic development engine in Uptown Kingston that will generate housing for moderate income people, as well as low income people,” said legislator Brian Cahill. “I know there are a lot of people concerned about the level of housing projected for the development. We’re undertaking other types of housing as this is taking place. We’re not ignoring any specific sector of housing.”
“I’ve heard complaints about market-rate housing,” said Ronk during the legislative session. “One thing I’d like to make clear … is that one of the ways to make housing more affordable in the county as a whole is to build more market-rate housing. The more market-rate housing you build, the more available units there are, the lower the market rate is going to be. It’s the simple law of supply and demand.”
Following the meeting, Ronk said that The Kingstonian location has not been generating tax revenue, and that therefore the school district cannot lose out on tax dollars. “The payment in lieu of taxes on this is already well in excess of anything that the property is already paying in school taxes, which is one of the reasons I support it,” argued Ronk.
The Kingston school board met on November 18 and reviewed the revised agreement, which was presented by deputy county executive John Milgrim and Ulster County Industrial Development Agency CEO Rose Woodworth. However, the school board did not vote on the proposal.
The developers need all three entities – the legislature, the Kingston Common Council and the Kingston School Board – to vote yes on the Pilot before moving forward. If all three vote yes, then it will be put in front of the Industrial Development Agency for its final say.
The developers said the project won’t be able to happen without the tax break. The Kingstonian would be home to 143 units in all, have a parking garage with a total of 420 spaces (277 public) 8000 square feet of commercial/restaurant space, a 32-room boutique hotel, a pedestrian plaza and a footbridge to the Kingston Plaza.
“I believe that the Industrial Development Agency can act in a positive way on this and approve the Pilot even if the school district came back with a negative response,” said Ronk. “Two of the three taxing jurisdictions have overwhelmingly approved it.”