A proposed 47-unit rental apartment complex in Uptown Kingston is raising concerns among neighbors regarding its size and scope, as well as potential impacts on the environment and vehicle traffic. But developers and the Ulster County Planning Board contend the project conforms to area zoning and would provide needed housing in a time when escalating prices are creating a crisis for renters.
The development, called Bluestone Commons, would be built on a vacant parcel of land at 264 Lucas Ave., near the intersection of Lucas Avenue and Bluestone Court, less than a quarter-mile west of Forsyth Park. The two-story, garden-style apartment complex would be spread out over 2.7 acres and feature 47 apartments, ranging in size from one to three bedrooms. The apartments would be located in four buildings with each structure containing 12 or fewer units. Five units designated “affordable” would be scattered throughout the complex, as per city law. There would be 96 parking spaces in the center of the project site, including handicapped-accessible and visitor spaces.
Neighbors react with apprehension
Jeffrey Morell, Alderman for Kingston’s Ward 1, the location of the planned project, said much of the feedback he’s received has been from concerned residents on Lucas Avenue and Bluestone Court. Morell said in an email that the homeowners he spoke to were “not opposed to the land being developed per se, but they have huge concerns about the scale of this particular proposal, the increase in traffic, and how it would alter the character of the neighborhood.”
That sentiment has been echoed during the Kingston Planning Board’s ongoing public hearings and comment period, which opened in mid-February. Some of the concerns voiced at the public hearings relate to increased traffic congestion and spillover parking; water and sewer infrastructure; soil erosion; privacy concerns for neighboring properties; impacts on local wildlife (threats have been cited for an endangered species, the northern long-eared bat); and a lack of planned outdoor space where tenants could recreate.
John Dowley, a resident of Lucas Avenue, said at the Planning Board’s February public hearing that he was opposed to the size and density of the project. “It seems to us that the developers are attempting to shoehorn their project into a 2.7-acre area with insufficient capacity to sustain the impact.”
Much of the apprehension has centered on the developer’s decision to position the complex’s entrance on Bluestone Court, a dead-end street that is the site of a development of some 10 single-family houses, dating to the mid-aughts.
Kenneth Gilligan, a legal representative for several residents on Bluestone Court, said at the February Planning Board meeting, “My clients purchased their homes in large part because it was situated on a cul-de-dac in a quiet, single-family neighborhood.”
Gilligan said that one of his client’s yards would be near the planned driveway entrance on Bluestone Court, where he said an estimated 300 new vehicle trips were anticipated to happen daily.
Gilligan said that the applicant has the land rights to instead enter and exit the property on Lucas Avenue, which he said would better serve as the apartment complex’s primary access point.
In a March letter to the Planning Board, Dennis White identified himself as the managing partner for the firm that developed Bluestone Court. He said that roadway was intended only for residents and visitors.
“It was never my intent to provide access over Bluestone Court to any neighboring property nor for the benefit of any apartment community,” he wrote. He said that for Bluestone Court residents, the traffic increase from the proposed driveway “will immediately challenge their sense of safety and compatibility with current living circumstances and the very reasons for their original purchase.”
A traffic study conducted by Creighton Manning Engineering LLP found otherwise. It said that both potential driveway locations at Bluestone Court and Lucas Avenue were reviewed, and that its findings determined that “from an access management and planning perspective, the better design option is to connect the project to Bluestone Court.” It indicated that the anticipated traffic increases were well within permissible New York State guidelines.
Since the project proposal became public, at least one home on Bluestone Court has gone up for sale, according to Zillow real estate listings.
About the developers
SSLI Holdings is a partnership between Stefan Sanzi and Luke Interrante, both lifelong Kingstonians; Sanzi is the CEO of Kingston-based real estate management firm Sanzi Associates Inc and Interrante is the principal at Interrante Design-Build LLC, which works with project planning and development for local residential and commercial markets.
Interrante said in an email that the company first purchased the lot in 2019 with the intent of developing multifamily housing. City records indicate the property is set within a R-4 zone, which is a two-story, multiple residence district. The parcel abuts another multifamily apartment complex, Fairmont Estates Apartments.
“Though we had considered other developments over the past few years, including townhomes, condos, and even subdividing into single-family home lots, nothing made as much sense as the initial and current plan,” Interrante said.
Sanzi said in an email that the Bluestone Commons proposal was first brought to the city for review in early 2020, but progress was slowed as a result of the pandemic.
Public records on the city’s Planning Department website indicate that SSLI has provided additional documentation requested by the Kingston Planning Board at meetings — requests that were sometimes made at the prompting of public commenters. Recent submissions on behalf of the developer that remain under review by the city include a complete traffic study, full environmental assessment, and visual, street-view renderings.
“We’ve gone above and beyond to address all concerns that have come up during the review and we are committed to continuing our effort of being responsible and caring developers,” said Sanzi.
The full environmental assessment of the site proposal states that the project will not result in any “significant adverse environmental impacts.” As for the endangered bats, the assessment indicates that tree-clearing will be avoided during summer roosting periods.
The company says in supporting documentation that the amount of on-site parking is in full compliance with the zoning requirements, and factors in an additional 10 percent of spaces for visitors.
Interrante said at the January meeting that while the interior of the site was largely clear of vegetation, some clearing would be required at the site for construction. The environmental assessment suggests that existing large trees will be retained to the extent possible during construction.
“We also have a landscaping plan that we feel is pretty substantial, specifically on the side of Bluestone Court,” Interrante said. He said SSLI would add landscaping elements for screening and visual enhancement, like an evergreen tree screen for neighboring properties on Bluestone Court.
Sanzi said in an email, “Some neighbors simply don’t want the development to happen, and they have the right to their opinion, but we are doing everything we can to address reasonable concerns that have been brought to us.”
Sanzi also said in correspondence to the Planning Board that Bluestone Commons would “generate a large tax base for the City of Kingston.”
This type of housing is needed, according to county planner
Ten percent of the Bluestone Commons units — or five apartments — must be reserved for low-income tenants by a Kingston city law passed in February.
Interrante said rental rates would be market rate and determined based upon an evaluation of current rates closer to the project’s completion date.
After a review of the site plan application in early March by the Ulster County Planning Board, principal planner Robert Leibowitz wrote a letter to the Kingston Planning Board offering its recommendation for the project. The letter says that the housing needs outlined in the county’s Housing Action Plan, which includes a 2020 Housing Snapshot for the City of Kingston, “clearly indicates the demand for this type of (apartment) housing.”
Interrante said in an email, “Aside from the obvious need for housing in Kingston, this development will provide a new option for renters who are looking for this type of community in a desirable Uptown location.”
SSLI, in a January letter submitted to the Kingston Planning Board in response to public comments expressing concerns about the proposal, wrote that the project is “exactly what the Ulster Counting Planning Department describes every year in its Rental Housing Survey and in affordable housing studies as the type of housing needed as workforce housing, retiree summer abodes, couples or starter-family housing, providing market-rate affordable housing and contributing to the range of housing types available to Kingstonians.”
Where the proposal currently stands
Interrante said that the project construction start date was tentative, pending approvals, but developers would like to start building by early summer 2021 and have the project completed in summer 2022.
Ward 1 Alderman Morell said that he arranged for the neighboring homeowners to meet with the mayor to address their concerns about two months ago, and is encouraging a meeting between the developers and the neighborhood residents to help “find some common ground.”
Morell said, “I’m a firm believer in communication and even though it’s not a requirement, I think developers throughout the city would be well-served and save themselves a lot of extra work along the process if they just did a little bit of outreach and tried to get to know the neighbors before proposing a big project in their backyards.”
The developer is not seeking any tax breaks.
“We are not requesting any tax breaks or PILOT,” said Interrante. “We specifically chose not to make that a condition of the project as we have seen controversy over that sort of thing on other projects. We feel a market rate rental complex should pay market rate taxes.”
At the last Planning Board meeting on March 15, several pending issues were outlined, which board members said would need to be resolved before any decisions were reached on the project. These include a request to the Kingston’s zoning enforcement officer regarding compliance with the city’s definition of “usable open space” and a more thorough review of the traffic study.
“We want to make sure that everybody’s voice is heard with this project, as well as the applicant’s voice,” Kingston Planning Board Chairman Wayne Platte Jr. said at the January meeting.
Public hearings are slated to resume at the next scheduled Planning Board meeting at 6 p.m. on April 19. The public may also speak during the time provided at that meeting; advance registration with the Planning Department office is requested via firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 845-334-3955. Written comments from the public can be sent in via the aforementioned email or sent to/dropped off at Kingston City Hall: 420 Broadway, Kingston, NY 12401.