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Millens Email to Gallo, Council

Millens Email to Gallo, Council

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Published by Daily Freeman
regarding grant application for Hudson Landing promenade in Kingston, NY
regarding grant application for Hudson Landing promenade in Kingston, NY

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Published by: Daily Freeman on Jun 10, 2012
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06/10/2012

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Dear Mayor Gallo and Common Council:
 
I am writing as a City of Kingston resident about an upcoming agenda item for June 5thin regards to the City of Kingston submitting a state Consolidated Funding Application(CFA) - along with the Town of Ulster - for the waterfront promenade at AVR-ownedHudson Landing. I attended the May 15 meeting of Laws and Rules Committee whenthe matter of the City's submission of the CFA proposal was raised and voted on to besubmitted to the Common Council. I found the Committee's handling of the CFA matterto be shocking and disappointing both procedurally and substantively. As such, and forthe reasons outlined below, I strongly urge the Common Council to not support theCFA.
 
1)
Not transparent
: The subject matter of the meeting - to wit the CFA proposal -was not appropriately publicized. There can be no argument. Residents of the City ofKingston had little if any notice that such an important matter was to be discussed bythe Laws and Rules Committee. The manner in which the matter was sent to a voteperpetuates the perception of back-room politics that we as citizens and you as publicofficials should strive to avoid. Where was the transparency? And when a citizenquestioned the notice, he was rebuked, castigated and dismissed by the committeechair Mr. Senor. Such behavior by a city official serves to only further the perception ofa back room deal; especially as AVR property is located in Mr. Senor's Ward.2)
The role of Steve Finkle
: Mr Finkle's role as a lobbyist and advisor to AVR onthis project while concurrently being a consultant to the City of Kingston is troublesome.First, his dual roles had not been made public at the time of the Committee vote(it apparently had been revealed a week later in a Freeman article). Such a situationonly furthers the issues of perception and transparency raised above. Moreover, howcan someone, no matter how ethical, receive payment from and serve two differentorganizations which do not have the same mission and objective? And let's be clear -Kingston and AVR have different objectives. AVR's is to make a profit for its owners;Kingston's is to best serve it's residents. The conflict is blatant. And my understandingis that government should not merely avoid impropriety, but the appearance of it. Atminimum the current situation fails the second prong of the ethical test; in reality it failsboth.
 
3) The CFA put before the Committee was deficient on it's face and it remainsdeficient:
Circular arguments were put forth by those officials present - including theMayor and Mr. Senor - and Mr. Perna and Mr. Finkle, with regard to such criticalquestions as who is maintaining the promenade and how it would be paid for. For the
 
public officials to say not to worry because those matters are required to be in the grantproposal ignores the fact that "who" and "how paid for" are significant aspects of whatshould have been considered in deciding to support the grant proposal. You don't andcan't bootstrap them and say "we will take care of that later"; they need to beconsidered before supporting the proposal, not after. Those issues should not havebeen so easily dismissed or down-played. They needed to be addressed before the theCFA was voted on at the committee level. Moreover, it is my understanding that thosequestions still remain unanswered in the CFA draft. So how can the Council support, letalone vote on, a proposal which is significantly lacking in necessary information? Itcan't and shouldn't.
 
4)
 
The merits
:- The project is not to big to fail. The main argument put forth in support of theCFA at the Committee meeting was that the AVR Hudson Landing project is big andthus we should support it. If that is the best argument, then why is this even adiscussion? And it's an argument that is wholly fallacious and irrational. Such aposition ignores the common-sense realities that projects should be judged on theirmerits not on their size; that bigger isn't necessarily better, and to the contrary, largerprojects should be subject to greater scrutiny because more is at risk as nothing is toobig too fail. A secondary argument was to look at how much AVR has alreadyinvested. That is a similarly inexplicable argument for I am at a loss to understand howthe amount of AVR's investment is in anyway relevant to the project's merits. Theamount does provide relevance in emphasizing what AVR has at stake and whatlengths it might go to in support of the CFA - such as issuing ultimatums to coerce theCity to come to its aid.- Why is the City aiding AVR? AVR is a private developer who made aninvestment and now wants help to sell its units because, as Mr. Perna admitted, theyaren't selling. When did the City become a real estate agent? That is not the City'srole. Will the City step up and order chimes from Woodstock Chimes if they relocate toKingston? Will the City buy food from a new restaurant, order copies from a newprinter? To say the City is responsible for helping sell AVR's Hudson Landing units isludicrous.- Who benefits from the CFA? Why is the City seeking to bear the costs for whatAVR, a private developer, had already committed to - the costs of water and sewersextensions? AVR represented it would bear those costs - and now AVR and the
 
Committee are asking that public monies be used instead. That is a slap in the face toKingston residents and taxpayers who derive no benefit from this project. And howdoes the grant for AVR benefit the City when we have no housing shortage? Andbuilding new houses isn't what draws people to a community ... just ask Orlando andLas Vegas which have thousands of beautiful new homes sitting there empty. Quality oflife factors and jobs are what impact those factors and are what the otherprojects (including the Kingston Rail Trail) address. And these other projectswill be significantly excluded by the AVR proposal. It is blatantly counter to Kingston'sinterests to support the AVR CFA proposal.- AVR doesn't have faith in its own project. If you vote to support this CFA, youmay be using public monies to support a
Promenade to Nowhere
. Mr Perna of AVRadmitted that absent the CFA grant funding of 2.5 million it won't continue with project.What does that say about his faith in the project? If AVR doesn't have faith, then whyshould tax-payers? Further, Mr Perna conceded that even with grant approval, there isno guarantee that the Hudson Landing development will be built. So why throw goodpublic money after bad private money in helping fund a project that is contingent on somany other factors? If the Council supports this CFA you may end up with aPromenade to Nowhere built with public monies. Contrast that with the rail trail andother projects that simply need money and will be done and that directly benefit currentresidents of the City.- Ultimatums are not acceptable. At that May 15 meeting AVR issued its ultimatum,that the City support the CFA proposal or it will terminate the project. Should this typeof behavior be condoned; is it appropriate? This is a blatant maneuver to coerce theCity to support the CFA proposal. Decisions should not be made under suchconditions, as significant areas of concern may be overlooked which seems to havebeen the case here as demonstrated above. Further, as part of it's ultimatum, AVRdemanded that the City not support any other proposals or projects regardless of themerits or need for those projects. On its face that is an absurd position. How and whyis Kingston letting itself be bullied by a developer building a project that isn't necessaryand that doesn't benefit anyone other than itself?
 
If the AVR project stands, it should do so on it's own merits, not propped up by the City.This is not and should not be a referendum on AVR, but on the CFA. However, Mr.Perna, by issuing an ultimatum, has made it an all or nothing decision. And in thatcontext, I vote nothing. The AVR project offers little by way of value to the City andmerely seems another example of rushing to develop, with little thought to theunderlying issues and longer range concerns. I am a businessman who lives and worksin Kingston. I want to see Kingston grow and develop, but not this way, not again. We

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