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I am writing as a City of Kingston resident about an upcoming agenda item for June 5th in 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-owned Hudson Landing. I attended the May 15 meeting of Laws and Rules Committee when the matter of the City's submission of the CFA proposal was raised and voted on to be submitted to the Common Council. I found the Committee's handling of the CFA matter to be shocking and disappointing both procedurally and substantively. As such, and for the reasons outlined below, I strongly urge the Common Council to not support the CFA.
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 of Kingston had little if any notice that such an important matter was to be discussed by the Laws and Rules Committee. The manner in which the matter was sent to a vote perpetuates the perception of back-room politics that we as citizens and you as public officials should strive to avoid. Where was the transparency? And when a citizen questioned the notice, he was rebuked, castigated and dismissed by the committee chair Mr. Senor. Such behavior by a city official serves to only further the perception of a 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 on this 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 situation only furthers the issues of perception and transparency raised above. Moreover, how can someone, no matter how ethical, receive payment from and serve two different organizations 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 understanding is that government should not merely avoid impropriety, but the appearance of it. At minimum the current situation fails the second prong of the ethical test; in reality it fails both.
3) The CFA put before the Committee was deficient on it's face and it remains deficient: Circular arguments were put forth by those officials present - including the Mayor and Mr. Senor - and Mr. Perna and Mr. Finkle, with regard to such critical questions 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 grant proposal ignores the fact that "who" and "how paid for" are significant aspects of what should have been considered in deciding to support the grant proposal. You don't and can't bootstrap them and say "we will take care of that later"; they need to be considered before supporting the proposal, not after. Those issues should not have been so easily dismissed or down-played. They needed to be addressed before the the CFA was voted on at the committee level. Moreover, it is my understanding that those questions still remain unanswered in the CFA draft. So how can the Council support, let alone vote on, a proposal which is significantly lacking in necessary information? It can't and shouldn't.
4) The merits:
- The project is not to big to fail. The main argument put forth in support of the CFA at the Committee meeting was that the AVR Hudson Landing project is big and thus we should support it. If that is the best argument, then why is this even a discussion? And it's an argument that is wholly fallacious and irrational. Such a position ignores the common-sense realities that projects should be judged on their merits not on their size; that bigger isn't necessarily better, and to the contrary, larger projects should be subject to greater scrutiny because more is at risk as nothing is too big too fail. A secondary argument was to look at how much AVR has already invested. That is a similarly inexplicable argument for I am at a loss to understand how the amount of AVR's investment is in anyway relevant to the project's merits. The amount does provide relevance in emphasizing what AVR has at stake and what lengths it might go to in support of the CFA - such as issuing ultimatums to coerce the City to come to its aid.
- Why is the City aiding AVR? AVR is a private developer who made an investment and now wants help to sell its units because, as Mr. Perna admitted, they aren't selling. When did the City become a real estate agent? That is not the City's role. Will the City step up and order chimes from Woodstock Chimes if they relocate to Kingston? Will the City buy food from a new restaurant, order copies from a new printer? To say the City is responsible for helping sell AVR's Hudson Landing units is ludicrous.
- Who benefits from the CFA? Why is the City seeking to bear the costs for what AVR, a private developer, had already committed to - the costs of water and sewers extensions? 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 to Kingston residents and taxpayers who derive no benefit from this project. And how does the grant for AVR benefit the City when we have no housing shortage? And building new houses isn't what draws people to a community ... just ask Orlando and Las Vegas which have thousands of beautiful new homes sitting there empty. Quality of life factors and jobs are what impact those factors and are what the other projects (including the Kingston Rail Trail) address. And these other projects will be significantly excluded by the AVR proposal. It is blatantly counter to Kingston's interests to support the AVR CFA proposal.
- AVR doesn't have faith in its own project. If you vote to support this CFA, you may be using public monies to support a Promenade to Nowhere. Mr Perna of AVR admitted 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 why should tax-payers? Further, Mr Perna conceded that even with grant approval, there is no guarantee that the Hudson Landing development will be built. So why throw good public money after bad private money in helping fund a project that is contingent on so many other factors? If the Council supports this CFA you may end up with a Promenade to Nowhere built with public monies. Contrast that with the rail trail and other projects that simply need money and will be done and that directly benefit current residents 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 type of behavior be condoned; is it appropriate? This is a blatant maneuver to coerce the City to support the CFA proposal. Decisions should not be made under such conditions, as significant areas of concern may be overlooked which seems to have been the case here as demonstrated above. Further, as part of it's ultimatum, AVR demanded that the City not support any other proposals or projects regardless of the merits or need for those projects. On its face that is an absurd position. How and why is Kingston letting itself be bullied by a developer building a project that isn't necessary and 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 that context, I vote nothing. The AVR project offers little by way of value to the City and merely seems another example of rushing to develop, with little thought to the underlying issues and longer range concerns. I am a businessman who lives and works in Kingston. I want to see Kingston grow and develop, but not this way, not again. We
need intelligent growth built on a solid foundation and that is not AVR's Hudson Landing and not this CFA. There are better projects for the City to support and endorse. Moreover, the manner in which this matter is being handled by public officials brings into question the integrity of our local goverment in serving in the interests of its residents. Please vote no to show that you do not support this process and this proposal.
Thank you for considering my input as a resident of Kingston, born and raised here. Neil B. Millens
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