“When you read the negative declaration by the planning board (for the Kingstonian Project), they almost don’t seem to get the gist of that letter from the Office of Parks Recreation & Historic Preservation (OPRHP) relative to why there is an impact on the stockade district.” – Dennis Doyle, UCPB
On February 5, the Ulster County Planning Board reviewed the Kingstonian Group Development LLC zoning map amendment for a second time. According to Ulster County Planning Director Dennis Doyle, the letter was referred back because the city’s request had been submitted to the county during the project’s State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR). With a determination made, the Ulster County Planning Board (UCPB) would take another look including at the new affordable housing provision.
The following is video from the meeting filmed by The Kingston News and brought to you by KingstonCitizenes.org. The blog image captures the required modifications and UCPB advisory comments.
VIEW: Adverse Impact Letter from Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) VIEW: City of Kingston Comprehensive Plan (CP)
2:26 (loosely transcribed) Kingston’s Comprehensive Plan and its affordable housing requirement is for any new or expanding building or development. It wants to abandon the Mixed Use Overlay District (MUOD) in favor of a citywide standard. The UCPB recommends it should be simplified and “a standard set of rules regarding the provision for all multifamily residential applications in the city should be promulgated regardless of location.
5:54 (loosely transcribed) Kingston’s City Zoning Enforcement Officer (CZO) rendered a ruling about whether or not the MUOD permitted new construction and if so, required affordable housing. The statutory language of adaptive reuse would require 20%. ZEO determined that it doesn’t apply. That if new construction is permitted, it does not require affordable housing. Really the city can’t rely on MUOD to provide affordable housing anywhere in the city because of that ruling. That’s a real problematic way to move forward if we are going to let the MUOD continue. The applicant has involuntary offered affordable housing in the project and if you do the math, it’s about 10% of the project.
7:41 (loosely transcribed) County recommendations. Overarching recommendations rest on the City of Kingston’s own planning documents. We find the map amendment to be inconsistent with the purposes of the MUOD and the CP. and therefore, it should not be implemented without clarification of the ability of the District to be used to issue special permits for new construction. Additionally, if such new construction is allowed by special permit, a provision of affordable housing shall also apply.
8:35 (loosely transcribed) Doyle outlines the county’s original recommendations: Option 1, To follow the recommendations of the CP and abandon the MUOD in favor of establishing City-wide affordable housing regulations for all multi-family development, etc. Option 2, To modify the existing MUOD by specifically allowing new construction under the special use section and add the applicability of the affordable housing provision to this use. This is more of a band-aid approach to achieving the goals of the CP for the more limited area of the MUOD. If you are going to amend the map, then you must amend the language in the statute.
9:53 (loosely transcribed) The negative declaration issued by the Kingston Planning Board addresses the issues of whether or not there is a material conflict with adopted plans or goals. The Kingston Planning Board said that they found no conflict. But they do specifically note the 14 affordable housing units is a welcome inclusion. The lead agency determination regarding the zoning petition and its lack of conflict with community plans and goals as officially approved is the critical question before the Common Council and before the County Planning Board. The Common Council is somewhat bound by the lead agency’s determination. But that bounding is in response to the voluntary inclusion of affordable housing as part of the project.
11:15 (loosely transcribed) The neg dec addresses something called community character and historic resources. OPRHP has issued an adverse effect for the project. “The lead agency determination regarding Community Character the zoning petition and its lack of conflict with community plans and goals as officially approved is the critical question before the common council.” When you read the negative declaration by the planning board, they almost don’t seem to get the gist of the letter from the OPRHP relative to why there is an impact on the stockade district….but they never succintinly address the tie in between moving the project elements down slope or cross slope to tie into the schwenk drive commercial area as compared with the traditional ending of that at the Montgomery Ward building or at the top of the hill.
13:16 (loosely transcribed) Required modifications: the place where we are as pertains to affordable housing. ZEO provision says affordable housing is not needed with new construction yet the applicant voluntarily provides it. If that’s the case, then the voluntary provision by the applicant should be enshrined in the city’s planning approvals – as it could be voluntary today and during planning approvals, disappear tomorrow. The UCPB all agreed.
16:47 (loosely transcribed) Advisory comments. As stated previously, the UCPB’s overarching goal was to provide for inclusion of affordable housing. The voluntary provision offered by the developer is offset by the ruling of the ZEO that none is needed. While the board will not require a specific change, the required modification is to ensure that the affordable housing element as offered is not voluntary and is enshrined in the City’s planning approvals in a manner that defines affordability. The UCPB’s advisory comments are to strongly urge the city to abandon the MUOD district and adopt a city-wide solution to affordable housing and its design; Address more fully the adverse effects letter from OPRHP regarding their concerns about district impacts associated with the project tying the historic stockade area to the commercial area along Schwenk Drive as part of any map amendment; Note the need to clarify or include lower Fair Street in the rezoning depending on its ownership/interpretation; Note: the inclusion of a deviated PILOT by the Ulster County IDA in a Neg Dec. No discussion of a PILOT appears in the economic data released to date; Appreciation for the referral by the city to the amendment and inclusion of the affordable housing.
The UCPB said that the rezoning offers the city a clearer recommendation or response to the adverse effect letter. As part of the re-zoning they should look at this, understand and reexamine and clarify the negative declaration in terms of why it’s not an adverse effect in regards to zoning….there are state monies involved here. The state monies will require that they clear up that adverse effect letter otherwise, they’ll run into issues with the state funding. Discussion regarding Fair Street ensued. SHPO calls Fair street historic in some instances.
24:33 (loosely transcribed) On the project being a public/private partnership. We’ve seen a lot of positive economic data put out by the applicant. The negative declaration indicates a deviated PILOT by the UCIDA, meaning that it’s not a standard PILOT under the unified tax exemption policy and we don’t know what it will be. No discussion of the PILOT appears as the economic data released to date. We want transparency here – what the applicant is asking the public to participate in as the project goes forward. The IDA has a matrix, and they are going to propose that the IDA goes outside of the Matrix. In a public/private partnership, you should put everything on the table to fund your garage. The board agreed that it should be included in their comments as it’s in the Neg Dec determination and therefore a part of the SEQR process after discussion.
30:54 (loosely transcribed) Why was this matter sent back to us? Because they completed the SEQR process and we asked that they do so once the SEQR process was done. We asked to resubmit with the affordable housing provision. One of the UCPB members felt the language needed to be stronger. Dennis was concerned about changing the language from before. Public/Private partnerships should be much more up front about what they are asking the public to participate in. So far, we have seen no indication of what the public is being asked to participate in. It’s like traffic or anything else. There should be more transparency as a recommendation.
On January 25th, Kevin Gilfeather announced his retirement as Superintendent of Kingston’s Parks & Recreation Department after 23 ½ years in the position. Just six days later, Mayor Steve Noble, who for many years worked under Gilfeather as one of two environmental educators, submitted the following communication to the President of the Common Council with the hope of getting special business added to its February agenda. It read:
Dear President Shaut,
With the impending retirement of Kevin Gilfeather, Superintendent of Parks and Recreation, I have been working with my staff to develop a long-term plan that supports the continued operations of our incredible parks and programming and identifies opportunities for improvement. As part of this process, I have been in discussion with not only the leadership of Parks and Recreation, but also of the Department of Public Works. While each Department serves critical and unique functions, I believe wholeheartedly that these departments can and should work closer together for the benefit of our community. By collaborating together, we have the opportunity to improve our system so that the services to our community and taxpayers are delivered in an economical, efficient and sustainable manner. I am respectfully requesting that this matter be referred to both the Finance and Laws and Rules Committees. I will be in attendance at both of these meetings to present my proposal and answer any questions the Council may have. Additional documents supporting this proposal will be sent under separate cover, prior to these meetings, so that the Council members may familiarize themselves.
Mayors and citizens alike can submit communications, by letter or email, to the Common Council requesting that it take up a certain issue. From stop signs to Department requests, the Council President will assign the matter to whichever Council Committee she deems appropriate. In Kingston, these communications are made publicly available as hyperlinks in the online agenda for the Council’s regular monthly meeting. This helps the public to anticipate forthcoming issues that may be taken up by the Common Council.
In this case, the Mayor’s communication arrived without any detail as to what he had in mind, only the promise that “additional documents supporting this proposal will be sent under separate cover, prior to these meetings, so that the Council members may familiarize themselves” and a request to be added to both the Finance and Laws & Rules Committee agendas.
Then, late in the afternoon of the following day, the Mayor got more specific in a press release, announcing his plans to “integrate leadership teams” of the Department of Public Works (DPW) and Parks & Recreation Department by creating two new positions and expanding the role of the current Superintendent of DPW. Serving as the new Deputy Superintendent of Environmental Services would be his wife, Julie Noble, who would be “provisionally selected” until she sits for a New York State civil service examination. According to a recentnews article, Julie Noble’s new salary would rise by as much as $23,000. The Mayor’s plan also calls for the creation of a new Recreation Director position, which would be filled by his former Confidential Secretary. (Please see clarification below)
The Mayor’s announcement occurred before the Council knew the details of his proposal. His press release was likely news to most of them, as it was to the public.
The Mayor’s rush to accomplish his desired Department restructuring creates a messy situation for everyone. It might very well jeopardize a possibly sensible idea. Examining its merit is the responsibility of the Common Council, beginning with its Laws & Rules Committee and later, the Finance Committee. According to Kingston’s Charter, reorganizing Departments calls for a local law process.
The most perplexing part of this whole thing is the Mayor’s intention to fill the new positions with a family member and a friend—the very definition of nepotism. The Deputy Superintendent of Environmental Services, a position intended for Julie Noble, would report to the Superintendent of Public Works, who serves at the pleasure of the Mayor without any protections in place for his own job. If he takes issue with the Mayor’s wife down the road, who is more likely to have the Mayor’s ear? Needless to say, this structure creates a conflict of interest and could violate the City of Kingston’s ethics law (see 49-3 Standards of Conduct).
We reached out to Council President Shaut today to ask if the Council had received any more information outside of the posted agenda packet from last evening’s Council meeting on the Mayor’s proposal and whether or not the item would be sent to two Council Committees at once.
“The Mayor has not submitted any more detail to the Council at this time. The Mayor did request the communication to be sent to both the Finance Committee and Laws & Rules Committee for February,” wrote Shaut. “Originally, I did assign it to both Committees for the month; however, after learning more about his request and the fact that it does need to be a local law process, I have determined it would be inappropriate to discuss at Finance before it is vetted by Laws & Rules.”
Shaut also included her response to the Mayor’s communication. “After gathering more information on the specific process that will need to take place with the Council regarding your communication of a collaboration between DPW and Parks & Rec, I am taking off the communication to the Finance & Audit Committee for the month of February. According to our Charter, restructuring departments can only happen through a local law by the Common Council. The appropriate Committee to address your proposal first would be Laws & Rules. The Finance Committee’s decisions will happen only once, and if, the Local Law is shaped.”
The Council President’s clarity in these communications helps to outline the proper process that should be followed.
City government is not a Mayor’s oyster. It belongs to the public, and a good government has a strong system of checks and balances to protect the public interest. In this case, the merging of Departments, the immediate creation and filling of new positions, and the reorganization of current DPW staff should be placed on hold until after the Common Council has had the opportunity to weigh the Mayor’s proposal and hear from the public.
Clarification: Although the executive branch has not provided more detail about plans to restructure the DPW and Parks & Recreation, we have learned in the meantime that Lynsey Timbrouck who would be hired as the Director of Recreation took the civil service exam in 2018, prior to any knowledge of Gilfeather’s plans to retire. On the exam, she scored a 90, making her 2nd on the list.
In June of 2019, after months of the Kingston Planning Board reviewing the Kingstonian project application and well into the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process, the project developers submitted a zoning petition to the Kingston Common Council to request an extension to the current Mixed Used Overlay District (MUOD) and zoning map to include 0.313 acres (approximately 12%) of the Kingstonian project site that lie outside of the MUOD. But as it turned out, the council would need to postpone any discussion or decision-making for this request (and all of its discretionary decision making for the project) until after the SEQR process concluded.
KingstonCitizens.org will deliver its petition requesting that the common council provide a full accounting of Kingstonian public funds before it proceeds and that Ward 5 Alderman Don Tallerman recuse himself of any decision-making given his early public support and conflicts of interest (see our testimony below for more details).
The public is invited to provide testimony that evening of approximately 2-3 minutes in length (the time allotted will be set by the Laws and Rules Committee chairman Jeffrey Ventura-Morell). It is uncertain whether there will be an open public comment period following the public hearing. If you are unable to attend, we recommend that you submit your comments to the council members (listed below) as soon as possible.
If you have any questions about the public hearing, please contact Jeffrey Ventura-Morell directly.
To the members of the Kingston Common Council Laws and Rules Committee from KingstonCitizens.org:
In the summer of 2019, KingstonCitizens.org organized a petition drive that requests that the Common Council uphold the affordable housing mandate of the Mixed Use Overlay (MUOD) and request a full accounting of Kingstonian public funds as was required by the City for earlier development proposals. While the developers have finally incorporated some affordable housing units into their project (but only by expanding an already overscaled development), the total amount of taxpayer dollars that the Kingstonian developers say is required to make the project happen has yet been disclosed.
Beyond the $6.8 million in New York State grants that have been publicly awarded (Downtown Revitalization Initiative, Restore NY, and a separate Empire State Development Corporation grant), the public remains in the dark about the following:
The value of tax breaks to be sought from the Ulster County Industrial Development Association through what is known as a PILOT;
The value of all municipal real estate to be given over to the project, including Fair Street Extension and the city parking lot parcel on North Front Street;
The municipal parking revenue that will be lost once the lot is sold;
The total cost of infrastructure upgrades the City will have to undertake to accommodate a project of this magnitude; and,
Any other public grants, tax credits, or subsidies the developers may be seeking but have not disclosed.
Given the long-term profits that the development team stands to gain with this project, the total public investment to be made to realize this project must be outlined. It is the Common Council’s fiduciary responsibility to determine whether the public benefit is worth the public cost. As the Ulster County Planning Board wrote in its September 4, 2019 letter to the City of Kingstons’ former Common Council President James Noble, “It would be appropriate as part of the public/private partnership that this project represents that the public understand how much of a role they are being asked to play.”
On behalf of KingstonCitizens.org, we present a hard copy of the petition with 240 signatures respectfully requesting that you obtain and disclose the full accounting of all public subsidies to be used for this project as well as a copy of the developers’ pro forma before you consider amending the Mixed Use Overlay District boundaries and any other discretionary approvals for the Kingstonian project.
Additionally, we request that Ward 5 Alderman Don Tallerman, who is a member of the Council’s Laws and Rules Committee, recuse himself from any decision-making pertaining to the Kingstonian project. Not only does he appear in a promotional video on the developer’s website he has also delivered public testimony in favor of the zoning change (while opposing the call for affordable housing for the project and supporting the PILOT its parking garage). His testimonies occurred months after he had already declared his candidacy for the council (Daily Freeman 2/20/19: Kingston Democrats Choose Slate of Candidates for November Election). Because he operates an event venue, the Senate Garage, that is directly across from the project site, he stands to significantly benefit directly financially from the development which represents a conflict of interest.
READ: Kingstonian Zoning Amendment and the Kingston Common Council
READ: Take Action and Written Comments Accepted for Kingstonian Zoning Amendment Through Friday, August 16 (from 2019)
“We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.” – George Bernard Shaw
With the Kingstonian project’s State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) behind us, KingstonCitizens.org is in the midst of creating a detailed timeline of the process to be part of the public record. Doing so has taken us back nearly 20 years to the early 2000s when the Mixed Use Overlay District (MUOD) was created. While digging through the archives, we have come across items like the one below from 2007 when the Kingston Historic Stockade was nominated for and selected by the Preservation League of NYS as one of its “seven to save” preservation campaign.
In addition to mapping the Kingstonian SEQR process, we are creating timelines for ten (10) other controversial campaigns that we were also deeply engaged on, including Niagara Bottling, Water Sales Referendum, Shooting Range/Gun Shop, GlidePath/Lincoln Park Grid Support Center. Each one will be collaborative so that members of the public can include things we may have missed.
LANDMARK STATUS: LOCATED IN A NATIONAL REGISTER HISTORIC DISTRICT.
THREAT: INAPPROPRIATE DEVELOPMENT
“A 12-story condominium project including parking garage and retail spaces is proposed for a site on the boundary of a National Register and local landmark district. The project is completely out of scale with the historic district which includes the Senate House State Historic Site, the first capital of New York State. Advocates are seeking a full environmental impact review, denial of height variances, and formal review role for the project by the local historic district commission. Friends of Historic Kingston, a Preservation Colleague group, joined other nominators to form the Citizens Concerned for Planning Kingston’s Future. The nominators are not opposed to development on the site and are advocating for a building designed in a manner that will not detract from the unique aspects of the Stockade Historic District.
Objectives: Advocates hope to implement the established review process to guide alteration of design for a more appropriately-scaled project.”
What KingstonCitizens.org will be following in 2020
These are our top three items to follow in the new year.
1.Kingstonian project’s discretionary decisions. A project (or action) like the Kingstonian is subject to SEQR when any state or local agency has authority to issue a permit, license, or other type of approval for that action. SEQR also applies if an agency funds or directly undertakes a project, or adopts a resource management plan, rule or policy that affects the environment. It’s only after the SEQR process is complete that involved agencies can move forward with their decision-making. On December 16, the Kingston Planning Board as Lead Agency of the Kingstonian SEQR process made a negative declaration. The developer will likely not waste any time seeking agency approvals.
Key decisions include (please check the agendas attached from the City of Kingston for updates on discussion items or contact Elisa Tinti, City Clerk at (845) 334-3915 or email email@example.com):
Kingston City School Board of Education Approvals: Deviated PILOT review (rumored to be 25 years) Next meeting: Wednesday, January 8 & 22 (details remain unclear) Contact: James Shaugnessy, President at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kingston Zoning Board of Appeals Appeal: Mixed Use Overlay District (MUOD) Interpretation Next meeting: The next meeting is not yet listed on the City of Kingston’s website, though it is typically meet on the second Thursday of the month at 6:00pm. Please contact the board chair for more details. Contact: Tony Argulewicz, Chair at email@example.com
Kingston Planning Board Approvals: Site plan, special use permit, lot line revision Next meeting: The meeting is not listed on the City of Kingston’s website yet, though they typically meet on the third Monday of the month at 6:00pm. Contact: Kyla DeDea, City of Kingston Planning Office at (845) 334-3955 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Kingston Common Council Laws and Rules Committee Approvals: Closing of a city street (Fair St); sale of land or easement conveyance (parking garage): a deviated PILOT agreement (rumored to be 25 years); and zoning amendment (MUOD) Next meeting: Wednesday, January 15 at 6:30pm Contact: Ward 1 Alderman Jeffrey Ventura-Morell, Chair at email@example.com Read: Rezoning Request for Kingstonian Project Slated for January 15.
2. City of Kingston Charter Reform In June of this year, Alderwoman Andrea Shaut who chaired the council’s Laws and Rules Committee in 2019, introduced city charter reform. According to the Department of State’s Division of Local Government Services ‘Revising City Charters in New York State’ it explains, “Why should cities undertake charter revision? There are several reasons, generally stemming from the fact that a charter affects everything the city government does. It provides the basis for most municipal regulatory functions and for the delivery of municipal services. An obsolete charter can be responsible for many municipal problems. lf it contains provisions which are unworkable under current conditions, municipal officials may have to make a difficult choice between being responsible for inferior service delivery or inviting legal challenge for deliberate, albeit well-meaning, deviation from the law. Until such provisions are eliminated, the most competent officials will be unable to carry out their responsibilities both efficiently and legally. Even though a charter may not be so obsolete as to present dilemmas of conscience, revision may well lay the basis for improved governmental operations. A good charter should provide a clear distribution of the powers of city government and clear descriptions of the duties and powers of municipal officials.”
Now, as president of the Common Council, Shaut will be in charge of appointing leadership and membership of all council committees, which includes Laws and Rules. We hope that she, and our council as a whole, will place this matter as a top item to set forth in the coming year (s).
3. City of Kingston Comprehensive Plan Zoning. In his 2018 “State of the City” speech, Mayor Steve Noble said that his “…administration will be focusing on overhauling our Zoning Code. …I will be launching the second stage of the zoning update and will be recruiting local volunteers to delve into such complex subjects as affordable housing, urban agriculture, parking and parking waivers, form-based codes and much more. This work is necessary in order to ensure that our zoning is consistent with our Comprehensive Plan, spurs responsible economic development and preserves our community’s high quality of life.”
Later, in early 2019, he created a Comprehensive Plan Task Force. Over the summer months, the group drafted a “Request for Proposals” (RFP) for a professional planning consultant. The selection committee of the task force is now reviewing the handful of proposals that were submitted. They will make a recommendation to take to the Common Council in early 2020.
2020 promises to be an intense year with a presidential election. But it is at the local level where key decisions are made. Going forward into the new year, we wish for you to remain engaged, inquisitive and fearless.
Attached Image: The proposed Kingstonian in relation to existing building footprints. From Marissa Marvelli’s illustrated guide for understanding architectural appropriateness in the Stockade Historic District.
By Rebecca Martin
Last night the City of Kingston Planning Board voted 5-0 in favor of a negative declaration of significance for the massive Kingstonian project in the Stockade Historic District.
Watch the meeting on Youtube filmed by The Kingston News and brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org
A negative declaration in the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) means that the Planning Board, as the lead agency for the review, sees “no substantial evidence that the project may have a significant effect on the environment.”
As we have reported in the past, there is a prevalent misconception that the “environment” in SEQR pertains only to natural resources when in fact, according to the SEQR Handbook, “The terms ‘archeological’ and ‘historic’ are specifically included in the definition of the ‘environment’ at Part 617.2(l) as physical conditions potentially affected by a project.” The Handbook explains that such resources are: “… also often referred to as cultural resources. These resources may be located above ground, underground or underwater, and have significance in the history, pre-history, architecture or culture of the nation, the state, or local or tribal communities.
The Kingstonian project site features more than one of these resource examples. The site is in an archaeologically-sensitive area; it contains a historic building—the late 19th-century hotel building today the Herzog’s Warehouse; and most of the site lies within the National Register Stockade Historic District. It is also in close proximity to the Senate House State Historic Site.
In his opening statement, Planning Board Chair Wayne Platte—who also serves as the City of Kingston Deputy Fire Chief—cherrypicked from the State Historic Preservation Office’s (SHPO) project feedback submitted in a letter dated September 19, 2019. Specifically, in reference to the visual impacts of the Kingstonian’s “monolithic” structure, he used the letter to reach a bogus determination:
“The applicant has addressed all of those studies to my satisfaction… What rose to the top was the visual and how this project fits in uptown. A reference from the letter from SHPO from September of 2019 says that the new infill garage is generally appropriate. Herzog’s warehouse is a non-contributing structure within the National Register District and new construction appears to be an approximate reconstruction of the historic hotel structure and they recommended that the color scheme be more compatible.”
What was conveniently left out of his remarks is the following, quoted directly from the aforementioned letter from SHPO:
“North Front Street is the traditional district boundary marked by a distinct natural drop-off down toward the Esopus Creek. This natural contour clearly marks the northern boundary of the historic 1658 stockade. The lower portion to the north of the district now contains modern buildings and the shopping plaza further to the north, but the historic boundary remains readily apparent and continues to characterize the district. The new construction would significantly alter the northern district boundary and would be clearly visible from within the historic district.The Montgomery Ward building, now demolished, was the only structure that extended significantly beyond that traditional northern border. The proposed new development is much larger and would extend well beyond the old Montgomery Ward footprint.”
“By the mid-19th century, when the commercial street front was developed, the section of Fair Street extending north from North Front Street was established to access railroad facilities and the lumber yards. This historic street, which allows pedestrian and vehicular access to the district, would be virtually eliminated as part of the proposed development.”
“The historic commercial and residential buildings of the Kingston Stockade are characterized by a variety of materials, styles, and colors. The new construction is monolithic compared with the surrounding district. Though the currently proposed design attempts to reference the historic setting and surrounding architecture, we believe that a much greater effort is warranted for a construction of this scale.”
“In accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, and based on our comments above, we believe that the proposed development will have adverse effects on the Kingston Stockade Historic District. Through our continued consultation, we request that you develop and evaluate modifications to this project that could avoid, minimize, or mitigate the adverse effects.”
Now that the environmental review process is complete, agencies listed in the applicant’s Environmental Assessment Form as having discretionary authority in this project can proceed with their reviews. This includes the Kingston Common Council (sale or lease of land/closing of Fair Street/amending the Mixed Use Overlay District boundaries); Kingston Planning Board (site plan approval and special use permit); Zoning Board of Appeals (area variance); Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (design approval); Ulster County Industrial Development Corporation (a PILOT agreement); and others. Typically speaking, the Planning Board’s negative declaration determination will be factored into these future decisions. Any of the potential environmental factors already reviewed during SEQR may not be reconsidered. Additionally, with a negative declaration, all public funds awarded to this project may now start to flow.
READ: “Planning Board Sees No Potential Impact on Character of Stockade District by Kingstonian Project (with video)”
PETITION: Common Council Must Uphold Affordable Housing, Full Accounting of Kingstonian Public Funds
At last night’s Kingston Planning Board meeting, following a cursory review of updated project renderings that were presented by the Kingstonian development team to presumably satisfy concerns about the visual impact, participants sat mostly in silence while the Board read over a draft of Part 3 of the Environmental Assessment Form (EAF) that had been prepared by Suzanne Cahill, the City’s Planning Director. Part 3 is a process meant to discuss and mitigate actions that were identified in Part 2 as having potential a “moderate to large impact.” It is the last step before the Planning Board, as lead agency in the State Environmental Quality Review process (SEQR), makes a determination of significance for the project—a positive or negative declaration.
At the end of the meeting, the attorney for the developers encouraged the Board to discuss the new visuals that were presented that evening: “…we should probably discuss the Board’s reaction to the visuals that were shown tonight….you can see that there’s no significant visual effect in my opinion, but I’m not the Board and I think we should probably discuss that and Dennis [Larios] can answer any questions that the board may have.” Chuck Polacco, the Board’s Vice Chair, presided over the meeting, filling in for chair Wayne Platt who was absent. After no substantial comments were made, Polacco made a motion to table the decision until Monday, December 16th during their final meeting of the year. He is heard saying to members at the end “by law, you have to wait a week…” to make a determination after completing Part 3.
Following the meeting, it was brought to KingstonCitizens.org’s attention that a man who had arrived late and left early was surveilling a small group of citizens who were observing the proceedings. Video footage provided by The Kingston News indeed captures three separate instances of this individual photographing one section of the mostly empty Council Chambers where the citizens were seated, without their knowing or engaging them. He has since been identified as the local communications specialist for the Kingstonian project.
Such creepy behavior begs the question: Why? Why does this development team, with all the political and financial advantages that they enjoy, feel the need to surveil private citizens who have simply raised questions about the project and process to their representatives in local government? Is this the new norm at City Hall?
Watch the video attached above at 30:11, 43:30 and 46:20 to view each of the incidents.
Video by Clark Richters and brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org.
DAILY FREEMAN “Kingston Planning Board yet to determine whether The Kingstonian will have notable environmental impact”
(In the attached image of the Daily Freeman article by Ariel Zangla, you are able to get a good look at the corner of the room where citizens sat and were photographed)
Since the first renderings of the proposed Kingstonian project were released in late 2017, many citizens have expressed strong concerns about how the unprecedentedly large mixed-use development would impact the character and integrity of the Stockade Historic District. At over 218,000 gross square feet spread across two buildings containing 143 units of housing, a 32-room hotel, 8,000 square feet of retail space and a new pedestrian plaza, all of which is piled on top of a parking garage, the development will dwarf all other buildings in the small district. Numerous of you spoke at hearings and submitted comments requesting that the Kingston Planning Board take a “hard look” at this potential impact with the hope that its adverse effects could be mitigated through the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process. Historic resources and “community character” are included in the definition of “environment” in SEQR.
“Is the proposed action inconsistent with the predominant architectural scale and character?” Without hesitation, the Planning Board unanimously agreed that the development will have little or no impact on the character of the Stockade District.
This question was among the dozens of questions that the Board answered in the course of reviewing Part 2 of the Environmental Assessment Form (EAF) for the SEQR process at their special meeting on November 6. Oddly, the form was completed by the applicant instead of by the lead agency, the Planning Board, as SEQR rules require. By having the applicant do the agency’s homework for them, the Planning Board effectively unburdened themselves of applying critical thought to the questions at hand. Instead, they simply affirmed or tweaked the applicant’s assumptions about their project’s impact—whether the individual impacts will be small or moderate to large.
The aforementioned question regarding character is one of seven raised in section 18 of the Part 2 form which evaluates impacts to community character. The EAF Workbook defines community character as “all the man-made and natural features of the area. It includes the visual character of a town, village, or city, and its visual landscape; but also includes the buildings and structures and their uses, the natural environment, activities, town services, and local policies that are in place. These combine to create a sense of place or character that defines the area. Changes to the type and intensity of land use, housing, public services, aesthetic quality, and to the balance between residential and commercial uses can all change community character. Most proposed actions will result in some change in community character.”
In the Planning Board’s unanimous opinion, none of the resources mentioned above will be impacted by the Kingstonian. How they reached this conclusion without at least defining the existing community character is perplexing. It is like a jury rendering a not guilty verdict without discussing the evidence.
a. The proposed action may replace or eliminate existing facilities, structures, or areas of historic importance to the community. Community character is, in part, influenced by the buildings and structures that exist in a community. Historic structures are especially influential on the character of the built environment. Whenever existing buildings and structures are replaced or removed, the character of the street, neighborhood, district or entire community can change. For example, replacing a traditional three-story main street structure having parking in the rear with a modern concrete block structure having parking the front could significantly change the character of the street. In some communities the character is also influenced by entire blocks, streets, or neighborhoods that may be altered by a project. Removal or replacement can significantly change the function, look, and economics of an area.
Analysis — What specific buildings or structures are to be replaced or eliminated? If so, what is proposed in its place? — Is the new structure of similar scale, siting, design, and function? — Is there a designated historic district impacted? How will that change? — Will the proposed project change the ratio of street width to building height? For example, are narrow streets having buildings set close to the road being replaced by wider streets with buildings having deep front setbacks?
Will there be an impact? If no facilities, structures or areas of historic importance to the community are being replaced or eliminated, then there will be no related impacts. However, many proposed actions will result in some change in community character. There are probably few that will result in no change at all. Examples of actions that may not affect community character include passage of a local law that is not related to land use, or other discretionary actions that require SEQR but that do not result in building or development. Another example may be infill development that is consistent with the style and character of the neighborhood. Check ‘No, or small impact may occur.
Small Impact: A small impact could occur under one or more of these circumstances: — The visual character of the area is changed in a minor way but is generally consistent in the design, placement, size, streetscape, intensity and architecture of the neighborhood or community. — The balance between retail commercial uses and residential uses does not change in a significant way. — The proposed project is a land use that is similar to others that can be found in the neighborhood or area.
Moderate to Large Impact: A moderate to large impact could occur under one or more of these circumstances: — The proposed project moderately or significantly changes the visual character of the area. — The proposed project is of a larger scale than currently exists in the area. — New building design, lot layout, streetscapes, or intensity of use is in sharp contrast to that which exists. — The project introduces a land use that is inconsistent or in sharp contrast with surrounding land uses. — The project introduces odors, lights, noise, or traffic to an area in a way that is different than currently exists.
It was not as if the Planning Board was trying to avoid identifying moderate to large impacts altogether. With relation to construction grading and demolition, stormwater runoff, visual impact on aesthetic resources, and impact on archaeological resources, they appeared comfortable stating that the project may have moderate to large impacts.
By concluding that the Kingstonian will have little or no impact on the character of the district, the Planning Board is essentially saying that buildings of the size, scale, type, density, and architectural style as the Kingstonian already exist in the district. They are also essentially stating that there will be no change to the historic development pattern; that closing a street and altering the natural topography of the the 362-year-old settlement—a key feature of the historic district’s significance—to accommodate a parking garage entrance on Fair Street Extension are inconsequential impacts. It also sets a precedent for future development of this scale in the Stockade Historic District.
Such conclusions are denialist.
They ignore the concerns that were expressed by two preservation agencies: the New York State Historic Preservation Office and Kingston Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC) before it was gutted. (Soon after raising their concerns in March, two members of the HLPC—a licensed architect and myself, a professional preservationist—were removed by Mayor Steve Noble and replaced with less experienced individuals. Two other HLPC members resigned in protest of his action.) They also ignore the many of you who have expressed similar concerns in testimony at meetings and written comments.
By concluding that this development poses little or no impact on the character of the district, the Planning Board has shut down the opportunity to assess, debate, and potentially mitigate it beyond the tiny tweaks to the architecture that the now weakened HLPC may request in its routine review.
After going through the EAF Part 2 form, the Planning Board discussed their calendar of meetings. Board member Robert Jacobsen suggested that they schedule another public hearing on this project at their regularly scheduled meeting on Monday November 18 so that they can show that there are “no backroom deals” as if another hearing is supposed to convince citizens that this has been a transparent and inclusive process. Apparently the developers of the Kingstonian also desire this hearing.
They tentatively scheduled a discussion of the EAF Part 3 on Monday December 2 in which they will decide if the moderate-to-large impacts identified are significant, whether impacts will be avoided or substantially mitigated, and whether or not to require an environmental impact statement.
What can you do? While the Planning Board’s final decision has seemed predetermined from the very beginning of this review process, residents can attend the public hearing on the Kingstonian project at the upcoming Planning Board meeting on November 18 at 6:00pm at Kingston City Hall (Council Chambers). The Planning Board is requesting input as it pertains to the 14 affordable units and the potential environmental impacts, however, according to the agenda, public comment made that evening will not be included in the official record of the review process for this project.
Therefore we suggest that you use this opportunity to let the Planning Board know what you think about their “transparent and inclusive” environmental review process, as this will probably be the final public hearing for the Kingstonian project before the board makes a determination, most likely in December.
2:35 Public comment by Sarah Wenk (Kingston resident), who expressed concerns about the EAF not having been amended to reflect all of the changes.
7:25 Kingstonian development team representative Joe Bonura, Jr. outlines the changes to the Kingstonian project. “We’ve been trying to find ways to include affordable housing from the beginning.”
8:20 Bonura: “We added a story to the building that has only seven units…the other seven units were made out of converting existing units inside.”
12:45 Frank A. Filiciotto, PE, of Creighton Manning discusses traffic studies and impacts.
DOCUMENT: Creighton Manning response to traffic comments for The Kingstonian.
DOCUMENT: Creighton Manning Updated Trip Generation Evaluation for The Kingstonian.
16:49 Kingstonian engineer consultant Dennis Larios on water and sewer impacts.
20:39 Bonura explains that they are making the project sustainable by including efficient toilets, showers and sinks.
21:09 Larios discusses drinking water, water use, visual impact and stormwater.
22:47 Planning Board chair Wayne Platt asks if the board received results from their independent traffic studies consultant.
23:40 Platt: “Even though it’s not a requirement under zoning, how/why did you arrive to include affordable housing into your project?”
Bonura: “…when we were originally asked to look at this project…affordable housing, while important, wasn’t as important as it is now.” “…as we got the architecture to the point where we thought, ‘we’re there’, we came to the epiphany where we realized affordable housing was really important.” “…we are reaching into our pockets to make the affordable units possible.”
30:20 Platt: “Explain the impact of the additional units to the parking garage.”
Bonura: “We are not reserving any more spaces for the new units. There will be 129 parking spots for the project. We foresee the need for people moving into this building not needing as many cars (due to proximity to services)…”
32:30 Bonura provides a unit count: (9) studios, (65) 1-bedrooms, (60) 2-bedrooms, and (10) 3-bedrooms.
33:00 Planning Board member Jacobson asks about the closing of Fair Street.
34:15 Michael Moriello, the attorney for the applicant, argues that the EAF Part 1 does not need to be amended to reflect changes to the project scope.
35:50 Moriello presents a “submittal” to the Planning Board that addresses the site plan and special use permit impacts as per Kingston’s zoning. “Meld themselves with the SEQR issue.”
37:30 Bonura: “Our target market for this building are seniors… Seniors often drive less, use fewer vehicles or don’t have a vehicle at all. …Parking rates will match the City’s.”
42:06 City Planning Director Suzanne Cahill begins reading the EAF Part 2 form line by line to review the applicant’s opinion on individual impacts, whether they will be small or moderate/large.
EAF Part 2 for Kingstonian Project:
1. Impact on Land
a. The proposed action may involve construction on land where depth to water table is less than 3 feet. No/Small impact
b. The proposed action may involve construction on slopes of 15% or greater. Moderate / Large
c. The proposed action may involve construction on land where bedrock is exposed, or generally within 5 feet of existing ground surface. No / Small Impact
d. The proposed action may involve the excavation and removal of more than 1,000 tons of natural material. No / Small impact
e. The proposed action may involve construction that continues for more than one year or in multiple phases. Moderate / Large Impact
f. The proposed action may result in increased erosion, whether from physical disturbance or vegetation removal (including from treatment by herbicides). Small / Moderate
g. The proposed action is, or may be, located within a Coastal Erosion hazard area. No / Small
h. Other impacts: Construction, grading and demolition. The applicant marked: No / Small. The Planning Department disagreed: Moderate / Large
2. Impact on Geological Features
The proposed action may result in the modification or destruction of, or inhibit access to, any unique or unusual land forms on the site. No / Small (Skip)
3. Impacts on Surface Water
a. The proposed action may create a new water body. No / Small
b. The proposed action may result in an increase or decrease of over 10% or more than a 10 acre increase or decrease in the surface area of any body of water. No / Small
c. The proposed action may involve dredging more than 100 cubic yards of material from a wetland or water body. No / Small
d. The proposed action may involve construction within or adjoining a freshwater or tidal wetland, or in the bed or banks of any other water body. No / Small
e. The proposed action may create turbidity in a waterbody, either from upland erosion, runoff or by disturbing bottom sediments. No / Small
f. The proposed action may include construction of one or more intake(s) for withdrawal of water from surface water. No / Small
g. The proposed action may include construction of one or more outfall(s) for discharge of wastewater to surface water(s). No / Small
h. The proposed action may cause soil erosion, or otherwise create a source of stormwater discharge that may lead to siltation or other degradation of receiving water bodies. (Esopus Creek) Applicant: No / Small. Planning Board: Moderate / Large. The applicant’s stormwater study will be appended to the form to allow it to go back to ‘No/Small’ impact.
i. The proposed action may affect the water quality of any water bodies within or downstream of the site of the proposed action. No / Small Impact
j. The proposed action may involve the application of pesticides or herbicides in or around any water body. No / Small Impact
k.The proposed action may require the construction of new, or expansion of existing, wastewater treatment facilities. No / Small
4. Impact on Groundwater
a.The proposed action may require new water supply wells, or create additional demand on supplies from existing water supply wells. Skip
b. Water supply demand from the proposed action may exceed safe and sustainable withdrawal capacity rate of the local supply or aquifer. No / Small
c.The proposed action may allow or result in residential uses in areas without water and sewer services. Skip
d. The proposed action may include or require wastewater discharged to groundwater. Skip
e. The proposed action may result in the construction of water supply wells in locations where groundwater is, or is suspected to be contaminated. Skip
f. The proposed action may require the bulk storage of petroleum or chemical products over ground water or an aquifer. Skip
g. The proposed action may involve the commercial application of pesticides within 100 feet of potable drinking water or irrigation sources. Skip
h. Other impacts Skip
5. Impact on Flooding
a. The proposed action may result in development in a designated floodway. No / Small
b.The proposed action may result in development within a 100 year floodplain. No / Small
c. The proposed action may result in development within a 500 year floodplain. Moderate / Large.
(Continued from above)
d. The proposed action may result in, or require, modification of existing drainage patterns. Applicant: No / Small. Planning Department: Moderate / Large. Project engineer Dennis Larios thinks it’s small. After a vote, Planning Board: No / Small
e. The proposed action may change flood water flows that contribute to flooding. No / Small
f. If there is a dam located on the site of the proposed action, is the dam in need of repair, or upgrade? No / Small
6. Impacts on Air
No / Small (Skip)
7. Impact on Plants and Animals
a. The proposed action may cause reduction in population or loss of individuals of any threatened or endangered species, as listed by New York State or the Federal government, that use the site, or are found on, over, or near the site. No / Small. Attach survey provided to us for flora/fauna.
b. The proposed action may result in a reduction or degradation of any habitat used by any rare, threatened or endangered species, as listed by New York State or the federal government. No / Small
c. The proposed action may cause reduction in population, or loss of individuals, of any species of special concern or conservation need, as listed by New York State or the Federal government, that use the site, or are found on, over, or near the site. No / Small
d. The proposed action may result in a reduction or degradation of any habitat used by any species of special concern and conservation need, as listed by New York State or the Federal government. No / Small
e. The proposed action may diminish the capacity of a registered National Natural Landmark. No / Small
f. The proposed action may result in the removal of, or ground disturbance in, any portion of a designated significant natural community. No / Small
g. The proposed action may substantially interfere with nesting/breeding, foraging, or over-wintering habitat for the predominant species that occupy or use the project site. No / Small
h. The proposed action requires the conversion of more than 10 acres of forest, grassland or any other regionally or locally important habitat. No / Small
i. Proposed action (commercial, industrial or recreational projects, only) involves use of herbicides or pesticides. No / Small
j. Other impacts: wildlife displacement and street trees. Applicant: No / Small. Planning Department says their reports will address it.
8. Impact on Agricultural Resources
No / Small(Skip)
9. Impact on Aesthetic Resources
The land use of the proposed action are obviously different from, or are in sharp contrast to, current land use patterns between the proposed project and a scenic or aesthetic resource.
a. Proposed action may be visible from any officially designated federal, state, or local scenic or aesthetic resource. (Senate House and the Stockade Historic District) Moderate / Large
b. The proposed action may result in the obstruction, elimination or significant screening of one or more officially designated scenic views. Applicant: No / Small. Planning Department: Moderate / large. Larios: “What is an officially designated view? We are obstructing the view coming down Wall Street to the foothills, but nothing designated. ” Planning Board: No / Small
c. The proposed action may be visible from publicly accessible vantage points: i. Seasonally (e.g., screened by summer foliage, but visible during other seasons) ii. Year round Moderate / Large
d. The situation or activity in which viewers are engaged while viewing the proposed action is: i. Routine travel by residents, including travel to and from work ii. Recreational or tourism based activities. No / Small
e. The proposed action may cause a diminishment of the public enjoyment and appreciation of the designated aesthetic resource. No / Small
f. There are similar projects visible within the following distance of the proposed project: 0-1/2 mile 1⁄2 -3 mile 3-5 mile 5+ mile. No / Small
g. Other impacts: Visual context of the historic district. Moderate / Large
10. Impact on Historic and Archeological Resources
The proposed action may occur in or adjacent to a historic or archaeological resource. (Part 1. E.3.e, f. and g.)
a. The proposed action may occur wholly or partially within, or substantially contiguous to, any buildings, archaeological site or district which is listed on the National or State Register of Historical Places, or that has been determined by the Commissioner of the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to be eligible for listing on the State Register of Historic Places. Moderate / Large
b. The proposed action may occur wholly or partially within, or substantially contiguous to, an area designated as sensitive for archaeological sites on the NY State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) archaeological site inventory. Moderate / Large
c. The proposed action may occur wholly or partially within, or substantially contiguous to, an archaeological site not included on the NY SHPO inventory. Applicant: No / Small. Planning Department: Moderate / Large with archaeologist Joe Diamond’s report attached. “He will be on site during excavation. There’s been some Native American activity.” Larios: “But that’s all of Ulster County.” Planning Board: No / Small
e. If any of the above (a-d) are answered “Moderate to large impact may occur”, continue with the following questions to help support conclusions in Part 3:
The proposed action may result in the destruction or alteration of all or part of the site or property. Moderate / Large
The proposed action may result in the alteration of the property’s setting or integrity. Moderate / Large
The proposed action may result in the introduction of visual elements which are out of character with the site or property, or may alter its setting. Moderate / Large
11. Impact on Open Space and Recreation
No / Small(Skip)
12. Impact on Critical Environmental Areas
The proposed action may be located within or adjacent to a critical NO YES environmental area (CEA). (See Part 1. E.3.d)
No / Small (Skip)
13. Impact on Transportation
The proposed action may result in a change to existing transportation systems. (See Part 1. D.2.j)
a. Projected traffic increase may exceed capacity of existing road network. No / Small
b. The proposed action may result in the construction of paved parking area for 500 or more vehicles. No / Small
d. The proposed action will degrade existing pedestrian or bicycle accommodations. No / Small
e. The proposed action may alter the present pattern of movement of people or goods. Moderate / Large
f. Other impacts: Closing off Fair Street Extension Moderate / Large. The Planning Department states that they will attach the Creighton Manning and HVAA reports.
14. Impact on Energy
The proposed action may cause an increase in the use of any form of energy. (See Part 1. D.2.k)
a. The proposed action will require a new, or an upgrade to an existing, substation. No / Small
b. The proposed action will require the creation or extension of an energy transmission or supply system to serve more than 50 single or two-family residences or to serve a commercial or industrial use. No / Small
c. The proposed action may utilize more than 2,500 MW hrs per year of electricity. No / Small
d. The proposed action may involve heating and/or cooling of more than 100,000 square feet of building area when completed. No / Small.
15. Impact on Noise, Odor, and Light
The proposed action may result in an increase in noise, odors, or outdoor lighting.
a. The proposed action may produce sound above noise levels established by local regulation. Applicant: No / Small. Planning Department: Moderate/Large, though temporary due to construction. “They’ll need a noise permit from the city as a routine measure.” Planning Board: No / Small.
b. The proposed action may result in blasting within 1,500 feet of any residence, hospital, school, licensed day care center, or nursing home. No / Small
c. The proposed action may result in routine odors for more than one hour per day. No / Small
d. The proposed action may result in light shining onto adjoining properties. No / Small
e. The proposed action may result in lighting creating sky-glow brighter than existing area conditions. No / Small
16. Impact on Human Health
The proposed action may have an impact on human health from exposure.
No / Small. “Attach asbestos work report that it has been removed from the Herzog Building.” Moriello asked about digging up solid or hazardous waste. Larios: “Only old footings from Montgomery Ward, old Parking Garage and Herzogbuilding.”
17. Consistency with Community Plans
The proposed action is not consistent with adopted land use plans.
a. The proposed action’s land use components may be different from, or in sharp contrast to, current surrounding land use pattern(s). No / Small.
b. The proposed action will cause the permanent population of the city, town or village in which the project is located to grow by more than 5%. No / Small
c. The proposed action is inconsistent with local land use plans or zoning regulations. No / Small
d. The proposed action is inconsistent with any County plans, or other regional land use plans. No / Small
e. The proposed action may cause a change in the density of development that is not supported by existing infrastructure or is distant from existing infrastructure. No / Small
f. The proposed action is located in an area characterized by low density development that will require new or expanded public infrastructure. No / Small
g. The proposed action may induce secondary development impacts (e.g., residential or commercial development not included in the proposed action). No / Small
h. Other: The proposed action requires a zoning change for this site. No / Small
18. Consistency with Community Character
No / Small (Skip)
37:18 The Planning Board discusses a public hearing on the proposed changes to the application. “I think we’ve been open with all of our meetings with the community, we haven’t hid or had any back room meetings. I think in transparency, one more meeting, I’m fine with…and the record is what it is” Board Member Jacobson.
42:20 The Planning Board tables both Kingstonian items. Sets a public hearing for November 18th. Another special meeting is discussed for December 2nd.
There will be an opportunity for the public to speak at the top of the meeting for any planning related topic. In the Planning Board’s agenda, the public is reminded that the Kingstonian is not listed as a public hearing.
This event will be filmed by The Kingston News and is brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org.
It is incumbent upon the Planning Board to conduct a thorough State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) on the Kingstonian application. The review must encompass the actual size and scope of the project as currently proposed.
The Environmental Assessment Form (EAF) Part 1, prepared nearly a year ago in November 2018 by the applicant, describes a project that differs considerably from the project now before the Planning Board. Because the project has grown in scope and scale, the impacts are not accurately calculated in the EAF Part 1. The Planning Board must require the applicant to amend the EAF to reflect the project in its current iteration.
An EAF is “a form used by an agency to assist in determining the environmental significance or nonsignificance of actions. A properly completed EAF must contain enough information to describe the proposed action, its location, its purpose and its potential impacts on the environment.” 6 NYCRR 617.2(m)
The applicant’s 2018 EAF states that the project will include 129 residential units. The latest announcement by the City touted 143 units. The EAF lists water use, energy use, wastewater output and solid waste output, which were presumably calculated based on the number of residential units. All of those figures must be revised to reflect the impacts of the current project proposal.
Further, the EAF does not accurately account for the new bulk of the project, which is essential to assessing its impacts on the visual environment, historic resources, and community character. The old EAF states that the largest building in the project will be 48 feet tall. The elevations submitted in August 2019 show the project to be six storiesor at least 60 feet tall. The changes announced in October would add an additional story, bringing the total to at least 70 feet (see the image above).
Accurate statistics about the size and bulk of the building are essential for the Planning Board to determine whether it has the potential to create a significant adverse impact within its architectural context. SEQR regulations specifically call for an assessment of these types of impacts, including: “(iv) the creation of a material conflict with a community’s current plans or goals as officially approved or adopted; (v) the impairment of the character or quality of important historical, archeological, architectural, or aesthetic resources or of existing community or neighborhood character;” 6 NYCRR 617.7(c)(1)(iv-v) (emphasis added).
It has also come to light that the project will require one or more approvals that were not originally projected. In particular, the applicant has applied to the Common Council for a zoning amendment to extend the Mixed Use Overlay District to cover part of the project area. The zoning amendment is not listed among the necessary agency actions on the EAF.
Failure to account for all components of the project can lead to illegal segmentation of the SEQR review. Failure to account for all impacts of the project risks producing a determination of significance that disables the relevant boards and commissions from addressing certain concerns in their subsequent reviews.
In sum, the lead agency must determine the significance of the proposed action based on a full and properly completed EAF. Given changes in the project and the failure to address the zoning change in the current EAF, the Planning Board does not currently have a full and complete EAF for the project as currently proposed.
KingstonCitizens.org appreciates the developer’s recent inclusion of affordable housing. However, the increased building height in the revised plan only exacerbates the project’s adverse effects on what is an extraordinarily important historic district—for its history, its architecture, and as an economic driver. The State Historic Preservation Office has articulated strong concerns about these impacts.
It is therefore even more important to complete a thorough and proper SEQR review. Once the EAF is revised to reflect the project in its current iteration, the Board must issue a Positive Declaration so that they can study—along with the community—potential mitigation of the significant adverse environmental impacts.
READ: “Sign the Petition: Kingston Common Council must uphold its affordable housing mandate and provide constituents with a full accounting of Kingstonian public funds”
READ: “The Kingstonian to be Jointly Reviewed Tonight; State Preservation Office Finds ‘Adverse Effects’ in its Evaluation of the Project; Confusion about Historic District Boundaries”
READ: “SEQR Process for Kingstonian Project Possibly to be ‘Segmented’”
Standing in Kingston’s City Hall Common Council Chambers on September 24th, John Tuey, the City’s Comptroller, offered the roomful of citizens a general analysis of what a budget is and what it does. This was the annual community budget forum – an initiative of the Noble Administration. The City’s Comptroller is appointed by the Common Council but works with the Mayor on developing the budget. After the forum, it was still unclear what the 2020 proposed budget contained.
Mayor Steve Noble then presented his proposed 2020 budget on October 17th. The budget was available online the next day. In his presentation, the Mayor primarily discussed what a budget generally does and offered basically a campaign speech about budgetary achievements of the past. He outlined to the Common Council in a letter his highlights of the 2020 Recommended Budget: a 0% tax increase; the tax levy remains at about $17.65 million for the fifth year in a row; 0% increase in sewer rates; no layoffs; 12 full-time positions added or expanded including a full-time bilingual Clerk, a full-time Director of Arts & Cultural Affairs, three positions at DPW including a Tree Maintenance Technician; major infrastructure projects to be completed or underway in 2020; and a Low Fiscal Stress Score (6.7 out of 100). In the budget, the Mayor also proposed Wi-Fi in the Kingston parks, essential DPW equipment, a new fire engine, and a skatepark at Hasbrouck Park, among other things. But the presentation wasn’t a line-by-line read of the 178-page budget document… thankfully.
The line-by-line read began on October 28th at 6:30p when the Kingston Common Council’s Finance Committee held the first of several public meetings that week to discuss the budget and ask questions of departments such as the Kingston Police Department, the Department of Public Works, the Kingston Fire Department, and the Parks & Rec Department. But at 6p that night, before those discussions began, the Common Council held a public hearing on the proposed budget. Not surprisingly, only five people attended. Of those, only two spoke: the DiFalcos, a political-hopeful power couple. Ellen DiFalco is running for Mayor on the Republican and Independence Party lines. Joe DiFalco is running for Ward 3 Alderman on the Republican and Independence Party lines.
The Common Council’s public hearing on the Mayor’s budget proposal was originally scheduled for Thursday, October 24th – the same night as the final Mayoral debate. It was then rescheduled for Monday, October 28th. The public notice in the paper was incorrect. The notification on the City’s website initially didn’t mention what the hearing was on, and the agenda for it was blank. When I asked the Council members about that, I was told that the hearing was on the budget, as the agenda indicated. And when I pointed out that the agenda was blank, I was told that was because it was an open public hearing.
Here in Kingston, we have ample opportunity for public engagement busy work: surveys that don’t allow for comments and don’t relate to the topic specifically; participatory workshops and charrettes with facilitators who don’t buy into it and where the public feedback is never seen or discussed again; local committees whose feedback is used to simply justify an outcome that’s been predetermined by top-down leadership; and public hearings which happen before all the information on something is revealed.
How many people really know how to read a budget?
To make a truly informed comment during the Kingston Common Council’s public hearing on the Mayor’s proposed 2020 budget, prior to those more detailed discussions which will continue at the Council’s Finance Committee throughout the month of November, a member of the public would need to be skilled in reading a budget, knowledgeable about previous city budgets, and able to anticipate the future discussions, the Council members’ questions, and the forthcoming answers that will be happening throughout the Council’s public budget review process. In short, they’re asking the public to achieve an unattainable level of understanding for a layperson and a measure of potentially supernatural foresight.
In my experience following the civic issues of Kingston, I have noticed that the citizens of Kingston have a diversity of experience, knowledge base, and interests which, when they can participate in the public discourse in a meaningful way, result in informed and intelligent discussions which can sometimes be challenging but also offer outside perspectives and considerations that can broaden the understanding of an insular group, like elected officials at City Hall.
Perhaps the public hearing on Monday was meant to get a sense of the concerns and needs of the Council’s constituents. Something that could be achieved in Ward meetings, and calls for constituents to reach out directly to their alderperson.
The Council should hold a second public hearing on the budget after their in-depth public discussions, so that they can benefit from the input of a fully informed public. And if they prefer to hold only one public hearing on the budget, in the future that should happen after the Finance Committee’s discussions of the budget so the public can be as informed about the proposal as the Council itself is.
What is the true purpose of the public hearing on the proposed budget? And if the true purpose of the public hearing on the budget is to hear from an engaged, informed public, then how does the current process support that?
As it stands, the Council’s public hearing process on the budget is like so many other processes we see in Kingston government: backwards – requiring that the lay citizens of Kingston have an expertise that many of the City officials and staff themselves may not have. If the Council was seeking to simply check a box that they allowed the public an input period where they could feel heard, then that was achieved on Monday. But if they’re seeking to actually hear from the public, then the public needs to be at least as informed about the proposal as the Council is itself. And that will only come after the public discussions in the Finance Committee.
The Council should reconsider this (perhaps historically so) flawed process and update it to be truly transparent and inclusive of the informed civic engagement that the citizens of Kingston have proven time and again they will participate in.
The Kingston Common Council’s Finance Committee will meet again at City Hall, 420 Broadway, on November 4th at 6:30p to discuss the Kingston Fire Department and Building Safety Budget, on November 6th at 6:30p to discuss the Parks & Rec budget, on November 18th at 6:30p to discuss the City Hall budget, and on November 25th at 6:30p to wrap up budget discussions before the December 3rd vote.
Hillary Harvey is a journalist who hosts, The Source on Radio Kingston, a civic issues show focused on hyper local news and politics to inform civic engagement. An audio version of this editorial aired on November 1st and is available on the archive at RadioKingston.org (linked above).
TONIGHT: During public comment at tonight’s Ulster County Legislative meeting, request that county legislators immediately censure any county offical when in violation of county sexual harassment policies.
Tuesday, October 15th @ 7:00pm County Office Building 6th Floor 244 Fair Street Kingston, NY 12401
On Friday October 4th, Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan (D) called on the legislature to publicly condemn Legislator Hector Rodriguez (D), who has been credibly accused of sexually harassing as many as eight women according to an independent investigation.
“Clearly, these actions, had they involved any member of my own administration, would lead to a summary dismissal. Legislator Rodriguez violated the public trust, violated women, and is unfit for public service.”
In summarizing the testimony of the women, the investigator found that “Mr. Rodriguez exploited his position as a legislator to gain access to multiple women in an effort to proposition them and ‘hit on them’.” When the women declined his advances he retaliated by refusing to interact with them professionally. At least two of the women directly confronted Legislator Rodriguez about his sexually harassing behavior and one woman stated that he “forcibly kissed her.” Additionally, while working at the Golden Hill Nursing Home, Legislator Rodriguez received a written warning in 2014 asking him to cease making sexual advances after an employee reported that he engaged in unwanted physical contact and made her feel “uncomfortable.”
While individual legislators have condemned his behavior, the legislature itself has not issued a collective statement acknowledging the wrongdoing and upholding a commitment to zero tolerance. There have been discussions at censuring Legislator Rodriguez at tonight’s meeting at 7pm, though not all members of the caucus support censure.
Censure holds no professional repercussions beyond what Rodriguez has already revealed, but it has significant meaning to the victims and the public-at-large to know that sexual harassment will not be tolerated in Ulster County government.
We write regarding the zoning amendment request for the Kingstonian project. The Ulster County Planning Board has reviewed the proposed amendment and has determined that, as presented, it is inconsistent with the City’s zoning and Comprehensive Plan. If the amendment is to be adopted, the County has required changes, particularly the inclusion of affordable housing. We urge the Council to make the changes the County requires. Affordable housing is a critical need in Kingston, and there is no reason that a project receiving substantial public subsidies should escape the responsibility to supply affordable units.
Ulster County and the City of Kingston have an affordable housing crisis, with 55% of residents county-wide spending over 30% of their income on rent. When the City adopted the Mixed Use Overlay District in 2005, it called for 20% affordable units per project. Kingston’s 2025 Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2016, took the mission city-wide, calling for affordable units in all new residential developments throughout the city. Kingston is the only city in the Mid-Hudson region currently pursuing coverage under New York State’s new rent control laws to rein in its spiraling housing costs.
Applying the City’s affordable housing requirements to the proposed 131-unit Kingstonian project would bring much needed affordable units to Kingston families. In contrast, allowing construction of a luxury housing development with no affordable units would only worsen the housing crisis by further gentrifying Uptown and Kingston overall.
If the Common Council has determined that every developer in the city should provide affordable units at their own expense, then the heavily-subsidized Kingstonian project cannot be excused from providing the same.
The Ulster County Planning Board warned in its letter that “it is disquieting that there is little disclosure of the public investment needed to bring the project to fruition.”
The community is aware of at least $6.8 million in taxpayer-funded grants:
* $3.8 million from Governor Cuomo’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI);
* $2 million has been granted by the Empire State Development Corp;
* A $1 million Restore NY Grant.
Here’s what our community remains in the dark about:
* The value of tax breaks through the Ulster County IDA, which may excuse the developer from paying sales and mortgage taxes, as well as portions of its city, county and school taxes;
* Thevalue of all municipal real estate that will be contributed to the project, including Fair Street Extension, which will be eliminated, and the city parking lot parcel on North Front Street;
* The municipal parking revenue that will be lost once the public lot is sold.
* The cost of any infrastructure upgrades the City will undertake to accommodate the project.
* Any other public grants, tax credits, or subsidies the Kingstonian is seeking.
Therefore, we make two requests of the Common Council:
1. Do not amend the zoning map without also making the changes to the text of the zoning that the County requires. In particular, clarify that new multi-family housing must include affordable units.
2. Step up to your fiduciary responsibilities and provide the community with a full accounting of the public subsidies expected by the Kingstonian project. Ensure that all decisions requiring Common Council approval, including discretionary approvals and funding awards, have been identified and included in the SEQRA review.
Tonight, the City of Kingston Water Superintendent Judith Hansen gave a thorough presentation to explain the phases and costs of the Cooper Lake Dam Project. We were pleased to learn that the city is in contact with the Town of Woodstock (an important partner where Kingston’s water supply is located) and also, that the worst case scenario for water rate increases is only approximately $79.81 PER YEAR for average users and $37.42 PER YEAR for minimum user. That’s a couple tanks of gas per year for a once in a century drinking water infrastructure investment.
Kingston is fortunate to have the drinking water supply that it does. It is some of the best drinking water in the state (if not the world).
“Most people pay $200 per month for cable ($2,400 per year), Natural Gas / Oil ($1,700 year per year) Cell Phones @ $100 per month ($1,200 per year), Electricity ($1,100 per year). The Kingston Water Department is asking residents to pay less than $500 per year for something that they can’t live without” said Water Superintendent Judith Hansen.
Still, for most on a tight budget any increase can create a hardship. A Home Water Assistance Program like the one that the New York City Department of Environmental Protection offers, “…is an initiative to make water and sewer bills more affordable for low-income homeowners.” A similar bill is making its way through NYS currently which is good news for everyone.
In the meantime, thanks to the Kingston Water Department and Board for their hard work and efforts.
Filmed by The Kingston News and brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org.
Overview of Kingston Water system 1:46 – 8:26
Cooper Lake Dam: Project Drivers, Project Goals and Elements, Dam Rehabilitation Site Plan (Main Dam, West Dike), Construction Stating and Cofferdam, Cooper Lake (1957 Drought, Temporary Construction Level, Historial Elevation), Ashokan Reservoir Connection, Temporary Ashokan Reservoir Connection, Completed/Ongoing Permitting Items, Project Phasing, Engineers Opinion of Probable Construction Cost, 8:40 – 35:20
Ward 2 Alderman Doug Koop (Chair, Finance Committee) “How are we going to pay all of this?” 35:25 – 35:37
Town of Woodstock Supervisor has been contacted. A presentation is being planned to occur at their community center. 35:38 – 36:40
Financial Implications 36:44 – 51:30
* Town of Ulster (ToU) purchases 700,000 GPD. ToU can make their own water. The city could ask that the ToU use their own supply, and send us 300,000 back.
* Purchasing raw water from the Ashokan Reservoir current rate is $1,800 per million gallons.
* The Dam project will cost an estimated $12 million (+ or -).
* 2019 Water Department budget is $4.8 million, most from the sale of water (94%). Every $45k in spending creates a 1% increase in rates.
* $250k per year are taxes paid out to the Town of Woodstock.
* There are not grants available to fix dams. Phase 1 and 2 fortunately (totaling $7m of the $12m required) is for drinking water supply work. There is funding available for that portion via WIIA and DWSRF.
* If the city were to bond the full $12m (which is unlikely) @ 3.5% for 20 years would create a 19% increase in water sales. The would mean that the average family user increase is $79.81 per year. The minimum bill payer increase of $37.42 per year.
Putting it into perspective. 51:34 – 52:31
“Most people pay $200 per month for cable ($2,400 per year), Natural Gas / Oil ($1,700 year per year) Cell Phones @ $100 per month ($1,200 per year), Electricity ($1,100 per year). The Kingston Water Department is asking residents to pay less than $500 per year for something that they can’t live without.” – Water Superintendent Judith Hansen
Town of Ulster Supervisor Jim Quigley 52:38 – 54:01
“Any consideration for financial impacts of users using less water to save money?”
On September 26th, a joint meeting was held between the Kingston Planning Board, Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC) and the Heritage Area Commission (HAC) to review a new design presented by the Kingstonian project’s architect Mackenzie Architects from Burlington, Vermont. The new design was triggered by a letter submitted by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) on September 19th stating that their current project design would indeed have “adverse effects to the Kingston Stockade Historic District.” It’s what historic preservation advocates had been saying from the start and why, in part, they had advocated for a positive declaration in SEQR. As you may recall, all that is required for a positive declaration (Pos Dec) for a Type 1 action in the State Environmental Quality Review process (SEQR) is for there to be a single potentialadverse environmental impact. SHPO’s letter is confirmation of at least that.
In what typically takes months to address, the architect created a new design in a week’s time (between SHPO’s letter on 9/19 and the special joint meeting on the 9/26), comparing his ongoing process to Beethovan (video #1 starts at 16:46).
The Kingston Planning Board ultimately tabled the discussion. The HLPC also moved to table further consideration. The HAC did not have a quorum so did not vote.
I presume that the architects new design will be submitted to SHPO with comments from the meeting for further comment. The planning board agreed to set a special meeting in October.
The next planning board meeting is scheduled to occur on Monday, October 21 at 6:00pm. Currently, their agenda lists no detail.
The following video is a document of their discussion. Public comment takes place at the top of Video #1.
The meeting was filmed by The Kingston News brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org.
This evening members of the City of Kingston Planning Board, Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC), and the Heritage Area Commission (HAC) will convene for a joint meeting to discuss the visual impact analysis and other architectural drawings that were prepared for the proposed Kingstonian development by the applicant’s architect. It is one of nine consultant reports submitted in July as part of the project’s State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR). These reports are meant to help inform the Planning Board, the lead agency, as it completes Parts 2 and 3 of the Environmental Assessment Form (EAF), which assesses a project’s potential impacts, including those on historic, archaeological, architectural, or aesthetic resources. Although the applicant’s attorney volunteered to fill out the forms during the last Planning Board meeting on September 11th, completing these forms is the responsibility of the lead agency; the applicant cannot be its own critic.
Marissa Marvelli, a historic preservation consultant and a former member of the HLPC, has prepared an illustrated guide for evaluating new construction in the Stockade Historic District. It is meant to complement the questions asked in the EAF Part 2. While her guide does not attempt to prescribe design solutions as that is the responsibility of the project’s architect, it does call attention to the special qualities, features, and significance of the district. The guide is viewable at the bottom of this post.
Understanding Impacts on Historic, Archaeological, Architectural, and Aesthetic Resources
The following questions come directly from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation’s SEQR Workbook, which is meant to assist the lead agency in completing a Part 2 EAF. They pertain specifically to impacts on historic, archaeological, architectural, and/or aesthetic resources:
Does the proposed project contain, or does it adjoin a structure listed on the national or state register of historic places, or a structure that has been determined by the Commissioner of OPRHP to be eligible for listing on the State Register of Historic Places? (The Kingstonian project site does not contain such a structure.)
Is the proposed project located in a national, state, or local historic district, or one that has been determined by the Commissioner of OPRHP to be eligible for listing on the State Register of Historic Places? (The Stockade Historic District is a designated local district. It is also listed on the National and State Registers.)
Does the community have a local survey, inventory, or list of important historic, architectural, or aesthetic resources, and are there any resources recorded on or near the project site? (Yes, the Senate House & Grounds to name one important one.)
Is the proposed project located in an archaeologically sensitive area? (Yes.)
If the project site is located in such an area, additional information may need to be collected to see if there are any resources in or near the specific location that may be impacted.
Are there historic or archaeological resources on the property or nearby?
Has an archeological survey been done to confirm if the project site has any such resources? (Only a Phase 1a survey has been completed so far. Consulting archaeologist Joseph Diamond has recommended a Phase 1b.)
Will the proposed project directly or indirectly affect them? How? (A Phase 1b survey would reveal potential impacts.)
Is the proposed project located in a scenic overlay district, scenic byway, or scenic area of state significance? (No.)
Is there a specific architectural style that identifies the community or neighborhood? For example, most buildings may be predominantly of colonial architecture, or perhaps all the buildings in the neighborhood are constructed of red brick. (Yes, the immediate blocks are predominantly 19th-century brick commercial buildings. The district boasts the largest assemblage of 18th and early 19th century stone buildings in New York.)
Will the project block important scenic views, or change the aesthetic character of an area? (Yes, the project’s scale and massing break drastically with the pattern of the district and the development would close a historic street to create an open plaza, which has no precedent in the district. It also proposes to drastically alter the topography, which is important to the district’s history and significance.)
According to the EAF Part 2 Workbook, in considering impacts, the agency must decide if that impact will be small or moderate to large. This decision should be based on the magnitude of the potential impact. Magnitude is not just the physical size of the project in feet or acres. Magnitude also considers the scale and context of a proposed project, and severity of that project’s impact. The Workbook gives guidance on assessing impact according to each environmental topic, including historic and archaeological resources.
A small impact could occur if:
There is no historic or archaeological resource on the site, but there may be a small impact to community character because of concerns over consistency with existing architectural and aesthetic resources.
There are historic or archaeological resources on the site, but the project design is such that no disturbances or major changes to historic structures will occur. For example, the location where archaeological resources exist will be avoided, or the historic structure on the property will be maintained and restored.
Minor disturbances to the resources will occur or minor changes to the aesthetic or scenic quality of the area but these do not destroy the historic resource or drastically change the character of the area.
Work at a location that is locally designated and historic preservation permits are issued that indicate identified work as being in compliance with relevant local historic preservation code.
Moderate to large impacts may occur if:
Historic structures are planned to be demolished or relocated as part of the development plan.
Historic structures are to be remodeled in a way that destroys or damages its historic value.
The project introduces an architectural design that is not consistent with a designated historic district, or a district that has been determined eligible for listing on the State Register, and that is not consistent with the long-term vision the community has for its aesthetic character as identified in an adopted comprehensive plan.
The project changes the character or view of important aesthetic resources.
SHPO Believes Project Will Have ‘Adverse Effects’ on the Historic District
In a September 19th letter to the Kingstonian applicant, the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) provided its comments on the project after its review of the materials. The comments are part of a consultation mandated by Section 14.09 of the New York Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Law. It is required for projects that are funded, licensed or approved by state or federal agencies.
The letter describes the agency’s concerns:
North Front Street is the traditional district boundary marked by a distinct natural drop-off down toward the Esopus Creek. This natural contour clearly marks the northern boundary of the historic 1658 stockade. The lower portion to the north of the district now contains modern buildings and the shopping plaza further to the north, but the historic boundary remains readily apparent and continues to characterize the district. The new construction would significantly alter the northern district boundary and would be clearly visible from within the historic district. The Montgomery Ward building, now demolished, was the only structure that extended significantly beyond that traditional northern border. The proposed new development is much larger and would extend well beyond the old Montgomery Ward footprint.
By the mid-19th century, when the commercial street front was developed, the section of Fair Street extending north from North Front Street was established to access railroad facilities and the lumber yards. This historic street, which allows pedestrian and vehicular access to the district, would be virtually eliminated as part of the proposed development.
The historic commercial and residential buildings of the Kingston Stockade are characterized by a variety of materials, styles, and colors. The new construction is monolithic compared with the surrounding district. Though the currently proposed design attempts to reference the historic setting and surrounding architecture, we believe that a much greater effort is warranted for a construction of this scale.
SHPO’s comments provided under Section 14.09 are not advisory. The applicant must consult with agency staff to find acceptable solutions for avoiding, mitigating, or minimizing any adverse effects identified.
Confusion About the Boundaries of the Stockade Historic District
According to citizens who were present, during a presentation of the Kingstonian to the HLPC at its September 5th meeting, questions were raised about the location of the northern boundary of the Stockade Historic District as it pertains to their project site. The Kingstonian project team has apparently been operating under the assumption that the boundary bisects the northern part of the City-owned parcel because that is what is shown on SHPO’s Cultural Resource Information System, which maps of State and National Register properties and districts throughout the state. Because the HLPC’s review of a project ends at the boundary line, it would be to the applicant’s advantage to have the boundaries more constricted.
The boundaries of the State and National Register historic district are not relevant to the HLPC because the HLPC reviews only locally-designated districts and landmarks. The boundaries of local districts are approved by the Common Council and are included in the zoning chapter of the City’s Administrative Code. It is clear that the local historic district boundaries avoid bisecting any parcels. Curiously, the applicant is not questioning the boundaries of the Stockade Mixed-Use Overlay District, which mirror those of the local historic district and is of great worth to this project.
Group Editorial by Lynn Eckert, Tanya Garment, Ted Griese, Laura Hartmann, Rebecca Martin, Marissa Marvelli, Melinda McKnight, JoAnne Myers, Giovanna Righini, Rebecca Rojer, Rashida Tyler, Sarah Wenk, Theresa Lyn Widmann
“…in a democracy if it’s going to work, people have to feel comfortable standing up and speaking their mind and speaking truth to power. If you are intimidated in the process…you become increasingly thoughtful and hesitant in the way you enter into public debate and that’s not good for anyone.” – Lynn M. Eckert, Ulster County Legislator and Professor of Political Science at Marist College.
In recent months, not only have City of Kingston officials been misleading the public in the review process for the proposed Kingstonian but the Mayor’s lawyers have singled out select individual citizens in an attempt to silence their advocacy for a transparent and inclusive planning process.
At an August public hearing two citizens – Ted Griese and Sarah Wenk – delivered verbal testimony simply urging the Common Council to have a crystal clear understanding of the zoning law before amending it, which would allow the Kingstonian project to move forward. They, along with Rebecca Martin (lead organizer of KingstonCitizens.org), were the three citizens singled out in the Corporation Counsel’s letter regarding the City’s zoning interpretation, despite the fact that others in the community had also raised the question in written comments to their Council representative.
It was shortly after that hearing that the Corporation Counsel’s office sent the troubling letter as an email attachment to the three private citizens identified above stating that the City was initiating a zoning interpretation process centered on the “Mixed Use Overlay District (MUOD) provisions regarding affordable housing.” The letter stated that the City was in receipt of their comments from the public hearing and that they had been sent to the City’s zoning officer for the issuance of a “formal interpretation of the relevant sections of the Code.” The letter never explained why only these citizens had been singled out among all of the other commentators.
The attorney representing the Kingstonian applicant submitted his written interpretation of the zoning as it pertains to the affordable housing requirement, concluding that “…there has been no waiver or violation of any zoning law 20% affordable housing requirement with respect to issuance of a Special Use Permit, as affordable housing guidelines do not apply to new construction within the Mixed Use Overlay District under the City of Kingston Zoning Law.”
Given the disorganized and opaque Planning Board process and the singling out of individual citizens by the Mayor’s lawyer, KingstonCitizens.org felt compelled on behalf of the public to reach out to an attorney to clarify the question before the zoning enforcement officer – even if it meant participating in a process that they and the citizens had never sought. The applicant argued that no affordable housing was required because it is not adaptively reusing buildings. However, the MUOD is premised on adaptive reuse (which must include affordable housing) and does not authorize new construction of residential apartments. Environmental and land use attorney Emily Svenson asked that the City expand its interpretation “to determine whether the zoning code authorizes new construction of residential uses at the proposed Kingstonian location,” reiterating the question asked by members of the community.
In response to Svenson’s letter, chief Corporation Counsel, Kevin Bryant, who is appointed by the Mayor, sent a reply on September 12th, requesting that, since KingstonCitizens.org was “represented” by counsel, all communications from certain named citizens regarding the project go through counsel only. It also stated that members of city boards and commissions had been instructed to no longer speak to advisers of KingstonCitizens.org. Specifically, it read:
“As you are likely aware, the Kingstonian project is currently before numerous City Boards and Commissions and the Kingston Common Council. Your client has continued to assert an interest and a public position regarding each of the pending applications.
We are hereby requesting that in order to comply with the Code of Professional Responsibility, henceforth, all communications regarding the Kingstonian with officers of Kingstoncitizens.org, including but not limited to Rebecca Martin, Tanya Garment, Marissa Marvelli, Jennifer Schwartz Berky and Lynn Eckert, shall be through counsel.
Please be further advised that City Officials and Board and Commission members involved in the review of the Kingstonian project have also been advised that they are not to speak directly to these individuals as they are represented by counsel.“
Svenson swiftly responded that the City’s request was an infringement on individuals’ First Amendment rights and pointed out the Counsel’s misunderstandings:
“…Please be aware that KingstonCitizens.org is a grassroots, volunteer organization and not a corporation. The individuals named in your letter are simply volunteers acting as organizers or advisors; they are not staff or officers. There is no justification for limiting their ability to communicate as individuals with their government.”
Furthermore, Svenson noted that:
“The Rules of Professional Conduct applicable to attorneys do not limit the rights of represented parties to communicate with one another. Particularly in the context of government, it is essential for citizens to be able to speak freely on matters of public interest pursuant to their rights under the First Amendment.”
If the City’s Corporation Counsel had reached out to Svenson prior to sending his letter, he would have understood that her representation in this case was limited solely to commenting on the City’s zoning interpretation for the Kingstonian project. Unfortunately, he went beyond the understandable need to protect the City and seized on the opportunity to cut off public discourse by advising elected and appointed officials that they should not speak to the citizens, directly undermining public dialog. The City took the approach that it was managing an adverse litigation-type situation rather than a participatory public process. It’s not the first time they have done so. The City has on many occasions tried to steer the process in a certain direction rather than allowing the process to guide its review.
From the beginning of the Kingstonian SEQR process, residents – and particularly those outspoken women who are civically engaged – have been intimidated, bullied, and mistreated by both members of the applicant’s team and city staff. They have been accused of having political agendas; punished for being professionals in their trades; shamed for asking tough questions; and called enemies of progress for demanding an inclusive process.
All the while, our Mayor, with the power to hire and fire city staff and appoint all members of boards, committees, and commissions, remains silent about this undemocratic and bullying behavior. We live in a democracy not an authoritative regime, where citizens have First Amendment rights to play an active role in their government.
We are daylighting these antidemocratic actions today because they erode the public trust and confidence in our local government. Politicizing processes and institutions is the most effective means for discouraging citizen engagement, the evidence of which we are already seeing. No one should have to hire a lawyer to ask questions that government officials may dislike.
We are in the midst of another election season and as usual, elected officials are again boasting about how well they make citizens feel “heard.” To us, it rings particularly hollow. In this instance, the Mayor’s lawyer used the Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers as a pretext to chill the speech of citizens with whom the administration disagreed. If the Mayor is truly committed to “hearing” citizens, he should address the silencing tactics within his own administration.
While reasonable people may disagree about how to interpret and apply the zoning law to the Kingstonian project, we can all agree that actions taken on the part of the Mayor’s lawyer to intimidate, single out, and silence citizens – particularly female citizens – engaging in their right to free speech is simply unacceptable. With officials committed to a fair, open, inclusive, and transparent process such undemocratic tactics would be unnecessary.