In the City of Kingston, there are 25 committees, boards and commissions that provide opportunities for community members to serve on a range of topics. They include planning, zoning, water, the environment, fire, policing and – ethics. One of the historical challenges with the appointments, however, has been a lack of transparency in the process overall, and particularly pertaining to appointment selection.
Kingston’s Charter allows for the Mayor to make all appointments without oversight. To tip the scales further towards the executive branch, those appointments are guided by corporation counsel and, at times, City department heads – most of whom serve at the pleasure of the Mayor. We have witnessed the challenges that members have faced when seeking independence as a body in their decision making. Removal of members of the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission in April of 2019
Early in Mayor Noble’s first term, he created an online application for attracting and recruiting volunteers for Kingston’s boards, commissions and committees. “All individuals interested in serving on a board, commission and/or committee must complete an application and submit it to the Mayor’s office for review. This information will be used in determining which individuals are best suited to serve, based on their qualifications, backgrounds, skills and interests. The purpose of this application process was to enable the City to recruit individuals who have a strong desire and ability to serve, but who may not have had the opportunity before.”
Although the on-line application was a new approach, and intended to bring some clarity to a murky process, it didn’t address the lack of oversight to appointments. It also lacks fundamental information and policies such as what vacancies there are, how many terms one can serve, what expertise the City might be looking for, the official response or response time to expect, what the renewal or removal process is or how many terms a community member is able to serve.
Over the years, we have heard administrations complain of a lack of volunteers to choose from. But with the gaps illustrated above, it should come as no surprise. We have also heard our current Mayor say that the City has an abundance of volunteers eager to serveand yet, vacancies remain.
The most recent list of appointments show that some members of the community serve on multiple boards, committees and commissions and, although it lists term expirations, it does not provide information on how long the members have served. We are aware that there are community members who have served for decades in the same seat (several of the Water Board members is a case in point). It illustrates that even the “updated” process maintains the status quo.
According to the Charter, the Board of Ethics for the City of Kingston, “…shall consist of five members…The Corporation Counsel, or Assistant Corporation Counsel in his or her stead, shall serve as counsel to the Board of Ethics. In the event the Corporation Counsel identifies a conflict of interest, or a conflict of interest is identified in writing by the Board of Ethics, outside counsel shall be secured for the Board. There will be a budget line established and maintained for outside counsel in an amount of at least $10,000. Written retainer agreements shall be required for retention of services of outside counsel. Such retainer agreements shall be subject to the approval by the Mayor of the City of Kingston. In the event that the matter involves the Mayor or a member of his family or household as those terms are defined above, the Alderman at Large shall act in the Mayor’s place.”
Now is a good time to help the Board of Ethics meet its monthly quorum. If you live in the City of Kingston, do not hold office in a political party or elective office in the city and are interested in assuring that Kingston’s elected and appointed officials are maintaining their responsibility to uphold the public trust, please apply (and request a response).
On Monday, June 29 at noon, the Ulster County Recovery Resource Authority (UCRRA) will hold their monthly meeting. We have provided the following pubic comment.
Dear Members of the UCRRA Board,
We wish to commend you for your hard efforts in creating a Local Solid Waste Plan for Ulster County. From our early conversations with professionals, Ulster County and specifically UCRRA is seen as a leader on managing solid waste.
However, in regard to the BioMass section of your document (page 111-112), we request that the board consider a resolution to remove the BioHiTech facility in Ulster County from its plan.
Recently, we have learned about BioHiTech, a “Municipal Solid Waste Processing Facility” with a project that is now online in West Virginia and another currently under scrutiny in the City of Rensselaer.
The proposed facility in the City of Rensselaer initially referred to itself as a “composting facility” in its Environmental Assessment Form for SEQR. Far from it. As we understand it, this “emerging technology” produces Refuse-derived Fuel (RDF) by first collecting municipal waste. After removing any valuable metals, the plastic and fibers are dried and shredded into confetti. They are then trucked away to cement plants where it is incinerated to supplement coal in creating energy. The remaining waste is dumped in unnamed landfills or garbage incinerators.
With a population of 9300 residents, the City of Rensselaer community is already shouldering four polluting facilities (a nearby massive asphalt receiving facility, the Rensselaer Cogeneration gas-fired power plant, a major Amtrak hub and the Dunn Construction and Demolition debris landfill (situated next to a pre-K to 12 public school) and across the river, Global oil terminal). “The proposed BioHiTech facility project, situated near a DEC potential environmental justice area, would be built on top of a capped toxic waste site, the former BASF property, where existing contamination affects the soil, groundwater, and nearby Hudson River. It would accept constant shipments of municipal garbage. Trucks would make about 82 trips in and out of the facility every day, according to the applicant.” This would be tragic for Rensselaer.
So it is of great concern to us that in UCRRA’s most recent plan, it calls to contract a consulting firm to evaluate the possibility of permitting and constructing a local landfill or a BioHiTech Facility within Ulster County.
In section 7.11 Technology Selection, it says, “..three technologies have been selected to pursue in the 10-year planning period. Feasibility studies for siting a local landfill, installing a BioHiTech (biomass) Facility, and waste exportation by railroad will be conducted”
To be clear, we understand that to date, UCRRA has not included incineration as a solution to municipal solid waste within Ulster County. That’s wise given the history of environmental advocacy here, as the outcry would be fierce. Let it be known that we also do not support Ulster County engaging in incineration anywhere.
On page 74, section 5.2.9 Local Environmental Justice it says,. “Environmental justice means the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Fair treatment means that no group of people, including a racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic group, should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations or the execution of federal, state, local, and tribal programs and policies. Environmental justice, under the NYSDEC Policy 29 aims to enhance public participation and the review of environmental impacts from proposed construction of facilities in environmental justice communities, and to reduce disproportionate environmental impacts in overburdened communities.”
If UCRRA is indeed concerned about Environmental Justice communities in Ulster County, then it should also be concerned in its role to potentially exploit communities outside of Ulster County, those who would bear the brunt of our shipment of shredded plastics and fiber for incineration. We encourage you to think hard about how you would feel if you and your family were living near an incinerator burning waste in general, and then the waste of those from another state.
For all of these reasons, we request that the UCRRA board consider passing a resolution to remove BioHiTech from its current Local Solid Waste Management plan as a potential future option in Ulster County.
In addition, we sought advice from Neil Seldman and made a small donation to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance to review UCRRA’s 2011 and 2020 Local Solid Waste Plans and provide a memorandum to outline the pros and cons for Ulster County. All incineration plans are stated as “a very bad idea.” He goes on to say that he “will not comment on this very outdated 20th century technology.” Most, if not all of us, are aware of Seldman’s work and hold him in high esteem. We are submitting the memorandum as an attachment to our public comment.
READ: Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency Local Solid Waste Management Plan
READ: Institute for Self Reliance Memorandum on Ulster County Local Solid Waste Plan
READ: Riverkeeper Opposes Waste Facility on the Hudson River in Rensselaer
The Laws and Rules Committee took up the question at its May meeting where they decided to send an inquiry to the Director of Building Safety and Code Enforcement. In an email, Chairman of the Council’s Laws & Rules Committee and Ward 1 Alderman Jeffrey Ventura-Morrell asked, “In your letter to the developers, you mentioned that you found no previous instance of its (the article’s) enforcement and therefore you determined that it would be unfair and arbitrary to enforce it in this instance. Can you please expand on why you reached that conclusion?”
The Director replied, “Following a review of a number of files, conversations with current staff and speaking with former inspectors, no one could remember an instance when a permit had been invalidated for this reason. Building Safety issued 1350 permits last year and we have no mechanism to alert us when each permit has reached the six months’ revocation limit. The recognition of a permit’s potential invalidation date is only the first step in the process. An actual inspection of the premises would be needed to verify the presence or absence of construction work. I am of the belief that this code, if strictly enforced, would overwhelm the capacity of the department and frankly is not necessary.”
What is notable here is that the Building Safety, with guidance from the Executive Branch’s Corporation Counsel, provided two explanations. In his letter dated March 10 to the ICC, the law would not be upheld because the city hadn’t used it before and concluded that it would be unfair to the applicant if it were enforced. In the June 2 reaction to the chair of the Laws and Rules Committee’s inquiry, the reason was because of a lack of mechanism to alert his department of the six month expiration for each permit that they have approved.
It’s problematic for Kingston going forward, as enforcement of the law is critical. If the law is flawed, then it should be reformed. Additionally, in the 21st century, technology must exist to provide a ‘mechanism’ that would allow the City of Kingston Building Department to assure compliance of all of its 1,350 approved building permits. (Note to City: Check out Airtable)
The City of Kingston’s Common Council Laws & Rules Committee will continue the discussion “Building / Zoning Laws” during their remote meeting on Wednesday, June 17th at 6:30pm.
You can dial in using your phone:
United States (Toll Free): 1 877 568 4106 United States: +1 (646) 749-3129 Access Code: 325-387-989
UNEDITED: The Tale of a Pit: Despite delays, Irish Cultural Center Gets Another Reprieve from Building Safety/Hudson Valley One/by Lynn Woods/May 25, 2020
Neighbors refer to it as “the pit.” Excavated two years ago, the site of the Irish Cultural Center of the Hudson Valley (ICCHV), at 32 Abeel Street in Kingston’s Rondout, is an eyesore for all who venture up Company Path and has been a safety hazard for the neighboring properties. First proposed in 2011, the 16,000-square-foot structure, which would include a pub, exhibit space, 171-seat theater, and classrooms, has yet to be built. A couple of times, its backers have gone through the process of approval, only to fail to properly renew or apply for the required building permit—and then got a reprieve from the city. The latest instance of this occurred in March, when the Building Safety Department extended the ICCHV’s building permit, even though the ICCHV hadn’t done any work on the site as the city code requires.
The ICCHV received its building permit on June 18, 2019. According to City Code Chapter 172, Article 172-5:I, work must commence within six months of issuance of the permit, or the permit will be revoked. The ICCHV hadn’t done any work by mid December, when six months had passed, but instead of revoking the permit as the law requires, the Building Safety and City Engineering Department extended it to June 17 of this year.
The decision to extend the permit was documented in a letter dated March 10, 2020, from Stephan Knox, the city’s Director of Building Safety & Zoning Enforcement, to William Kearney, president of the ICCHV. Knox wrote that neither his department nor the City Engineering Department could confirm that work had been done at the site since issuance of the permit, and he cited the code that required this. But because “a review of building department files has not revealed an instance of its usage”–Chapter 172, Article 172-5:I was put on the books less than two years ago–Knox wrote that his department had determined “it would be unfair to arbitrarily enforce said Article by invalidating the building permit #19564 at this time.”
Fed up with the ICCHV’s continued negligence of the site—the silt fencing has collapsed in places, temporary metal fencing along the perimeter has not been replaced after more than a year, and a section of city-owned historic bluestone retaining wall along Company Path that collapsed due to the excavation still has not been repaired, as the Kingston Planning Board required—a group of citizens sent a letter to Common Council President Andrea Shaut on April 22 asking the Common Council to look into why the group allege the law wasn’t followed (full disclosure: this reporter was one of the signatories on the letter). In response, the Common Council’s Laws and Rules Committee discussed the building permit extension at its May 20 meeting. Members of the committee agreed to investigate, pledging to further address the issue once it had more information at a future meeting.
“This is the first time we know of that the law was not enforced,” said Shaut at the meeting. “If the law is not strong enough to be enforced, as lawmakers we should consider amending it.” Reynolds Scott-Childress, Ward 3 alderman, and Jeffrey Morell, chair of the committee and Ward 1 alderman, agreed to follow up by examining the relevant legislation and contacting the building department for more information.
In a subsequent email to this reporter, Morell wrote, “if it was a requirement for any new portion of the code to have a precedent in order to be enforceable, then no new portion of the code would be enforced, so I’m really interested to find out why he [Knox] came to this conclusion. And, if we find out that this portion of the code is in fact arbitrary then we as lawmakers have a responsibility to look into amending it.”
In their letter, the Kingston residents challenged the Building Safety Department’s reasoning for extending the permit. “Requiring historical instances of usage as a criteria for enforcement would mean that any new or modified ordinance, rule, regulation and local law put forth by the Common Council and approved by the mayor would be unenforceable because there would be no instances of ‘usage,’” it noted. “New codes could never meet this criteria…the same is true of codes which are updated, since they obviously would have no precedent of usage either.”
“Building Safety isn’t following the law,” said Barbara Scott, a signatory of the letter. “Nowhere does it say these things are up for a discretionary decision. And they didn’t spell out their criteria as to how they came to that decision. It’s especially egregious because of the lack of straightforwardness the ICCHV developers have shown.”
Initially, ICCHV neighbors Owen and Hillary Harvey had intended to appeal Building Safety’s extension of the permit with the Zoning Board of Appeals. But they dropped their appeal and instead chose to bring up the issue with the Common Council, in the form of the letter, reasoning that as the city’s legislative body it is the Common Council, not Building Safety, that decides if a law is enforceable or not. “If there are safety laws in Kingston that are not enforceable, then the public is not safe, and the Council as the legislative body has the oversight to address that,” Owen Harvey wrote in an email.
At the Common Council meeting, Kingston’s assistant corporation counsel Dan Gartenstein said the Harveys’ decision to drop their appeal was problematic. “The Harveys exercise a right to file an appeal, which is required under the code,” he said. “The Zoning Board of Appeals was prepared to hear their appeal, but they withdrew it. The Zoning Board of Appeals would have heard testimony from the Building Department, along with legal arguments presented by the ICCHV and the Harveys. We could then decide the real issue of what constituted work [at the site].”
But Gartenstein’s contention that work was done on the site “is not factual,” Owen Harvey told this reporter. “The Building Safety and City Engineering Department had both determined that work hadn’t been done and the permit was technically invalid, but because this code involving time limits had never been enforced before, they weren’t going to enforce it,” he said. Indeed, the March 10 letter to the ICCHV signed by Knox points to the ICCHV’s notable lack of progress. “An extension of the building permit would be required to continue construction after June 17, 2020. Considering the miniscule headway made to date, an application for a permit extension would receive an unfavorable recommendation for approval absent substantial progress with respect to construction of the concrete foundation structure. You should also be aware that the inability to secure a building permit or permit extension would necessitate resubmitting the project for Planning Department review,” Knox wrote.
The letter also alluded to the problems that have plagued the site, which include two violations issued by the Building Safety Department. One was issued in August 2018, after eroding soil and rocks from the site spilled onto Company Path, blocking access along the public walkway, which abuts the ICCHV site on the south, and damaging neighbor Deanna Baum’s driveway. Building Safety required the ICCHV to install terraced silt fencing on the eroding land as well as temporary metal fencing along the perimeter of the site. The second was issued eight months later in April 2019, after the Harvey’s seven-year-old son nearly fell into the 12-foot-deep pit when he was playing on the Harvey’s property and the ground collapsed beneath him. The Harveys and Baum said the site continues to be a hazard, given how the excavation, which extends all the way to both property lines, has destabilized their land. The Harveys have forbidden their three children, two of whom are under age 12, from going onto their section of lawn adjoining the pit.
Baum’s patio is literally hanging off the edge of what is now a cliff bordering her property. “Living next to it is a nightmare,” she said. The excavation “chopped off my patio,” cracking the bluestone paving and causing a sinkhole to form, she said. While a rep from the ICCHV repaired “the huge gap” that appeared in her driveway after the excavation, no one from the ICCHV has fixed her patio, which she claims would cost $50,000, requiring construction of a massive retaining wall along the edge of the excavation site to stabilize it.
Knox’s letter to ICCHV’s Kearney acknowledges the continuing hazards. “Regular inspection of the site, particularly following rainstorms, is still required with any severe erosion issues corrected immediately,” he wrote. “Site safety also remains a concern so security fencing must also be inspected frequently for stability.”
In a May 13, 2019 Kingston Times article entitled “With a Giant Hole in the ground and clock ticking, questions remain about Irish Cultural Center’s ability to pay for the project,” Jesse Smith reported that “Mayor Steve Noble and City Planner Suzanne Cahill have both said that they would like to see construction get underway soon and raised the possibility that the ICCHV could be required to fill in the excavation if it did not.” Around that time, the Harveys met with the mayor, who told them “he was going to fill the hole to ensure the safety of our children if no work got started,” according to Owen Harvey. “The risk is still there, and it’s disheartening.”
Emails sent by this reporter to the city’s communications director Summer Smith went unanswered as of press time.
The building permit extension follows a string of controversial decisions made by the city to approve the 16,000-square-foot cultural center, which is located in a historic district. Though Abeel Street is zoned residential, the Zoning Board of Appeals gave the ICCHV a zoning variance, claiming it abutted West Strand, which is zoned commercial (the site is actually adjacent to Company Hill path, which climbs the city-owned slope of land above West Strand). The Kingston Planning Board also gave the project a parking waiver, allowing it to have a fraction of the parking spaces a structure of that size would normally require, and the Zoning Board of Appeals overruled the city’s Historic Preservation Landmark Commission’s rejection of the ICCHV’s plan, which was based on the building’s large size and failure to conform to the historic character of the area.
After getting site approval from the city, the ICCHV excavated the site in the spring of 2018—but then failed to get a permit for construction within the required six-month time frame. It went through the approval process a second time and was granted a permit last June. The ICCHV excavated the site without a permit—a deficiency in the city code that has since been remedied, with excavations only allowed if they are accompanied by a permit for a foundation–and failed to comply with state standards under the Department of State, nor was subject to any oversight, according to Owen Harvey. “We’ve lost part of our yard because of the irresponsible excavation allowed by the city,” he said.
Despite the repeated delays, ICCHV president William Kearney told this reporter the project was on track. “Everything’s set,” he said. “As soon as the state lets us”—presumably this week; the state’s prohibition on construction and other activities due to the Covid-19 virus will be lifted on May 26—“we’ll be ready to go on phase one,” which he explained is for the foundation and the building (an extension of the permit, which is for the foundation, would be required for the building). Although Kearney refused to provide details, beyond mentioning the ICCHV would apply for LEED certification, he said the project is “fully funded.”
When I reported on the project for an article in the Kingston Times back in 2016, Bob Carey, then the ICCHV director, said the total project cost was $8 million, “which would be raised through a combination of grants, donations and borrowed money.” The cost of the foundation is estimated at $200,000 but it wasn’t until this March, according to the newsletter published by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a membership organization that established the ICCHV, that the ICCHV received a signed commitment letter of the loan from Ulster Savings Bank.
In his May 13, 2019 article, Jesse Smith reported that according to a 2016 project summary submitted to the New York State Dormitory Authority as part of a grant application, the total projected cost of the center is $4.68 million. The summary lists funding sources as $2 million in state grants, including $1.5 million from Assemblyman Kevin Cahill (who also provided the money to the ICCHV to purchase the site) and $500,000 from state Senator George Amedore.
Tom Hoffay, grants director for Assemblyman Cahill, confirmed that the state assemblyman was still committed to helping fund the project. “Our office has been working closely with the Irish Cultural Center of the Hudson Valley to advance their project and secure the state grant for which they successfully applied some time ago,” he wrote in an email. “We are pleased to learn that the planning process and construction preparation is advancing, that they are seeking the highest level of environmental recognition for their project – LEED status – and that they are proceeding apace, particularly in view of obstacles that they have been obligated to overcome by individual opponents of the project.”
Asked whether the fiscal crisis caused by the pandemic threatened the amount of state funding, Hoffay responded, “We fully expect that the grants that our office and the office of Senator George Amedore helped secure for the organization will be fully awarded at the appropriate time.
“Assemblymember Cahill continues to have full faith and confidence in ICCHV President William Kearney, as well as the almost exclusively volunteer team of professional contractors who are demonstrating great patience and fortitude in sticking with this project.”
Rondout resident Scott had a different view of the project. “The general problem is the ICCHV has not operated in good faith. They haven’t been willing to negotiate in terms of what the neighborhood would like to see. They’ve never had enough money to make this a reality. This has been a fantasy project.”
There are many great woman in our community who make important contributions to our daily civic lives, in office and academia. They are mothers, partners, friends and bread winners. They are also published authors.
Here are three favorites.
Dr. Lynn Eckert is a resident of Kingston and former Kingston Alderwoman and Ulster County Legislature. A political science professor at Marist College, Eckert holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Gettysburg College and a master’s degree from Temple University and a doctorate from The Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. Eckert can also be heard on KingstonCitizens.org’s weekly roundtable program “What’s the Process” with Rebecca Martin and Jennifer Schwartz Berky.
“By examining the highly contested legal debate about the regulation of pornography through an epistemic lens, this book analyzes competing claims about the proper role of speech in our society, pornography’s harm, the relationship between speech and equality, and whether law should regulate and, if so, upon what grounds. In maintaining that inegalitarian pornography generates discursive effects, the book contends that law cannot simply adopt a libertarian approach to free speech. While inegalitarian pornography may not be determinative of gender inequality, it does contribute, reinforce, reflect and help maintain such unfairness. As a result, we can place reasonable gender-based regulations on inegalitarian pornography while upholding our most treasured commitments to dissident speech just as other liberal democracies with strong free speech traditions have done. ”
Dr. JoAnne Myers serves on the board of the Ulster County Recovery Resource Authority (UCRRA), is a commissioner on the Ulster County Human Rights Commission and Vice President of the board of the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center. Myers is an Associate Professor of Political Science; Political Science Internship Coordinator; Director of Public Administration Concentration at Marist College.
“Using applied political theory, JoAnne Myers presents five markers by which citizens become second-class citizens―property, productivity, participation, patriotism, and reproduction. Citizenship is a highly contested status since it grants members political rights and responsibilities. It is contextualized by cultural, political, historical, economic, situational, and place. In the United States, we think of citizenship in principle as democratic, but citizenship is not just a binary status: norms, policies, and laws can mark some citizens as “other.” In The Good Citizen: The Markers of Privilege in America, Myers argues that being marked as not having or achieving these markers is how citizenship is controlled and regulated. To illustrate this argument, each chapter begins with a practical question or myth to ease the reader into the marker being examined. She later articulates the ways in which law and norms and biopower regulates and controls citizens in three policy areas. Myers moves beyond theories of citizen marginalization based on identity politics and intersectionality to provide a new understanding of citizenship practice. The Good Citizen will be of interest to scholars and researchers of politics, sociology, or legal studies of citizenship, and anyone concerned with distributive justice.”
KT Tobin lives in New Paltz and is the Deputy Mayor of the Village. She is responsible for designing, managing, and producing Benjamin Center projects focused on regional issues and concerns. Before returning to work at her alma mater SUNY New Paltz in 2008, she was the Assistant Director at the Marist Institute for Public Opinion. Tobin holds an M.S. in Social Research from CUNY Hunter and a Ph.D. in Sociology from SUNY Albany. Her dissertation research, entitled “Gender: Impacts on Participation in Local Government,” studied elected women in the Mid-Hudson region.
“Suffrage and Its Limits offers a unique interdisciplinary overview of the legacy and limits of suffrage for the women of New York State. It commemorates the state suffrage centennial of 2017, yet arrives in time to contribute to celebrations around the national centennial of 2020. Bringing together scholars with a wide variety of research specialties, it initiates a timely dialogue that links an appreciation of accomplishments to a clearer understanding of present problems and an agenda for future progress. The first three chapters explore the state suffrage movement, the 1917 victory, and what New York women did with the vote. The next three chapters focus on the status of women and politics in New York today. The final three chapters take a prospective look at the limits of liberal feminism and its unfinished agenda for women’s equality in New York. A preface by Lieutenant Governor Katherine Hochul and a final chapter by activist Barbara Smith bookend the discussion. Combining diverse approaches and analyses, this collection enables readers to make connections between history, political science, public policy, sociology, philosophy, and activism. This study moves beyond merely celebrating the centennial to tackle women’s issues of today and tomorrow.”
The local volunteer community group, established in 2006, will host a weekly roundtable program to help provide City of Kingston and Ulster County residents processes relevant to local issues.
Kingston, NY – KingstonCitizens.org will launch a new weekly program “What’s the Process” on Sundays at 5:00 pm. The first in the series will air on Sunday, May 3 at 5:00pm on KingstonCitizens.org’s Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/KingstonCitizens/ with a discussion on remote public meetings, the basics of the Open Meetings Law, and the Governor’s Executive Order guaranteeing the public’s right to continued access to their government during the COVID-19 crisis.
The program will be recorded and broadcast each week and will tackle local City of Kingston and Ulster County topics with a range of guests. Co-hosts include co-founder and Director of KingstonCitizens.org Rebecca Martin, Associate Professor of Political Science at Marist College and KingstonCitizens.org advisory board member Dr. Lynn Eckert and urban planner and KingstonCitizens.org co-founder and advisory board member Jennifer Schwartz Berky. The three women bring a combined 60 years of experience in municipal, county, state and federal government procedure and process.
“I don’t think there has ever been a more important moment, at least in my lifetime, to have a place for discussion of local issues and their processes as well as to provide opportunities for different points of view.” said Rebecca Martin. “With many of our local papers struggling to stay afloat, our regular program can provide insights and nuances so community members can understand how to be effective in their civic engagement efforts. “What’s the process?” or “Where are we in the process?” are questions that I would like every community member in Ulster County to grow accustomed to asking their elected and appointed officials. I think we can help with that.”
“We need thoughtful, in-depth discussion of the local policy decisions that affect our lives and community now more than ever.” Dr. Lynn Eckert said. “Those in power think that we’re not watching and that they can behave in ways that abuse their position. We need to stay focused on solutions that are in the public good while holding those accountable who are engaged in petty or vindictive actions or feel-good symbolic statements. Real substantive political change takes hard work, not self-promotion, and it involves a constellation of community members, not just elected officials, party leaders or select activists. It takes all of us.”
“KingstonCitizens.org was founded over 10 years ago to help fill a void in our community. People across the political spectrum and diverse walks of life told us they felt left out of the process. They didn’t understand how to engage with local government or make their voices heard,” said Jennifer Schwartz Berky. “In the past decade, we have seen a powerful change in the public’s engagement in Kingston and Ulster County. KingstonCitizens.org has been a force for generating greater transparency in local and county government and growing the ranks of our informed, engaged community. This new program will continue to help fill that void in these challenging times.”
For more information, please sign-up for KingstonCitizens.org newsletter http://eepurl.com/gYWIan or contact firstname.lastname@example.org
About KingstonCitizens.org Established in 2006, KingstonCitizens.org is a non-partisan, grassroots, volunteer organization committed to nurturing transparency in local government through citizen engagement and participation.
About Rebecca Martin A native of Maine, Martin co-founded KingstonCitizens.org in 2006 to understand the inner workings of her new hometown’s local government and to create a platform for citizen engagement. Since then, she has organized more than 100 different initiatives and projects, including serving as ‘ground zero’ for information and civic engagement during the Niagara Bottling Company’s attempt to purchase a significant share of Kingston’s municipal water supply. KingstonCitizens.org later advocated for a Water Powers Referendum, which amended Kingston’s City Charter that passed by a landslide. Martin previously served as Executive Director of the Kingston Land Trust where she led the non-profit group’s Urban Agriculture initiatives, Kingston’s Rail Trail Committee and programming, and an effort to protect African-American history and burial grounds in the City of Kingston. As a musician, Martin tours the world performing her original music. Since 2017, Martin has worked for Riverkeeper and is currently Campaign Manager for the Water Quality Program.
About Lynn Eckert Dr. Lynn Eckert is a political science professor at Marist College in Poughkeepsie. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Gettysburg College in 1992 and a doctorate from The Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University in 2001. Eckert is also a former Alderwoman serving Ward 1 in the City of Kingston, NY and Ulster County Legislator. Her partner is Amy Eckert, a writer, and they have three children, Raymond, Lucy and Ella.
About Jennifer Schwartz Berky Jennifer has lived in the Hudson Valley since 2004, where she has worked with numerous communities and organizations to plan and implement projects in historic sites and neighborhoods. Prior to this, she was a cultural heritage specialist and planner at the World Bank, where she was involved with World Heritage sites and cities and community-driven development programs in over 30 places abroad. Jennifer was also a design and construction project manager for many historic buildings and cultural institutions in her native New York City. She has Masters’ degrees from Columbia University in Urban Planning and Real Estate Development, a BA in Art History from SUNY Stony Brook, and studied conservation at UNESCO’s ICCROM program in Rome, Italy. She is fluent in French, Italian and Spanish. In addition to her work as a planner and historic preservationist, Jennifer has an active civic life as a county legislator, leader, volunteer, and board member in numerous community and sustainable development organizations.
At the next Laws and Rules Committee meeting on April 15, council members will be considering a long list of complicated and important legislation. One is a police accountability memorializing resolution, itself the result of a long and challenging process. Its complainant-sounding language has sparked a host of questions for us: How were all stakeholders identified and engaged to bring us to this point? Who was at the table and was there consensus? Who was responsible for crafting the memorializing resolution language?
Back in January, newly elected council president Andrea Shaut created a special policing committee led by Alderwoman Rita Worthington, D-Ward 4, and joined by Rennie Scott-Childress, D-Ward 3 and Alderman Jeffrey Ventura Morell, D-Ward 1. The three lawmakers would be given time to delve into matters relating to policing more deeply before sending their research and information to the council’s Laws and Rules Committee and ultimately, to the full council for any formal action.
Right now, we have a tenuous public safety situation in Kingston. The most efficient way to handle policing legislation or reform is to bring all the parties to the table, having them speak to one another in constructive ways. Has that been done? There are already points of agreement. While no one meeting will resolve the complex nexus of issues at play, a continued, ongoing, purposeful dialogue would decrease tensions and build a stronger community. We have already had some community meetings but the most productive kinds of dialogues would involve a skilled moderator/facilitator steeped in knowledge about the complex relations between the police and communities of color.
The incident at the center of the outrage in Kingston may stem from an incident in 2015 (prior to most of our current council members that are in office today) when police wrongly arrested a young man on the suspicion that he knocked over a cyclist. The situation escalated when one officer approached the man who became nervous and began recording the interaction. The interaction intensified culminating with the officers tasing the young man multiple times while arresting him. When arriving at the police station, officers realized that the man did not commit the crime. Despite his innocence, the police charged the man with obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest. A jury later convicted him of that first charge and he was sentenced to a one-year conditional discharge. A later investigation by the Police Commission found that both officers involved in the incident followed procedures.
The incident described leaves out one contextual issue crucial to understanding the anger, distrust and resentment that lingers in the aftermath of the incident. The young man was black while the police officers were white. Some will argue that race has nothing to do with determining the culpability of the officers while others will say that it is the dispositive issue.
We all operate within an historical context, one we can’t change and shouldn’t ignore. Given the history of the United States, it is unfortunately a deeply racist context in which we live. Racism is structural meaning that despite the best intentions of individuals, we inherit norms, institutions, rules, and material conditions that shape an unequal landscape where blacks and whites are treated differently: they are perceived differently and punished differently. We can understand that racist structure and fight against it but not without a recognition of the unequal racist history that acts as an albatross around all of our necks.
The concept of implicit bias tells us that despite our best conscious intentions, we discriminate against people of color in unintended and unconscious ways. We may not desire to discriminate, and indeed, when conscious we may actively fight against racism. Implicit bias occurs when we are forced to make split second judgements of the sort that override and preempt conscious, deliberative thought. Once more, we are all subject to the invisible mechanisms of implicit bias irrespective of our race, gender, sexual orientation or class. Jesse Jackson sadly recognized the effects of implicit bias on himself when recounting the fear he experienced at seeing two young black men in hoodies walking behind him. Later, he realized that he too was part of the very culture that perpetuated racism even as he attempted to dismantle it. When people suggest that it is impossible to not be racist in American society, they are relying, in part, upon the notion of implicit bias. As we know, there are plenty of people who are consciously and proudly racist. Nonetheless, if the concept of implicit bias is operative, even those of us who strive to dismantle racial injustice contribute to it.
The outrage over the tasing incident is fair and should be acknowledged. The results of the police commission investigation—where they cleared the officers involved in the Kingston incident of wrongdoing—has led to this festering of distrust and anger. Our political leadership hasn’t helped redirect the anger toward positive ends either.
But to say all police are bad is as unfair as to say that all advocates are good. In fact, we have some advocates in Kingston who seem more intent on feeding the anger without supplying the requisite skill, knowledge and fortitude to resolve problems that are rooted in the City Charter. We also have a mayor who abdicated his moral responsibility in speaking out against the criminal charge or creating a more proactive police commission.
Our leaders need to create a space—a context—in which to have a directed, purposeful discussion, one that recognizes the role of structural racism as well as the fear that this young man must have felt knowing his innocence yet dealing with officers who thought they’d caught the “bad guy”. The young man at the center of this incident knew the history of police relations with the African-American community. He genuinely feared for his life. All police officers need to understand that fear: they need to acknowledge that white and black bodies have different histories and differing collective understandings based upon their lived experiences.
At the same time, most of our officers risk their lives and strive to operate in the public interest. As a community, our first step should be toward understanding what occurred, why it occurred, correcting harms, and creating a system that does better. Attempting to understand this 2015 incident is complex and nuanced. Contradictory elements simultaneously swirl as we try to come to grips with structural racism, a community’s legitimate historical fear of the police, and officers who are genuinely committed to doing good.
Nor should we conflate a critique of these particular police actions with a dislike or disregard for the Kingston police force. On the contrary, critiquing this incident is a sign of respect given the serious and vital role that police officers play in our society. We critique because we respect them enough to engage in an arduous communal activity and out of an acknowledgement of the noble and substantial role that they perform.
In Kingston, we need more leaders to acknowledge that the way this young man was treated was an injustice. The fact that officers may not have violated police regulations in dealing with this young man doesn’t mean that no harm was done to him or that they couldn’t have tried to de-escalate. Nor does it mean that we don’t have to change our policies so that this doesn’t happen again. At the same time, the police risk their lives for us everyday. We appreciate and respect their efforts, but sometimes they get it wrong, and when they do, we should redress the harm. Police officers are under enormous stress and often make split-second decisions that can cost or save lives, including their own. They are called into situations to protect and defend the vulnerable. Under such stressful circumstances, mistakes can be made and better options overlooked.
Without a statement acknowledging the anger and unfairness that many Kingston residents experience, we now have even greater distrust and resentment. Pretending that nothing unfair occurred has made a bad situation even worse, where no one group feels heard or respected. We need to balance the sense of racial injustice felt by many residents of Kingston with the police officers who feel that they are disrespected even as they risked their lives to help others.
We purposely have avoided mentioning the names of the young man and the officers involved in the 2015 incident that is described above. While each will seek individual justice, the incident also tells us something important about us all as a community. We need to reflect upon how to do better. Do we need to make changes to the charter to allow for a more robust and transparent police commission, one that seeks to hear from community members and police officers in a way that upholds fairness and due process? We do. So why settle for a memorializing resolution on policing? The hard work begins with dialogue and ends with real institutional change through amending the charter. To amend the charter is long, arduous and complex, but it’s time.
Project abandoned but other fights loom for neighbors up and down the Hudson River
Courtesy of Keep It Greene
ATHENS, NY—March 20, 2020 Yesterday, the Division of Materials Management Officer at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) confirmed that Athens Stevedoring and Environmental Development LLC had withdrawn its application for a proposed Construction and Demolition waste processing facility in the Village of Athens and was no longer interested in pursuing the project.
The project had only recently come to light when, in January 2020, Keep It Greene member and Athens resident Diana Abadie made an unnerving discovery. “There’s a spot right on the Hudson River adjoining the boat dock where I often drink my morning coffee,” Diana recalls. “I noticed a for sale sign and when I called, the owner of the property told me that he was selling to a barge and trucking company.”
A series of Freedom of Information Law requests revealed specific plans to import 8,400 tons of Construction & Demolition Debris (C&DD) waste per week that would be stored, processed (i.e. crushed and sorted), and then exported by hundreds of trucks six days a week from a 6.1 acre waterfront site in the Village. Keep It Greene worked with Friends of Athens, KingstonCitizens.org, Hudson Riverkeeper, and the Village of Athens Mayor and Board of Trustees to inform the community and encourage them to organize. After an outpouring of support from the public (an online petition garnered over 2,000 signatures in only two weeks) and support from State Assemblymember Chris Tague (R) and Congressman Antonio Delgado (D), Athens Stevedoring withdrew its application and abandoned the project.
“I am very proud of how our entire community came together to make their voices heard,” said Village of Athens Mayor Stephan Bradicich. “I have no doubt that the large and unified opposition to this project played a large part in stopping the effort.”
Although the threat to Athens may have passed, the neighboring Town of Catskill is confronting another C&DD project from Peckham Industries: an unlined landfill on the shoreline of the Hudson River that would receive 600,000 tons of waste. Although Peckham’s application to the DEC was recently returned as incomplete, the community anxiously awaits further developments.
According to Geologist David Walker, Ph.D of Keep It Greene, it’s no coincidence that these two similar projects landed in the same vicinity. “Athens and Catskill are just pieces of a larger puzzle. There are idle quarries along the Hudson River awaiting some new purpose, and New York City is the source of an enormous C&DD waste stream (twice the tonnage of its municipal waste). With barging cheaper than trucking to transport tons of materials and the Hudson Valley located closer to New York City than alternative sites, such as Seneca Meadows or Rensselaer, the area has been—and will continue to be—targeted for many more of these projects.”
In the weeks and months ahead, the coalition of environmental and community activists who fought the Athens C&D project plans to reach out to other communities fighting similar battles. “Instead of playing ‘Whack-a-Mole’ as these threats arise, we need to organize and push for proactive, comprehensive C&D waste management,” says Catherine Censor, president of Friends of Athens.
It’s a strategy that Paul Gallay, president of Riverkeeper, endorses. “The system worked here because these communities got the facts and got active. This should give everyone in the Hudson River watershed the confidence to fight misbegotten projects like these in their own communities.”
About Keep It Greene and Friends of Athens
Keep It Greene: A non-partisan, grassroots, volunteer organization located in Greene County, NY.
Friends of Athens: A 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to historic preservation, civic improvement, and beautification of the natural and cultivated landscape in and around the Village of Athens, New York.
Without any significant changes proposed by the developers, the New York State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) has chosen to unsee the adverse impacts that it had identified in September 2019 in the course of its review of the Kingstonian. The only rational explanation for this unexpected and illogical about-face is that this is the result of political pressure exerted by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and by extension, Governor Andrew Cuomo.
According to a February 14 letter to the ESDC from John Bonafide, Director of the Technical Division Bureau at SHPO, “After considering the material presented at our meeting and the subsequently submitted information, we have found that the evolution of the proposal has addressed many of the open preservation issues raised by this office.” However, the only change that has been made since his office last reviewed the project in September is that the Schwenk Drive portion of the development grew another story. Impacts that were identified in the agency’s September19 letter, such as the project’s size, its monolithic scale, and its eradication of Fair Street Extension, have not been mitigated in the least.
SHPO’s comments on the Kingstonian 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 Kingstonian is set to receive $3 million in funding from the ESDC. The majority of the project site lies within the National Register-listed Stockade Historic District.
We do not know yet how this will impact the active Article 78 suit filed by a consortium of Uptown business entities against the City of Kingston and the developers. SHPO’s latest findings do not detract from the main premise of the lawsuit—that the Kingston Planning Board failed to take a “hard look” at the facts of the project during the State Environmental Quality Review.
SHPO’s findings also do not negate the project’s pending review by the local Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission, whose responsibility it will be to scrutinize the design details big and small, something that SHPO does not do in its review.
As KingstonCitizens.org has reported in the past, the developers of the Kingstonian are the beneficiaries of substantial taxpayer-funded state grants. In addition to the $3 million from the ESDC, they have been awarded $3.8 million from Cuomo’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative Grant. They are also likely to seek an unknown sum of municipal tax breaks through the Ulster County IDA. In addition to all of that and perhaps of most value, they have a political leader like Mayor Steve Noble for a partner, who over the course of the past year, has seemingly gone out of his way to use the powers of his office to influence the outcome of the project’s regulatory review, whether by having his corporation counsels mislead and bully individuals, removing members of the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission, or by seeing to it that the zoning law is disregarded.
From the recent effort to merge departments and provide his spouse a new position with increased pay to creating positions for housing initiatives, this mayor’s determination to muscle through his agenda with or without the Common Council’s consent—and sometimes at the expense of others—is infuriating. The pressure on the Council to unquestionably support the Kingstonian is great. We hope they hold the line for our community.
Note: For an excellent in-depth background on the developers of the Kingstonian and the origins of the project, listen to the August 16, 2019 episode of “The Source with Hillary Harvey” on RadioKingston.
In a surprise February 3 press release, Mayor Steve Noble announced a major proposal to restructure the Departments of Public Works (DPW) and Parks & Recreation, which would greatly expand the current role of the Superintendent of DPW to oversee both departments. The Mayor’s proposal also creates a new Deputy position who would oversee several divisions, including parks maintenance, recreation programming, environmental education programs, along with sanitation. He even had a person ready to provisionally fill this new position immediately: his wife, Julie Noble, who is currently a city environmental education and sustainability coordinator.
Not surprisingly, his proposal has not been received well. There have been cries of nepotism and ethics charges have been filed. Members of the Common Council, who had little or no warning of this proposal before it was announced to the public, have expressed unusual hesitation. However, there may be a silver lining in this mess.
READ: Kingstoncitizens.org’s “City Government is not a Mayor’s Oyster: The Restructuring of DPW, Parks & Recreation and Nepotism”
VIDEO of Laws and Rules Committee meeting on February 19, 2020.
Why charter reform now?
According to the New York Department of State’s ‘Revising City Charters In New York State’ technical series, a city charter, “…is the basic document that defines the organization, powers, functions and essential procedures of the city government. It is comparable to the State Constitution and to the Constitution of the United States. The charter is, therefore, the most important single law of any city.”
Those who have followed KingstonCitizens.org know that for the last decade, reforming Kingston’s charter has been a major goal of ours. That’s because in 1993, after many years of hard work by citizens with support from folks like the local Chamber of Commerce and League of Women Voters, there was a referendum to change Kingston’s form of government to a City Manager form. It passed overwhelmingly. However, Kingston’s newly elected and popular Mayor, T.R. Gallo (who had also served briefly on the charter commission but stopped showing up some say in protest of the City Manager discussion) was unhappy with the new charter as it would diminish the powers of his office. Swiftly, Gallo put together his own charter commission only a few months into the new charter’s passage. As Tom Benton describes it in his commentary “How Kingston got its ‘strong mayor’” in the Kingston Times, “As for the proposal itself, it was rather ingeniously constructed by taking the newly adopted charter and merely replacing the words “city manager” with “mayor” throughout. There were some other modifications, of course, but that was the essence of it. And here was the effect: Under the adopted charter, the city manager was given very broad and powerful executive authority, the governmental check on that authority being control and supervision by the Common Council. Under the new proposal, an elected mayor would have the same broad authority, but would be entirely free from any such control or supervision by the council. Strong mayor, indeed!” Kingston voters approved a “strong mayor” form of government by a narrow margin. “…The city manager charter adopted a year earlier was consigned to history without ever having been tried and the era of the strong mayor was ushered in.” This is the reason why—by design and by accident—Kingston’s executive branch has the power that it has without sufficient checks and balances.
Charter reform introduced by Kingston Common Council in 2019.
As recently as June 2019, Ward 9 Councilmember Andrea Shaut—who now serves as the Council President—introduced the subject of charter reform to the Laws & Rules Committee, which she then chaired. It was her desire that there be a collective effort to educate themselves and the community about the value of revising the charter to reflect the current needs of Kingston.
While it was a welcome first step, her Council colleagues did not see a pressing need for action and the effort did not advance. We are optimistic that its time has arrived.
READ: KingstonCitizens.org, “Education is Key. Common Council Takes Up Charter Revision Discussion”
There are a host of reasons, all simple and sensible, why we have always thought that Kingston should return to a City Manager form of government. Because it is unconstitutional to require that candidates for Mayor to have certain qualifications to hold the office beyond being a U.S. citizen and above a certain age, our local government is led by individuals who learn on the job (hopefully) and who can restructure the administration to suit their agenda and biases. With a City Manager or administrator form of government, there are still officials popularly elected to represent the community. The advantage of having a City Manager is that they have skills and experience specific to government administration. If they do well in their position, they can remain no matter who is elected. The same would be true for any department head.
As practical-sounding as our opinion may be, it’s only one in a city of 24,000 people. To change the form of government is serious business. It has to be a community-based conversation guided by an unbiased facilitator. The product of this effort would be a revised charter for voters to adopt by referendum.
We appreciate the Mayor and Council members’ support of charter reform. If they are at all serious about it, then we believe that the Mayor’s proposal to merge departments should be thrown out. An acting Superintendent of Parks & Recreation can be appointed and they can spend the next few months working with the Superintendent of the Department of Public Works to identify any tasks under Parks & Recreation that are better suited for DPW. Together, they can submit a list of recommendations to the Mayor for his consideration.
It’s been 25 years since our city charter was last examined in a comprehensive manner. It is the responsibility of the community at large to insist that it happens. The time has never been more right.
“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)