At the end of July, the City of Kingston’s Planning Office posted nine consultant reports pertaining to the proposed Kingstonian project to the City’s website. They were produced on behalf of the applicant, Kingstonian Development LLC, at the request of the Planning Board which they made in their June 4 meeting (see video of that meeting here). The Planning Board as lead agency in the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) of this project will weigh this information as it determines its environmental impact.
In that same meeting, in response to a question about the estimated timeline for review, Kingston Planning Director Suzanne Cahill stated that there would be no hearings on the project in the month of August. But on August 2 the Mayor issued a notice announcing two separate hearings for the Kingstonian that month, including one on Monday August 19 in which the Planning Board will hear public testimony on the consultant reports. The August 19 hearing will probably be the only opportunity for the public to raise questions directly to the Planning Board before it makes its determination.
This means that the community was given just 19 days to digest nine reports worth of information about archaeological resources, visual impacts, geotechnical aspects, stormwater capacity, building demolition, traffic, water supply, sewage, and more—subjects few of us are experts in. Feeling overwhelmed? So are we.
TAKE ACTION: Submit a request in writing to the Planning Board that they allow the public more time to review the reports. email@example.com
There is a prevalent misconception that the “environment” in a State Environmental Quality Review 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. Examples include:
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.
At the behest of the applicant, Joseph Diamond, a well regarded local archaeologist and professor at SUNY New Paltz, conducted a Phase 1A archaeological survey of the project site. A Phase 1A is an initial survey carried out to evaluate the overall sensitivity of the project area for the presence of cultural resources, as well as to guide the field investigation that follows. No subsurface probing is involved. (More information about archaeological surveys can be found here.) In his summary report, Diamond notes that:
“The project area borders a National Register Historic District in a location where subsurface testing has never been undertaken. Potential archaeological deposits include, but are not limited to 1) the 1658 Stockade along the northern edge of North Front Street, 2) the moat constructed by Stuyvesant in June of 1658 which surrounds 3 sides of the stockade area, 3) deposits associated with the 17th-century Dutch and British Colonial Periods, and 4) deposits of Native American origin which may be mixed with or underlie the deposits from the 17th-century Dutch and British.”
Because of the site’s potential to yield significant pre-historic and historic archaeological information, Diamond recommends a Phase 1B field investigation, which would involve subsurface testing at select locations with the use of a backhoe.
In a letter to the Planning Board dated March 11, 2019, the Kingston Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC) outlined its concerns about the Kingstonian project. In submitting this letter—which was unanimously approved by the Commission at its March 7 meeting—the HLPC was fulfilling its role as an involved agency in SEQR. However, for reasons that remain dubious, Planning Director Suzanne Cahill advised the Planning Board to disregard that letter as they were reviewing responses from various agencies about the project at its June 4 meeting, confirming that it was still being “deliberated.”
A relevant side note: Shortly after the HLPC’s letter was submitted to the Planning Board, two highly qualified members—a historic preservation specialist and an architect—were dismissed from the HLPC by Mayor Steve Noble. Two other members resigned in protest of his action. Since April, he has appointed four new individuals to the Commission. (See “CoK’s Executive Branch Move to Streamline Commissions May Impair Historic Preservation Efforts,” KingstonCitizens.org, April 4, 2019)
The concerns outlined in the HLPC’s March letter closely follow the SEQR criteria for determining significance, focusing on criterion “(v) the impairment of the character or quality of important historical, archeological, architectural, or aesthetic resources or of existing community or neighborhood character.” Specific concerns identified by the Commission include the potential to uncover archaeological resources; the demolition of the old hotel building and the potential to create a false sense of history by replicating it; the potential for negative impacts on nearby buildings from excavation and pile-driving; the degree of change to the visual context of the historic district and the Senate House caused by the new construction; and the altering of a major geographic feature, the bluff, which is a key element of the district’s significance (this bluff is discussed in a recent editorial in the Kingston Times, “Building on the past: the Stockade District’s tipping point,” July 28, 2019).
While the reports prepared by the applicant’s consultants touch on some of the HLPC’s concerns, many remain open questions.
Suggested requests that members of the public can make to the Planning Board as they review the applicant’s consultant reports:
When will the Phase 1B archaeological investigation be conducted? If significant archaeological resources are discovered, such as evidence of the original stockade, what contingencies will there be to mitigate adverse impacts to them during construction? When will those contingencies be established?
The geotechnical engineer should provide a summary assessment of the risks posed to nearby buildings by excavation and pile-driving for the project and how such risks can be mitigated. This assessment should be comprehensible to the general public.
The applicant must demonstrate in photos and engineering reports the necessity of demolishing the old hotel building. The historic building should be documented in detailed drawings, including floor plans, elevations, and sections.
The applicant must illustrate the measures that will be taken to avoid creating a false sense of history with the replica hotel building. The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Reconstruction state that “Reconstruction will be based on the accurate duplication of historic features and elements substantiated by documentary or physical evidence rather than on conjectural designs or the availability of different features from other historic properties. A reconstructed property will re-create the appearance of the non-surviving historic property in materials, design, color and texture.”
Of the ten vantage points illustrated in the visual impact analysis, none show the proposed plaza in any detail, either of it or from it. This is an important experience to understand as it will be wholly new to the Stockade. Another vantage point that needs to be studied is from the intersection of Fair and North Front Street. Oddly, one of the vantage points included in the analysis is a view south along Wall Street with the Kingstonian out of frame. The purpose of showing this is lost on us.
The visual impact analysis does not include a vantage point of the Kingstonian from farther south along Wall Street. The usefulness of the perspective is to demonstrate whether or not the Schwenk Drive side of the Kingstonian development is visible from within the historic district. Other simulations suggest that the north side rises to a greater height than the development’s North Front Street building.
The rendered perspectives show that the North Front Street garage entrance will be on axis Wall Street making this utilitarian building feature visible from a great distance.
Recognizing that the bluff is significant not only to the story of the historic district but to the history of the settlement of New York state and the nation and that the proposed changes to this feature would be irreversible, what options are there to mitigate this negative impact? The applicant and their architect should study this question carefully.
These questions address only the historic and archaeological aspects of the project. Not touched upon here are concerns about traffic, storm water management, water supply, sewage, sustainability, and the lack of affordable housing. Each merit careful scrutiny by the community. With just four days left before the Planning Board’s public hearing, it is not likely that will happen.
PUBLIC ACTION: The public may submit written comments regarding the proposed zoning amendment for the Kingstonian Project to members of the Kingston Laws and Rules Committee through end of business on Friday, August 16th. READ: “Kingstonian Zoning Amendment and the Kingston Common Council”
Please send your comments to:
Andrea Shaut, Ward 9 Alderwoman: firstname.lastname@example.org Chair, Kingston Common Council Laws and Rules Committee
Include members (especially if they represent you as a constituent):
Jeffrey Ventura-Morell, Ward 1 Alderman: email@example.com Reynolds Scott Childress, Ward 3 Alderman: firstname.lastname@example.org Bill Carey, Ward 5 Alderman: email@example.com Patrick O’Reilly, Ward 7 Alderman: firstname.lastname@example.org
By Rebecca Martin
At last night’s Kingston Common Council Laws and Rules Committee hearing, citizens provided their testimonies regarding the Kingstonian Development Group’s petition request to amend the Mixed Use Overlay District (MUOD) boundaries to include approximately 12% of its project site that is currently located outside of the district. The request came in June, and council members, at the direction of Kingston’s Assistant Corporation Counsel, outlined a required 90-day time frame to include amending the zoning law. It included the public hearing that occurred last night.
As it turns out, initiating the 90-day time frame while the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) for this project is still underway would have been illegal in SEQR. The Assistant Corporation Counsel has all but admitted this truth and has since stated that the 90-day requirement was firm unless the applicant wanted or approved additional time. This is information that had not been provided at the July 19th Laws and Rules Committee meeting.
PUBLIC REQUEST: Please request that the Kingston Common Council Laws and Rules Committee collect the official record from city staff (zoning officer, city planner and/or corporation council) to show – in writing – the city’s interpretation and application of the Stockade Mixed Use Overlay District (a zoning law created for adaptive reuse projects and affordable housing) to the Kingstonian Project (a new construction with market rate housing.)
By Rebecca Martin
Over the past many months upon discovering the Stockade Mixed Use Overlay District (MUOD) listed in the Kingstonian project’s application, we have asked how the overlay, created to encourage adaptive reuse to existing buildings for housing and including a percentage of affordable housing, could apply to a new construction without the affordable housing requirement. The answer to that question has been virtually ignored by the City of Kingston so far.
VIEW the original 2005 SEQR Findings Statement and Resolution that established the Stockade and Midtown Mixed Use Overlay district
Then, on June 4th, the Kingstonian development team delivered a zoning petition to the city requesting a zoning amendment to the MUOD to include a portion of the project property lot (about 0.313 acres, approximately 12% of the project) that was currently outside of the MUOD for inclusion.
“Ideally, new buildings in historic neighborhoods build on the place’s pre-existing narrative. They neither imitate nor snub it, but instead engage in a subtle architectural dialogue with the past. To achieve this requires a deep reading of the context and its significance. If a new project can’t contribute to the neighborhood’s narrative, then the next best hope is that it’s neutral to the neighborhood’s context; it neither adds to nor detracts from it. In other words, it doesn’t spoil the magic.”From “Building on the past: the Stockade District’s tipping point” by Marissa Marvelli in the Kingston Times.
By Rebecca Martin
The Kingstonian Project studies are now available on the City of Kingston’s website. There are nine of them: Cultural Resources, Visual Impacts, Traffic Impacts, Water and Sewer, Demolition, Stormwater, Habitat, Geotechnical and Green Concepts.
The next Kingston planning board meeting is Wednesday September 4th at 6:00pm. A generic agenda is up, but you can keep track by following our FACEBOOK EVENT for updated information. We’re expecting that the planning board will set a public comment period for the studies, though that information is not yet available.
Please follow KingstonCitizens.org (sign up for our newsletter on the front page of our website) and friend us on FACEBOOK for updated event information.
What is the Mixed Use Overlay in the Stockade District?
“The Mixed Use Overlay District (MUOD) was adopted in 2005 as an amendment to the City’s Zoning Code following three years of debate. (See “Kingston council OKs Uptown/Midtown loft law,” Daily Freeman, 5 January 2005. ) Its primary purpose was to ease the regulatory burden of converting upper floors in existing commercial buildings to residential use. Instead of applying for a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals, building owners could apply for a less onerous Special Use Permit from the Planning Board.
There are two MUODs in the city: the Stockade and Midtown. The thinking of council members at the time was that by making the adaptive reuse of commercial buildings in these districts easier, it would incentivize the creation of affordable housing units. Much of the text of the amendment (which was created with assistance by Greenplan, a planning consultant out of Rhinebeck) focuses on affordable housing, which is intended to be based on guidelines outlined therein. It is intended to apply to adaptive reuse projects containing five or more residential units wherein 20% of those units must be maintained as affordable (defined as 80% of the Ulster County median income.) Such units are to be dispersed throughout the proposed housing project, be indistinguishable from market-rate units, and the affordable unit rents are not to exceed 30% of a household’s income.
But there are few (if any) buildings in the Stockade that could accommodate five units or more. An analysis of these properties is likely to show that no affordable units have been created in the Stockade District with this regulation. (See “Upstairs Apartments Fail to Materialize in Stockade, Midtown Kingston,” Daily Freeman, 11 February 2007.)
In addition to promoting the creation of affordable housing, the MUOD text describes a second underlying purpose: “to encourage mixed-use, mixed-income, pedestrian-based neighborhoods” (§ 405-27.1, subparagraph B-2.) It seems that the Kingstonian project, which neither proposes to build any affordable housing units nor seeks to adaptively reuse any buildings, is narrowly interpreting this second clause as the basis for its qualifying for the more expeditious Special Use Permit application process. (In its Environmental Assessment Form, the applicant flags the MUOD as an applicable zoning measure.) To achieve this second purpose, the amendment allows “site and building enhancements that promote a mixed-use, mixed-income, pedestrian-based neighborhood” to qualify for a Special Use Permit. Apparently, “site enhancements” can be interpreted to mean new construction.
At last evening’s Kingston Common Council Laws and Rules Committee meeting, Andrea Shaut (Chair of Laws and Rules and Ward 9 Alderwoman) introduced a discussion on Charter Reform for Kingston.
“Education is key, but every person has a different learning technique that works for them. What I would like to discuss today are some ideas on the best approach to educate not only ourselves, but the public, as we move forward with this discussion. This document is important; therefore, it is crucial we take our time and do it right.”
You can review the video that we captured thanks to Clark Richters of The Kingston News. Brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org
“The purpose of tonight’s meeting is for the planning board to determine specific areas/studies which we believe will be critical for the decision making process with regard to the Kingstonian” – Wayne Platt, Chair of the Kingston Planning Board
At last night’s special Kingstonian meeting, the mood was oddly calm. In about 1 1/2 hours, the planning board and applicant moved through their plans of what studies would be required in order for the board to make a determination of significance (pos or neg dec). Outside of the planning board chair, only two members of the board posed any questions to the applicant, though they voted unanimously to pass a resolution for studies. The applicant will provide its studies to the planning board for distribution in early July. A meeting will be scheduled for September for the planning board to make a determination or, to request more information from the applicant.
On Tuesday, May 21, KingstonCitizens.org in partnership with the Kingston Tenants Union hosted a public educational forum on SEQR 101. Video from our event was created by The Kingston News brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org.
The event’s AGENDA is available with valuable links to resources on page two.
Thanks to Jennifer O’Donnell for bringing her knowledge and experience on the subject to our community.
CALL OR WRITE to the Ulster County Board of Election Commissioners 845-334-5430 or email@example.com
Tell the Ulster County Board of Elections to give the greatest number of people the opportunity to vote by placing early voting locations in the county’s largest population centers.
ATTEND the Ulster County Legislature Laws and Rules, Governmental Services Committee meeting on Monday May 20th at 6:30pm at the Ulster County Office Building located at 244 Fair Street in Kingston. The meeting will be held at the KL Binder Library on the 6th Floor.
Express your support for Chairman David B. Donaldson’s draft resolution that calls for early polling sites to be located in the City of Kingston and the Villages of Ellenville, New Paltz, and Saugerties.
A comprehensive plan is a powerful document in New York State that creates a framework for making importantdecisions while guiding growth and development. Kingston’s own plan, adopted by the Common Council in April 2016, quite forcefully calls for an affordable housing requirement in new developments:
“Strategy 1.1.2: Require affordable housing for any new or expanded residential building or development project. The City should consider expanding the number of projects that must provide a ‘fair share’ of affordable housing. Currently, affordable housing is only required for projects taking advantage of the mixed-use overlay district provisions.” (p. 21, Kingston 2025)
“Housing development in the Stockade Business District (SBD) has been limited, and a significant percentage of renters in the SBD and surrounding area are cost burdened, spending more than 30% of their incomes on housing costs.” (Executive Summary of the City of Kingston’s 2017 DRI application).
However, in February of 2019, the developers of the Kingstonian Project submitted an application that includes 129 market-rate residential units in the Stockade District. The mandate for affordable housing that is outlined in Kingston’s Comprehensive Plan seems to be ignored with this substantial project.
“Why does the city suggest that SEQR is viewed as a barrier when it’s a passive voice? By whom is it viewed as a barrier? The language should be more specific if that is the case….The environmental reviews are a part of doing business. A municipality should be careful about characterizing it negatively in a report as it is something that protects the environment, economic and social factors in our community.” – a comment from the public during the recent workshop re: the five year CDBG Consolidated Strategic Plan
By Rebecca Martin
Last week, KingstonCitizens.org in partnership with the Kingston Tenants Union and the Kingston Land Trust hosted a public comment workshop event for the Five-Year CDGB Consolidated Plan, Fair Housing Plan, and Annual Action Plan Federal Fiscal (2019). With about 20 citizens in attendance, the group outlined 57 new comments that we’ll be submitting (along with more we hope) when the public comment closes on May 15th.
A recent Kingston Times article reported a claim by a member of the Kingstonian development team: “Dennis Larios is a civil engineer with long experience in Kingston. He’s currently working with JM Development Group on the Kingstonian project. Earlier this month, in a Facebook post, Larios suggested that his clients would likely walk away from the project if the planning board issues a “positive declaration of environmental significance.”
A day later, the Daily Freeman reported that a second member of the Kingstonian development team suggested that a determination of significance (and likely a negative declaration) would not be made for a very long time, as they had not yet provided the lead agency with all of the necessary information.
Attorney Michael Moriello said in a statement, “It is beyond presumptuous for these opponents to attempt to subvert the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) review process by insisting upon a positive declaration of environmental significance before any potentially large impacts have had an opportunity to be identified and mitigated….Because we intend to follow all environmental review requirements and as we have not yet provided all of the necessary information and studies, we do not anticipate a determination of significance under SEQRA for (a) fairly lengthy period of time….we are confident that we will ultimately obtain a negative declaration of environmental significance so that the vast majority of city residents, visitors and business owners will ultimately benefit from the environmental review and the Kingstonian’s attendant economic, cultural and employment benefits.”
When SEQR begins, a series of specific actions are to take place starting with a 30-day window for the involved agencies to approve or deny the request for lead agency. An involved agency may also “state their interests and concerns regarding selection of lead agency and potential impacts of the overall action” (SEQR handbook, page 66, item #5). That’s exactly what the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission has done as a responsible involved agency along with three interested State agencies which submitted comments to the Kingston Planning Board within the 30-day window for lead agency selection or the 20-day window for determination of significance which I describe next.
The photo reveals the ICC property looking North from Abeel street, where the developers appear to use “plywood” to mitigate damage.
By Rebecca Martin
After the ground gave way for the neighbors 7-year-old son to fall into the Irish Cultural Center’s project pit, residents living next door worried that their home property line would further erode with that night’s torrential downpour. Erosion has been an issue since last summer due to the apparent poor excavation practices and lack of oversight of the project.
As far as we are aware, the project does not have a stormwater plan in place to mitigate the impacts of rain storms that have compromised the site and Company Hill Path, a significant historic resource adjacent to the surrounding properties.
“The Planning Board adopted a determination of significance (i.e. a positive declaration) for the project on March 30, 2006, directing the preparation of a draft scoping document for preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project. The reasons stated for its determination were that ‘the proposed scope of demolition and construction will have potential for impacts on the immediate adjacent business district and surrounding area. Potential impacts include, but are not limited to; traffic and noise levels, infrastructure and utilities, schools, recreation and other community services; visual and historic resources; off-site improvements; economics and markets; housing availability, etc…’” – Kingston Planning Board Decision, Final Scoping Document for DEIS “Proposed Mixed-Use Development of the Uptown Municipal Parking Garage Site” (2007)
By Rebecca Martin
A decade ago, before the proposed Kingstonian Project, there was the Teicher Organization’s plan to tear down a decrepit parking garage at Wall and North Front Streets. In its place, they would build a $65 million, 214-unit condominium building that would rise 12 stories in height. “The building would include a 600-space parking garage (with half of those spaces available to the public and half going to residents of the building) and 10,000 square-feet of retail space. The plan would call for a special taxing scheme to be set up whereby a portion of taxes paid by residents of the complex were used to pay for a public parking garage.”
While the the Teicher Organization’s proposal may have been larger in size, its other details are similar to the proposed Kingstonian Project. Both were categorized as Type 1 actions with a coordinated review process. For both, the Kingston Planning Board was/is the lead agency. But will their determinations be the same?
At the April 10th public hearing on the Kingstonian proposal, over 50 speakers provided three hours of testimony. Most of which had little to do with the decisions that were currently in front of the Planning Board as Lead Agency of the State Environmental Quality Review Process (SEQR) in making a Positive or Negative Declaration for the project.
Below are three citizen comment highlights that speak directly to the current process the proposal is currently in.
If you wish to review the meeting in full and the “listen to the community” rally beforehand, you can do so HERE We are also uploading 19 key testimony segments HERE
No decisions were made that evening.
Filmed by Clark Richters of The Kingston News. Brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org.