Public Input with a Positive or Negative Declaration in SEQR

In this image taken from the SEQR Cookbook, the top line “POSITIVE DECLARATION” illustrates robust public input for a pos dec determination in SEQR with many steps and opportunities. The bottom line “NEGATIVE DECLARATION” illustrates a neg dec determination where the review process concludes and there is no further opportunity for the public to participate as it relates to environmental impacts.

By Rebecca Martin

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.

On the heels of the 30-day window for lead agency selection, for any Type 1 Action (which the Kingstonian Project is), there is a 20-day window for lead agency to make a positive (pos) or negative (neg) declaration (dec).

Members of the applicant’s team state that they “… do not anticipate a determination of significance under SEQRA for (a) fairly lengthy period of time.”
This suggests that their application may have been filed prematurely.

Why is the SEQR process being handled in the way that it is?

According to the SEQR Cookbook, “The lead agency has 20 calendar days to make its determination of significance. If the lead agency finds that it does not have sufficient information to make this determination, it may request that the applicant provide it. The lead agency must make its determination within 20 days of receipt of all the information it reasonably needs. In determining significance, the lead agency must consider: the whole action and the criteria [see 617.7(c)]; the EAF and any other information provided by the applicant; involved agency input, where applicable; and public input, if any.

Is the applicant interpreting the part of SEQR regulations that reads, “…if the lead agency finds that it does not have sufficient information to make this determination, it may request that the applicant provide it,”  to mean to work directly with the lead agency (Kingston Planning Board) to provide studies that they request for however long is necessary in order to achieve a neg dec in SEQR? 

The inevitable result of this approach the applicant and lead agency could be taking in trying to avoid a pos dec will be to cut the public and involved agencies out of the process.  Given that fact alone, the approach should be avoided.

Is there public input following a neg dec determination in SEQR? *

To cut to the chase, the answer is no, at least not as it relates to environmental impacts.

Kingston Mayor Steve Noble and members of the project’s development team have been recorded in recent weeks stating that the Kingstonian Project is anticipated to be a neg dec in SEQR. In other words, they are confident that there will not be a single potential significant environmental impact. If the project is a neg dec, the opportunity for an inclusive and comprehensive public process as it relates to environmental impacts is over and the project advances to routine permitting decisions. Public funds, which cannot be released until a neg dec is issued, are now available for use.  

Additionally, the Kingstonian Project as a Type 1 Action requires a coordinated review process. “A coordinated review is the process by which all involved agencies cooperate in one integrated environmental review. Coordinated review has two major elements: establishing a lead agency and making a determination of significance and in scoping an environmental impact statement.” (Ten agencies have been identified as “involved” in this review, including the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission and Kingston Common Council).

If a neg dec determination is made by the lead agency, then the discretionary reviews of the involved agencies will be bound by this decision. The law stipulates that following a coordinated review, a lead agency’s determination of significance is a binding one; no other involved agency may require an EAF or an EIS for an environmental impact as defined by SEQR.

This is significant, particularly when the timeline for input from the involved agencies is not clear. Right now, involved agencies of the Kingstonian Project have only until the public comment period closes (it was opened on April 10 and oddly, a deadline has not yet been set) to weigh in on the potential significant environmental impacts while the Planning Board as lead agency prepares to make its determination of significance (with a pos or neg dec).

Is there public input following a pos dec determination in SEQR?

Yes, a pos dec determination will allow for an inclusive and comprehensive public review process.

Currently, a record has been established with comments on potential significant environmental impacts, particularly those that pertain to historic preservation and community character. Only one potential significant environmental impact needs to be identified to trigger a pos dec.

In the event of a pos dec, the applicant would be required to create a draft environmental impact statement (draft EIS). Public scoping is automatic. It is an inclusive process to identify issues that should be studied in the EIS, including potential significant adverse environmental impacts of a proposed project and alternatives that could avoid or minimize these impacts. “As a result, the draft EIS is concise, accurate and focused on the significant issues…The draft EIS is a primary source of environmental information related to a proposed action (the Kingstonian Project.) The EIS also serves as a means for public review and comment on the potential impacts of the action. After a draft EIS is submitted by the sponsor, the lead agency must determine if it is complete and adequate for public review. Once the draft EIS is deemed complete, a minimum of 30 days is required for public review and comment. A final EIS should be prepared within 45 days of any hearings or 60 days after filing the draft EIS. The final EIS must include: the draft EIS and any revisions/supplements; a summary of substantive comments received; and the lead agency’s responses to the comments. Draft and Final EIS’s must be published on a publicly available website.”

We hope that many of you will come to our public educational forum on May 21st from 5:30pm – 7:30pm where we will present “SEQR: 101” to explore and to learn all about the SEQR process and answer questions.  Jennifer O’Donnell, a City of Kingston resident, urban planner and local government specialist at the Department of State will be our guest panelist. The event will be held at the Kingston Public Library, is free and will be filmed by The Kingston News for those who can’t make it.  Brought to you KingstonCitizen.org and co-sponsored by the Kingston Tenants Union. 

 

(*) An amendment to the post was made on 4/26

The ‘Pit’ In Our Stomach Was a Negative Declaration in SEQR

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.

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s website, the overall annual precipitation in New York has increased with “year to year (and multiyear) variability becoming more pronounced…the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events (downpours)” —like the one that occurred last weekend—“have increased by 70% across the northeastern United States” due to climate change.

The project, located in Kingston’s Rondout Historic District, was determined a Negative Declaration (Neg Dec) in its SEQR process by the Kingston Planning Board, even after years of effort by dozens of citizens highlighting the potential significant environmental impacts, and there were many.  

READ
KingstonCitizens.org on the ICC Process

VIEW:
Citizens Maintain Request for Pos Dec in SEQR for Irish Cultural Center of HV’s Proposal

The erroneous Neg Dec SEQR determination for the Irish Cultural Center project is one of the key reasons why KingstonCitizens.org has gotten involved in the proposed Kingstonian project SEQR process in Uptown Kingston from the very start. It is no secret to the executive branch that we lack faith in the Kingston Planning Department. Until our community has a professional urban planner to help direct growth in our historic city, it should be expected that our scrutiny of the Planning Department will continue.

Video footage provided by The Kingston News. Brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org

 

My name is Hillary Harvey, and I live adjacent to the Irish Cultural Center on Abeel Street.

On Saturday, I was gardening in my yard when my 7-year-old son walked over to the construction fencing that the Irish Cultural Center put up on our shared property line.  He stood there for just a moment before the ground dropped out from underneath him.  Luckily, he was able to catch himself and scramble back up.  It’s about a 15 foot drop down to the ICC’s pit, so my son could have gotten really hurt.  Obviously, we are very upset.  We’ve submitted photos of the hole to Planning, Engineering, Building Safety, and our elected officials.

Without any retaining walls, terracing that conforms to OSHA standards, or stabilized fencing on our side of the ICC’s property, my property is collapsing.  The ICC does no regular maintenance at the site.  The silt fencing sags, the neighboring properties erode, and they haven’t been back to do any work since the City Engineer cited them for violations last summer and forced them to add protections for 42 Abeel Street last summer/fall.  They were there today to assess and patch the damage to my property with plywood and rocks.  And Ed Norman of DPW has been in touch throughout the day to help us, for which I’m very grateful.

At your December 17th, 2018 meeting, City Engineer John Shulteis told you: The plan is adequate if it is correctly maintained and implemented, and any of these measures are temporary measures with lifetimes measured in months.  For example, a silt fence doesn’t last for years and years.  It has a tendency to fall down.  You can’t just install it and forget about it.

After that, at your February meeting, despite our pleas for a positive declaration in SEQR, you determined that the ICC would have no environmental impact on our neighborhood.

I’m here to remind you that you decided that the Irish Cultural Center would have no environmental impact on the community.  Even after they let their site plan approval lapse this year, and the City Engineer cited them with violations which caused degradation to the City property at Company Hill Path and to my neighbors’ house at 42 Abeel Street, you decided that you did not need to re-evaluate any of your determinations on this application, including your SEQR review.

This site needs retaining walls and permanent, stabilized fencing.  The construction fencing is not inserted into the ground, but weighted, and now floating in places.  And it needs maintenance, which the ICC has not been doing.

Now I understand from things you’ve said at your meetings that there’s the impression that I deserve whatever I get because I bought this property after the ICC bought theirs.  And I understand that some of you have personal connections to the project applicants, as members of the organization, your parents donate to this organization, and you work for the city who defends this project whole heartedly.

But I am a mother, a home owner, and a tax payer in this city for the past decade.  And the Planning Board is tasked with ensuring the safety and welfare of city residents.  I want to remind you that your decisions have an impact on the safety of my children.  And I want to know what are you going to do to protect my children?

 

 

My name is Owen Harvey, and I live next to the Irish Cultural Center Pit on Abeel Street.

It is difficult for me to find a place for forgiveness. It is difficult to forgive what the City, this Board has permitted to happen to my son. I am angry and I am frustrated by this situation your actions led to occurring. The safety of my children is paramount and what happened the other day is inexcusable.

Repeatedly I came before this board as a father and asked you to take into consideration the safety of the young children who live at the adjacent property to the Irish Cultural Center- and you ignored that request. Now again the city is being forced to react to your poor oversight.

Your unwillingness to understand the potential harm this project could cause has now jeopardized the safety of my young children – and this is before any actual building has begun.

Who knows what other negative aspects from this project the city will need to continuously respond to because of this board’s disinterest in the serious concerns raised during the review process.

We are asked to trust that this board is an advocate for the safety and welfare of our community- but now I know you are not even capable of protecting a seven year-old child whose only fault was playing in his backyard.

So today, I simply want you to know that when you are rushing out of the movie theatre with your own young children, or shopping at the market, or out in the Rondout neighborhood with your family or friends, or maybe even Uptown celebrating at an event, and you happen to see me or Hillary with our son, know that he is the little boy the actions you put in place almost killed on Saturday.

His name is Ignatius, and those who love him call him Iggy.

 

Before The Kingstonian Project There Was the Teicher Organization.

“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?

Looking back, Teicher’s project received a positive declaration (pos dec), that was followed by a public scoping process and a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS). At that time, scoping was not mandatory (as of January 1, 2019, a pos dec automatically triggers a public scoping process). Based on the SEQR timeline for the Teicher project, the final scope was complete after only five months of effort by the Planning Board. That’s not a bad turnaround. The developer was then directed to prepare a preliminary DEIS, which doesn’t appear to have occurred.

For the Kingstonian, a determination has not yet been made. We are expecting a decision by the Planning Board in the coming days, weeks, or months.  Though the applicant’s team and supporters claim on record that a pos dec will “kill” the project.

The Teicher proposal is an excellent point of reference because it shows us a similar development in the same location as the Kingstonian that received a pos dec determination in SEQR. Of note, when the Planning Board submitted its final scope and direction to Teicher to create a DEIS, the developer chose not to proceed. Maybe it was because what they wanted to build was not a good fit for the location, and that mitigating its impacts was not an option for them. In this instance, SEQR provided close scrutiny. Outlining potential environmental, social and economic impacts before something is built is in most everyone’s best interest. It is unfair to characterize a pos dec as a project killer.

What is a Positive Declaration?

A positive declaration, or “pos dec,” is a determination by the lead agency that an action (the project) may result in one or more significant environmental impacts and so will require the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before agency decisions may be made regarding the action.

What is a Negative Declaration?

A negative declaration, or “neg dec,” is a determination by the lead agency that an action will not result in a significant adverse environmental impact and consequently no EIS will be prepared.

What is Scoping?

Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper created a really helpful document of frequently asked questions regarding the public role in SEQR and the “scoping” process. It describes scoping this way:

Scoping is a process that develops a written document (final scope) outlining the topics and analyses of an action’s potential environmental impacts that will be addressed in a Draft EIS. The scoping process is intended to:

  • Focus the EIS on potentially significant adverse impacts and eliminate considerations of those impacts that are irrelevant or nonsignificant;
  • ensure public participation in the EIS development process;
  • allow open discussion of issues of public concern; and
  • permit inclusion of relevant, substantive public issues in the final written scope.

The document also describes why public participation in developing the scope is important:

Public involvement reduces the likelihood that unaddressed issues will arise during public review of the draft EIS. From the public’s perspective, scoping is important because it offers an opportunity to ensure the DEIS is as comprehensive as possible to minimize the project’s environmental impact on the community. It also increases the likelihood the project will be consistent with community values.

The final scoping document for the Teicher Organization project is an important find as it shows the existing setting, potential impacts and mitigation measures of the site and the project. It also provides evidence that a large development in that location most likely merits a pos dec in SEQR.

READ
Final Scoping Document for DEIS – Proposed Mixed Use Development of the Uptown Municipal Parking Garage Site (2007)


Along with everything else, I noticed that on page 32 under “Alternative Development Plans” in 8.1 (c) there is an affordable housing plan that would present ‘program and procedures that will result in at least 10% of the proposed housing units being set aside as affordable/workforce housing units as defined in the City (of Kingston’s) Zoning Law’

For however long the conversations about the Kingstonian have been going on, SEQR is just now getting underway. Many, if not most, members of our community are learning about this project and its plans for the first time. It makes sense that if we are expected to welcome a project of its size and scope in the nationally significant Stockade Historic District, then it must be done properly to assure that it adds to its beauty and character and does not create a costly and unaccounted burden on our existing infrastructure. A thorough and inclusive SEQR process can help to do that.

Key Citizen Public Comments On Process and the Proposed Kingstonian Public Hearing.

Click on the image to learn more about the SEQR process.

By Rebecca Martin

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.

 

“I’m a little perplexed by a lot of the discussion we’re having tonight. I thought we were not here to decide ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on the project. I thought we were here to decide whether the project would have a positive declaration of significance or not.  

It seems really obvious to me that this project will have significant impacts. I don’t think I’ve heard a single person say that it won’t. I’ve heard people say, “Yes the impacts are large but all positive” and I’ve heard others say “Lets trust the developer to deal with the negative ones in a friendly sort a way without all that legal stuff.”

The SEQR process is there to help communities think through large projects like this and it just seems really clear there the impacts are significant. Certainly significant impact on neighborhood character, we’re talking about a neighborhood that’s historic full of lots of two and three story buildings we’re going to put this giant modern building in it – that’s a significant change to the community character.

In the language of DEC’s guidance, “Is the proposed action inconsistent with the predominant architectural scale and character?” Yes it clearly is. That’s not to say it’s not a good project, that it shouldn’t happen or that the negative impacts outweigh the positives. That’s what the SEQR process is for is to look into those impacts and weigh them.

We know that there is going to be traffic increases in this already very congested area, again – that’s not a reason to decide yay or nay today – that’s a reason to study the impacts and importantly the SEQR process calls for looking for ways to mitigate those impacts to find ways to redesign the projce so it will be better.

I’ve heard advocates of this project saying “It’s not going to happen if a positive declaration is made”. To me, that suggests that the impacts are so significant that something would come up and stop the project. If the members of the planning board agree with that concern then you have to declare a positive declaration so that we can study those impacts and design the proper mitigations. SEQR is not an optional process – it’s not that you engage it when you don’t like a project and want to kill it and you skip it when you like a project and want it to go ahead….and the Mayor’s recent action to remove people from the HLPC suggests after they voiced these concerns that there is an attempt to subvert the process going on here.

Suggesting that…developers won’t come here unless they can count on the city to subvert the process is even more concerning.

I want to see the law followed here.”

 

“The Kingstonian could, without a doubt, be an exciting possibility for our city.  It has also become a very polarizing issue.

Continuing to focus on the negative “pro versus anti” doesn’t help and I would prefer to concentrate on the “all of us” in this picture.

The “all of us” is a fair and transparent SEQR process. It is important to allow public participation in anything that affects the community on this grand of a scale and it is just as important in helping the developers to get it right.

The Kingstonian project is being proposed within a National Historic District, which means it is an area officially recognized by the United States government for its national historical significance.

I urge you to please consider that all it takes is one environmental impact to issue a positive declaration of impact. The current findings of the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC) weigh towards a positive declaration, with at least five possible impacts.

Our own city code has this to say regarding the Stockade Area:

“… it is in the public interest to ensure that the distinctive and historical character of this Historic District shall not be injuriously affected, that the value to the community of those buildings having architectural and historical worth shall not be impaired and that said Historic District be maintained and preserved to promote its use of the education, pleasure and welfare of the citizens of the City of Kingston, New York…”

This alone should be enough to automatically trigger a positive declaration, which would give the community an opportunity to weigh in and ensure that the project moves forward with everyone’s support.”

 

“I’d like to read a letter dated March 11, 2019 – from the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission to the Planning Board, care of Suzanne Cahill – into the public record.

March 11, 2019
City of Kingston Planning Board
City Hall
420 Broadway
Kingston, NY 12401

Dear Chairman Platte and members of the Planning Board,

The Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission, as an involved agency, supports the Planning Board’s request to be the lead agency in the SEQR process for The Kingstonian project. Along with our support, we would like to share with you general concerns we have about this project as you determine its significance. Our concerns are informed by the project applicants’ public presentations and our review of their EAF Part 1 dated Nov 27, 2018.

The information provided therein suggests that the proposed action has the potential to effect significant environmental features, including archaeological and architectural resources, topography and community character. Specifically:

The project site has the potential to yield information important in history or prehistory, such as evidence of the former presence of the stockade which crossed on or near to this site and/or other previously unknown archaeological resources. Such evidence was unearthed nearby on Clinton Avenue in 1970. This site has been identified as archaeologically sensitive by the NY State Historic Preservation Office.

This project involves the demolition of an existing architectural resource in the Stockade Historic District and may seek to replicate this building, which might create a false historical record.

This project involves new construction in the Stockade Historic District. Potential impacts include those that are construction-related, such as falling objects, vibration (from blasting or pile-driving), dewatering, flooding, subsidence, or collapse. The project’s close proximity to two architectural resources—the Senate House and grounds and the John Tremper House at 1 North Front Street—may negatively impact them if adequate precautions are not taken.

Additionally, new construction may impact the visual context of the district, including the architectural components of the district’s buildings in this area (e.g., height, scale, proportion, massing, fenestration, ground-floor configuration, style), streetscapes, skyline, landforms, and openness to the sky. The project may also impact the visual context of the Senate House, a significant state landmark.

This project proposes changes to a significant landscape feature of this historic district: the bluff, an important element to interpreting the district’s history. The National Register nomination for the Stockade Historic District states:

“To this day, the boundary lines of this stockade are formed by Green Street, Main Street, Clinton Avenue, and North Front Street and are still intact. Also, amazingly enough, almost the entire bluff promontory forming the perimeter of this area, elevated above the lowland, is still comparatively intact. Therefore, of the three first settlements in New York State—Albany (Fort Orange), New York (New Amsterdam), and Kingston—it is only Kingston that the authentic elements of an original fortification remain. Documents indicate that this log palisade was in existence until the early eighteenth century, having been kept in repair as protection against later Indian raids. While this area at present is surrounded by commercial development, aerial photography has recently indicated the existence of outlines suggesting that the angle itself may as yet be relatively undisturbed. This area forms a sharp bluff and this may account for its preservation.” 

Taken together—demolition, new construction, and changes to topography—this project may impact the area’s community character or sense of place. The potentially large impacts on the Stockade Historic District and nearby landmark buildings described above weigh toward a positive declaration of environmental significance, we believe. As an involved agency, the HLPC asks that the Planning Board keep these historic preservation issues and concerns in mind as you review and classify the significance of the Kingstonian.

This project will be subject to an Article 14.09 environmental review under the New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Law. A draft EIS can serve as the review procedure for complying with subdivisions (b) and (c) of Section 428, Part 8 of this law. Thank you for your time and consideration. We value your service to our community.

Sincerely,

Mark Grunblatt
Chair, Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission

Cc: Mayor Steve Noble
New York State Historic Preservation Office
James Noble, Kingston Common Council Alderman-at-Large
Andrea Shaut, Common Council Member, Ward 9
Patrick O’Reilly, Common Council Member, Ward 7, and HLPC liaison
Hayes Clement, Heritage Area Commission, Chair”

Kingston’s HLPC Loses a Third Member as Citizen Volunteer Resigns.

Leslie Melvin reads her public comment, the letter submitted by the HLPC to the Kingston Planning Board on March 11th recommending a positive declaration in the SEQR process, at last evening’s public hearing on the proposed Kingstonian Project

After providing public comment for the proposed Kingstonian Project during its public hearing last evening, Leslie Melvin, a citizen volunteer who was serving on the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC), resigned.

Melvin submitted her letter of resignation following her public speaking.

Dear Mayor Noble,

Merging the HAC and the HLPC has been a publicly-stated goal of yours for the last few years despite failing to convince either commission, or the Common Council, of the plan’s merits.

With your recent decision to not renew Marissa Marvelli and Alan Baer’s appointments—and by appointing HAC commissioners to fill those newly created vacancies — you have effected your own de facto merging of the HAC and HLPC.

To be clear, these efforts appear to only serve one administration’s own short-term interests – they are not in the best interest of the residents of the city of Kingston, and they are certainly not in the interest of preserving what we know to be irreplaceable in the city we love.

This is no way to treat dedicated and knowledgeable professionals, this is no way to treat volunteers, and this is no way to treat constituents. In such a troubling political climate, we expect our leaders to honor an obligation to guarantee transparent, fair processes, and to encourage the exchange of information, free from undue influence. You’ve sent a clear signal that volunteers, working on behalf of the city and its residents, can only expect conditional support.

I am saddened to submit my resignation from the HLPC, effective immediately.

Sincerely,

Leslie Melvin
Kingston NY

On March 7th, the Historic Preservation Landmarks Commission at their monthly meeting identified a number of potential significant environmental impacts for the proposed Kingstonian Project.  The City of Kingston’s Planning Director currently serves as an administrator for the Commission. She is also the administrator for the Planning Board, which is the Lead Agency for the SEQR process for the Kingstonian (meant to be an impartial body responsible for administering the environmental review process) and a key member of the executive branch that wrote the successful Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) application to secure the $10 million dollar grant to be used in part to fund the Kingstonian Project. This official recently spent nearly 15 minutes trying to dissuade the Landmarks Commission from amending their agenda to include a discussion of the project and its potential impacts as it pertained to the historical, archeological and community character of the project, even though they had requested that the discussion item be put on the agenda at their previous meeting . The HLPC is one of 10 involved agencies that will have a discretionary decision to make for the Kingstonian Project. Although anyone can point out potential significant environmental impacts, it is required as per the SEQR regulations that the Commission in their capacity to “state their concerns (of the)…potential (environmental) impacts of the overall action.”

A few weeks after their March meeting, Mayor Steve Noble called Marvelli and Baer into his office separately, removing them from the Historic Preservation Landmarks Commission (the mayor says that he chose to not “reinstate” and was not “removing” them – however, their terms expired seven months ago without any action taken by the Mayor who understood that both commissioners wished to continue to serve). The City of Kingston’s Charter provides the Mayor of Kingston full authority to appoint and remove members from all boards, committees and commissions without requiring any guidance, oversight or reason.

Since the Mayor’s decision, citizen volunteers have chosen to resign. Melvin would be the third so far.

WHAT TO EXPECT. Public Hearing on Proposed Kingstonian Project on April 10

WHAT
City of Kingston Planning Board
Public Hearing on the Kingstonian

WHEN
Wednesday, April 10, 2019
6:00pm

WHERE
City of Kingston City Hall
Council Chambers (Top Floor)
420 Broadway
Kingston, NY

“LISTEN TO THE COMMUNITY” Rally
Before the public hearing
5:00pm
Front Lawn
Kingston City Hall

Co-sponsors include:  Kingston Tenants Union, Midtown Rising, Rise Up Kingston, Citizen Action of New York Mid-Hudson Valley Chapter, Nobody Leaves Mid Hudson and KingstonCitizens.org

MORE
It is not expected that the planning board will make any decisions on the 10th.

A regular planning board meeting will occur on Monday, 4/15 where the planning board may decide on the items listed in the 4/10 AGENDA  (lot line deletion, site plan / special permit and SEQR determination (pos or neg dec)).

 

 

By Rebecca Martin

On April 10th, the Kingston Planning Board will hold a public hearing on the proposed Kingstonian project regarding the following approvals (in bold) and a SEQR Determination:

AGENDA

#9-17 & 21 North Front Street and 51 Schwenk Drive and a portion of Fair Street Extension LOT LINE DELETION of the Lands of Herzog’s Supply Company and the City of Kingston. SBL 48.80-1-25, 26 & 24.120. SEQR Determination. Zone C-2, Mixed Use Overlay District, Stockade Historic District. Kingstonian Development, LLC/ applicant; Herzog’s Supply Co. Inc. & City of Kingston/owner.

#9-17 & 21 North Front Street and 51 Schwenk Drive and a portion of Fair Street Extension SITE PLAN/SPECIAL PERMIT to construct a Mixed Use building with a 420 car garage, 129 apartments, 32 hotel rooms, and 8000sf of retail space. SBL 48.80-1-25, 26 & 24.120. SEQR Determination. Zone C-2, Mixed Use Overlay District, Stockade Historic District. Kingstonian Development, LLC/ applicant; Herzog’s Supply Co. Inc. & City of Kingston/owner.

The Significance of State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) Determinations. 

What is SEQR?

The State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) “establishes a process to systematically consider environmental factors early in the planning stages of actions that are directly undertaken, funded or approved by local, regional and state agencies. By incorporating environmental review early in the planning stages, projects can be modified as needed to avoid adverse impacts on the environment.”

What step are we at in the process?

On April 10th, the City of Kingston Planning Board will collect public comment on its next step in making a “determination of significance.” This is the most critical step in the SEQR process. This is the step in which the lead agency must decide whether or not a proposed action is likely to have a significant adverse impact upon the environment. If the lead agency finds one or more significant adverse environmental impacts, it must prepare a positive declaration identifying the significant adverse impact(s) and requiring the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

At this time, environmental impacts must be cited before the social or economic concerns are included in an Environmental Impact “Scope” (p. 93, SEQR Handbook), and a pos dec would be required in order for a public scoping process to occur.

FOR YOUR REFERENCE: SEQR Handbook

The project would seem to be justifiably determined as a pos dec, as only one potential adverse environmental impact is required in order for a pos dec to be triggered (p. 85, #5).   Uptown Kingston’s significance as a National Historic District is a reason for a pos dec. Traffic (the traffic for this project appears to be over the threshold for peak hour outlined in the law) would be a trigger. Visual and Aesthetic and Neighborhood Character are all legitimate environmental impacts (p. 90 of the SEQR Handbook).

As the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commissions (HLPC) has already weighed in as an “involved agency” to indicate the potential significant adverse environmental impact on the character of the Stockade National Historic District, the Planning Board, as the “lead agency” is obligated to take a “hard look” according to important case law precedents that have invalidated findings by lead agencies that have failed to do so.

VIEW:
Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC) Identifies Potential Significant Environmental Impacts of the Kingstonian Project.

Other important questions that the public should ask on Wednesday include:

1. Where is the planning board currently in the SEQR determination process?

2. When will the planning board make that determination?

3. Is the project being modified and will it be modified by the applicant and developer to try to address or mitigate potential impacts?

4. Will the public be notified of those modifications and have an additional opportunity to comment on the modified project before the Board makes a SEQR determination?

Below are excerpts from the SEQR Handbook to help you to identify good information to shape your public comment for Wednesday evening.

From pages 90 of the SEQR Handbook onward:

34. May determinations of significance be based on economic costs and social impacts?  No. A determination of significance is based on the regulatory criteria relating to environmental significance. If an EIS is required, its primary purpose is to analyze environmental impacts and to identify alternatives and mitigation measures to avoid or lessen those impacts. Since the definition of “environment” includes community character, these impacts are considered environmental. However, potential impacts relating to lowered real estate values, or net jobs created, would be considered economic, not environmental. Social and economic benefits of, and need for, an action must be included in an EIS. Further, in the findings which must be issued after a final EIS is completed, environmental impacts or benefits may be balanced with social and economic considerations.”

23. Are there impacts on non-physical resources that should be considered when determining significance?  Yes. There may be environmental impacts related to various community or regional values not necessarily associated with physical resources. Examples would include aesthetic impacts, impairment of community character, growth inducement and social and economic conditions, which are discussed below.

24. Why should the significance of visual and aesthetic impacts be considered under SEQR?The courts have upheld inclusion of effects on scenic views as an element of the SEQR review process; for example, in the case of a new radio transmission tower proposed to be constructed near the F.D. Roosevelt estate on the Hudson River (see WEOKBroadcasting Corp. V. Planning Board of Town of Lloyd 1992).

25. What methods or resources may a lead agency use in assessing potential visual and aesthetic impacts?  Because the quality of an aesthetic resource cannot be determined by a precise formula and because opinions may vary concerning the evaluation of visual impacts, there exists a widespread, but erroneous, notion that aesthetics analysis is hopelessly subjective. Instead, research has clearly established that landscape preference and perception are not arbitrary or random, so that along with some variability there is substantial regularity in the perceptions of significant adverse and beneficial visual impacts. It is upon this regularity of human judgement concerning aesthetics that objective decision making depends.  Developing an objective process for considering visual impacts is most effective if undertaken before controversial projects appear. To establish or clarify values, policies and priorities related to existing visual resources, agencies or municipalities should conduct an inventory of visual resources within their jurisdictions. Such surveys need not be elaborate, but are a recommended feature of any comprehensive planning process that the agencies or municipalities may undertake. The prime objective is to be proactive and identify visual resources that are significant within that jurisdiction and could be adversely affected by potential development.

To evaluate potential visual impacts likely to result from individual proposed projects, the Visual EAF Addendum [(Appendix B of 617.20) (pdf, 936 kb)] may be used by the lead agency to supplement the EAF. The Visual EAF Addendum form highlights the following objective components of visual impact analysis are generally considered:

• Whether the value of the aesthetic resource has been established by designation; for example: state park, designated scenic vista, designated open space, etc.

• The number of people who could observe the potential impacts.

• The circumstances or contexts under which impacts would be visible.

• The distance the viewer is from the aesthetic resource.

When the responses to these and other pertinent questions about potential impacts to aesthetic resources are compiled, the lead agency will know, for example, whether the resource is designated as important, is viewed by thousands of people annually when they use the resource (e.g. park), or if the potential impact is adjacent to that resource. Based on this systematic assessment, the lead agency will then be able to consider visual and aesthetic impacts in developing its determination of significance.

26. Has the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) developed any additional resources for assessing aesthetic and visual impacts?  The DEC guidance policy “Assessing and Mitigating Visual Impacts” was developed to provide direction to DEC staff for evaluating visual and aesthetic impacts generated from proposed facilities. The policy and guidance defines what visual and aesthetic impacts are; describes when a visual assessment is necessary; provides guidelines on how to review a visual impact assessment; differentiates State from local concerns; and defines avoidance, mitigation and offset measures that eliminate, reduce, or compensate for negative visual effects.

The cornerstone of the DEC guidance document is its inventory of aesthetic resources of statewide or national significance. The scenic and aesthetic resources identified in the guidance have all been protected by law or regulation, and are therefore special places that the public has deemed worthy of protection due to the inherent aesthetic value associated with the resource. For example, one category is state and national parks which havebeen established by government to protect unique resources, and are accessible for use and appreciation by the public.

The DEC guidance defines State regulatory concerns, and separates them from local concerns. However, the DEC guidance may be used as a model by other agencies or municipalities. Once local authorities have officially identified locally important visual resources, the guidance may be used to assist a lead agency in systematically evaluating potential visual and aesthetic impacts from a proposed development.

27. How do aesthetic and visual impacts differ from community character impacts? Visual impact assessment considers a single class of resource. While visual resources may contribute to a community’s perception of its character, a number of other resources should also be assessed or evaluated to enable a more thorough description of a community’s character.

28. Why is “community character an environmental issue?  The Legislature has defined “environment” to include, among other things, “…existing patterns of population concentration, distribution or growth, and existing community or neighborhood character” (see ECL 8-0105.6). Court decisions have held that impacts upon community character must be considered in making determinations of significance even if there are no other impacts on the physical environment.

29.  How can you determine whether an impact upon community character may be significant? Community character relates not only to the built and natural environments of a community, but also to how people function within, and perceive, that community. Evaluation of potential impacts upon community or neighborhood character is often difficult to define by quantitative measures. Courts have supported reliance upon a municipality’s comprehensive plan and zoning as expressions of the community’s desired future state or character. (See Village of Chestnut Ridge v. Town of Ramapo, 2007.) In addition, if other resource-focused plans such as Local Waterfront Revitalization Plans (LWRP), Greenway plans or Heritage Area plans have been adopted, those plans may further articulate desired future uses within the planning area.

In the absence of a current, adopted comprehensive plan, a lead agency has little formal basis for determining whether a significant impact upon community character may occur.

  • Examples of actions affecting community character that have been found to be significant include the introduction of luxury housing into a working-class ethnic community and construction of a prison in a rural community.

• Examples of actions found not to be significant include low-income housing and shelters for the homeless proposed to be located within existing residential areas.

CoK’s Executive Branch Move to Streamline Commissions May Impair Historic Preservation Efforts.

WATCH Marissa Marvelli address the HLPC
2:10 – 6:47

On Wednesday, April 4th, Marissa Marvelli and Alan Baer were invited into the Mayor’s office and abruptly learned that they would not be reappointed to the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission, even though both wished to continue to serve. Under the charter, the Mayor has sole authority to appoint or remove members of all boards, committees and commissions. There is no oversight of those decisions by the Common Council.

Marissa Marvelli is a historic preservation specialist with a master’s degree in the discipline from Columbia University. Alan Baer is an architect educated at the University of Cincinnati with continuing education at Xavier, Pratt, RPI, and Harvard. He had served on the HLPC for 17 years. Both are Kingston residents.

The decision is believed to be part of the Mayor’s plan to merge the Historic Landmarks Preservation (HLPC) and Heritage Area Commissions (HAC). “Streamlining,” as it’s known, has been a contentious concept in the City of Kingston for years. It was included as a goal in the City of Kingston’s draft Comprehensive Plan by the consultant Shuster-Turner Associates (who were also involved in our 1961 Comp Plan that some experts say ushered in Urban Renewal in Kingston) and later removed after preservationists from around the city and the State Historic Preservation Office warned of its implications for Kingston’s standing in the state.

To everyone’s surprise, the goal to streamline reappeared in the City’s Comprehensive Plan Zoning Recommendations that were released to the public in January of 2018. As Comp Plan Zoning is meant to reflect the goals of an adopted Comp Plan, many felt it had no business being there. Before a new Comp Plan Zoning group had been established, the executive branch delivered legislation to streamline commission to be reviewed by the Common Council. At that time, we had no idea what the motivation was for the City.

READ
“Cherry Picking Comp Plan Zoning Recommendations: The Streamlining of the HLPC and HAC in Kingston”

KingstonCitizens.org with its partners spent most of last year advocating in support of the HLPC and HAC remaining independent commissions. We encouraged the Planning Department to create flowcharts and development guidebooks. (The Planning Department still doesn’t have these materials in any completed fashion even though the Planning Director has been in their position for over 30 years.) We also encouraged them to explore other ways to improve the review process for development projects, including coordinated reviews and a reconsideration of the HAC’s responsibilities. For months, we worked with members of the  Common Council to make the case that streamlining commissions was the wrong approach. The concept was finally thrown out by the Council’s Laws & Rules Committee last year.

VIEW 
“Historic Preservation in the City of Kingston: Re-thinking the Review Process”

GO BACK TO REVIEW 
Advocacy efforts to protect the HLPC all throughout 2018.

At their March meeting, the HLPC, as an Involved Agency in SEQR for the proposed Kingstonian Project, discussed recommendations to submit to the planning board.  Marvelli outlined the potential significant environmental impacts of the proposal. It is the Commission’s view that these impacts weigh towards a positive declaration, which would require a comprehensive, transparent public process that could help to improve the project on items that were within the HLPC’s purview.

VIEW
“Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC) Identifies Potential Significant Environmental Impacts of the Kingstonian Project”

The following month, Marvelli was abruptly told that she would not be given another a term. (Her term had expired last fall without any communication from the City about the fate of her service until this Wednesday.)

At last evening’s HLPC meeting, Hayes Clement was introduced as serving on both the HAC and newly appointed to the HLPC. These actions no doubt advance the Mayor’s goal to streamline commissions, overriding the outcome of the hard work by citizens and Council members over the past year.

Following the news that Marissa was not reappointed, long-standing Heritage Area Commissioner and Kingston resident Giovanna Righini resigned.

“It was with great disappointment that I learned of your decision not to renew the appointments of Marissa Marvelli and Alan Baer to the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC)….Through their involvement, the HLPC was finally beginning to transform into a strong organized force for historic preservation in Kingston. It has been refreshing to see an enthusiastic approach and a true professional understanding of preservation process: two things, which, quite frankly, have been lacking in the existing local preservation community and certain government departments…As a Heritage Area Commissioner and as a citizen of Kingston, the timing of your decision makes me very uncomfortable. With a huge project in Uptown currently on the table, hobbling the HLPC has the appearance of being a politically and financially motivated action. It does not serve our community well. And, worse, it does not serve the ideal of a democratic process for ALL members of our community….Sadly, it is with these thoughts in mind that I have decided to resign my position as Heritage Area Commissioner, effective immediately”

Their statements are available in full below.

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Statement delivered to the HLPC April 4, 2019.

My fellow colleagues:

As you can see I am not sitting at the table with you tonight nor is Alan Baer. Yesterday we both got the boot from Mayor Noble. He told me he was dismissing me because our visions for historic preservation did not align. He also said I was not fit to be a Landmarks Commissioner.

About his vision, the entirety of it can be summed in two words: merging commissions. It is the only preservation policy initiative he has put forward since he has been in office. He will point to the new administrator position that he recently created as evidence that he supports a strong municipal preservation program. While I agree it’s better than having no administrative support (which was our situation for more than a year), the annual salary—less than $19,000—is far from commensurate with the qualifications he seeks, which includes an advanced degree in historic preservation or a related field. I thought it was his administration’s desire to attract talented professionals to work in local government. I suppose it still is as long as that new talent is willing to work for peanuts.

My vision—and I think the collective vision of this body in recent years—has been to increase the professionalism and credibility of the Kingston Landmarks Commission. I am incredibly proud of the improvements we have made together. First, we have come into compliance as a Certified Local Government by submitting annual reports and receiving annual commissioner training. This state-administered program provides us valuable technical support and grant funding. I hope we maintain our compliance going forward.

We have also made great strides in adhering to proper procedure in terms of how our meetings are conducted, delivering clear findings of fact that are tied to our review criteria, and making sure our written decisions are thorough enough to be easily understood by a judge. (I have included in the materials I handed out a template that I created as a guide for making findings of fact.)

Most importantly, I am proud of our engagement with applicants. Education, open dialogue, and reasoned decisions form the core of this commission’s service.

It was my hope that in my tenure we would designate a new historic district and in tandem, have it nominated to the National Register so that property owners within it qualify for historic tax credits for undertaking rehabilitation work. It’s been 30 long years since this Commission last designated a historic district. However, with Kevin McEvoy’s help and the support of the Kingston Land Trust, a Preserve New York grant application was submitted two weeks ago to fund work to certify the Fair Street Historic District, which as you know is a local district only. With certification, property owners will qualify for the tax credits. I should add that certification is possible because Kingston is a Certified Local Government.

It was also my hope to work with the Common Council to improve the existing preservation ordinance so that it is more in keeping with the 2014 New York State Model Preservation Law. I doubt that that effort will be moving forward now.

It was also my hope that there would be a collegial working relationship between our Commission and members of the administration. Unfortunately, they are not welcoming of new ideas that are not their own. Some members tend to be obstinate, incurious, uncommunicative, and at times, resentful of being questioned. I would argue that some officials have occupied their desks for far too long to the detriment of our changing city.

This Commission is the backbone of historic preservation in Kingston. This is why it is so incredibly important that this citizen body maintain an independent voice in city government. You are not here to carry out one mayor’s agenda nor should you be distracted with caring for a planter box in Uptown. Your legislative intent is to promote and protect Kingston’s landmarks and historic districts for the education, pleasure, and general welfare of our community today and tomorrow. Please keep your focus on that.

Thank you for your service. It was an honor to serve with you.

Respectfully,

Marissa Marvelli

Marissa Marvelli is a Kingston resident and former vice chair of Kingston’s Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission. She works as a freelance historic preservation specialist for preservation-focused development projects and community groups seeking to protect their historic resources. She draws from a decade of experience with an award-winning Manhattan architecture firm and extensive involvement with non-profit preservation advocacy groups. She earned her Masters degree in historic preservation from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.

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Subject: HLPC changes

Dear Mayor Noble,

It was with great disappointment that I learned of your decision not to renew the appointments of Marissa Marvelli and Alan Baer to the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC).

Through their involvement, the HLPC was finally beginning to transform into a strong organized force for historic preservation in Kingston. It has been refreshing to see an enthusiastic approach and a true professional understanding of preservation process: two things, which, quite frankly, have been lacking in the existing local preservation community and certain government departments. I understand that this could sometimes be at odds with what is considered politically expedient, but such is the nature of a healthy discourse.

As a Heritage Area Commissioner and as a citizen of Kingston, the timing of your decision makes me very uncomfortable. With a huge project in Uptown currently on the table, hobbling the HLPC has the appearance of being a politically and financially motivated action. It does not serve our community well. And, worse, it does not serve the ideal of a democratic process for ALL members of our community.

Sadly, it is with these thoughts in mind that I have decided to resign my position as Heritage Area Commissioner, effective immediately.

Sincerely,

Giovanna Righini
Kingston, NY
Content Research + Clearance Specialist