At last evening’s Heritage Area Commission (HAC) meeting, Steve MacKenzie of Mackenzie Architects P.C. presented his firm’s visual impact analysis for the Kingstonian project. It is the first time the architect has personally presented his design proposal to the community. Included in his presentation were new renderings not before seen by the public.
Although the HAC will play only an advisory role in this case, two of its members also serve on the Historic Landmarks Commission (HLPC), a decision-making body in the review process for the Kingstonian project. At last night’s meeting, HAC Chair Hayes Clement confirmed that no deliberations would be occurring before the project’s SEQR process has been completed.
MacKenzie noted that he will be making the same presentation to the HLPC at its meeting on Thursday September 5th.
Giovanna Righini, a Kingston resident and former longtime member of the HAC, spoke during the public comment portion of last night’s meeting. Righini was one of four volunteers who stepped down this spring in the wake of the City of Kingston executive branch’s efforts to merge the HLPC and HAC commissions against the will of council members, preservationists, civic advocates, and residents. Righini’s comments addressed the general role and responsibilities of the HAC:
I know that the Commissioners are all familiar with the Kingston Urban Cultural Park Draft Management Plan, which serves as the original basis for the Heritage Area Commission’s advisory work. Tonight I am here to put a reminder of it on the public record. As you review tonight’s materials, the HAC should have a clear understanding of the responsibility of its advisory role in structuring comments for the HLPC.
Per the Preservation Plan Approach in Part V, page 28, the Review Board is clearly laid out as follows:
“One of the most potent tools in promoting preservation is architectural and design review. The areas identified above [which include the Stockade District and West Strand] will be placed under the jurisdiction of the HLPC, the City’s existing preservation-oriented board. Standards and procedures set forth in the local laws establishing this Commission and creating the Stockade Historic and Architectural Design District will be applied to these areas as will applicable provisions in the recently adopted City zoning law and preservation standards established by the Secretary of the Interior…”
Continued under Preservation Standards and Guidelines in Part V, page 35, the Zoning Ordinance is noted as establishing preservation standards, guidelines and procedures within the City’s historic districts.
“Applicable portions of the Revised Zoning Ordinance require Landmark Commission review and approval of all applications for any changes made within these districts including construction, reconstruction, alteration, restoration, removal, demolition or painting. These requirements apply to all buildings, structures, out-buildings, walls, fences, steps, topographical fixtures, earthworks, landscaping, paving and signs.”
It goes on to describe requirements imposed by the ordinance pertaining to all aspects of compatibility with existing and adjacent architecture and character. “In short, every conceivable element of significance and compatibility.”
And so, also in short, if it is in a historic district, design review decisions are the purview of the HLPC. While the HAC can and should make comments, it should also make sure to clearly defer final decisions to the HLPC.
On Wednesday, August 21st at 6:30pm, the Kingston Common Council Laws and Rules Committee will have their monthly meeting where they are expected to discuss 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 a public hearing that occurred last week.
At that meeting, members of the public pressed the city’s law-makers to not extend the MUOD zoning district without first seeking clarification about the overlay’s intent and applicability to the Kingstonian project. How does an overlay district that mandates the adaptive reuse of existing buildings and that 20% of the new residential units must be maintained as affordable housing — as the MUOD does — apply to the Kingstonian project, which proposes to be all new construction without any affordable housing?
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 segmentation, which is contrary to the intent of 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 requested or agreed to additional time. This is information that had not been provided at the July 19th Laws and Rules Committee meeting.
IF A ZONING CHANGE IS REQUIRED THEN A NEW ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT FORM (EAF) WOULD BE TOO. On page 3 of the form it asks: “Is a zoning change requested as part of the proposed action?” The applicant checked “No” (see image below). The applicant would need to amend its EAF to correct this and list the amendment as one of the Common Council’s discretionary actions. It is critical that all anticipated decisions by a particular agency be identified from the start in both the EAF and the addendum so that the potential environmental impacts associated with them can be considered together.
A revised lead agency coordination letter should then be sent to all involved agencies with accurate information about all of the approvals that would be required including the zoning amendment.
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.