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.
Kingston Planning Board: Public Hearing on Kingstonian Premlinary Studies Monday, August 19 at 6:00pm. Kingston City Hall, 420 Broadway.
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. firstname.lastname@example.org
Kingstonian Consultant Reports
Geotechnical Report (pdf)
Traffic Impact Study (pdf)
Visual Impact Analysis (pdf)
SEQR and Cultural Resources
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:
- Buildings (houses, barns, factories, churches, hotels, etc.),
- Structures (dams, bridges, canals, aqueducts, lighthouses, etc.),
- Districts (group of buildings or structures that have a common basis in history or architecture),
- Sites (battlefields, historic forts, prehistoric encampments, shipwrecks, etc.),
- Objects (ships, etc.), and
- Areas (gorges, parks, etc.).”
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.