Negative Declaration Made in Environmental Review Process for The Kingstonian; Planning Board Chair Cherrypicks SHPO Letter

Negative Declaration Made in Environmental Review Process for The Kingstonian; Planning Board Chair Cherrypicks SHPO Letter

Attached Image:  The proposed Kingstonian in relation to existing building footprints. From Marissa Marvelli’s illustrated guide for understanding architectural appropriateness in the Stockade Historic District. 

By Rebecca Martin

Last night the City of Kingston Planning Board voted  5-0 in favor of a negative declaration of significance for the massive Kingstonian project in the Stockade Historic District. 

Watch the meeting on Youtube filmed by The Kingston News and brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org

A negative declaration in the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) means that the Planning Board, as the lead agency for the review, sees “no substantial evidence that the project may have a significant effect on the environment.” 

As we have reported in the past, there is a prevalent misconception that the “environment” in SEQR pertains only to natural resources when in fact, according to the SEQR Handbook, “The terms ‘archeological’ and ‘historic’ are specifically included in the definition of the ‘environment’ at Part 617.2(l) as physical conditions potentially affected by a project.” The Handbook explains that such resources are: “… also often referred to as cultural resources. These resources may be located above ground, underground or underwater, and have significance in the history, pre-history, architecture or culture of the nation, the state, or local or tribal communities. 

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.

In his opening statement, Planning Board Chair Wayne Platte—who also serves as the City of Kingston Deputy Fire Chief—cherrypicked from the State Historic Preservation Office’s (SHPO) project feedback submitted in a letter dated September 19, 2019. Specifically, in reference to the visual impacts of the Kingstonian’s “monolithic” structure, he used the letter to reach a bogus determination: 

“The applicant has addressed all of those studies to my satisfaction… What rose to the top was the visual and how this project fits in uptown. A reference from the letter from SHPO from September of 2019 says that the new infill garage is generally appropriate. Herzog’s warehouse is a non-contributing structure within the National Register District and new construction appears to be an approximate reconstruction of the historic hotel structure and they recommended that the color scheme be more compatible.”  

What was conveniently left out of his remarks is the following, quoted directly from the aforementioned letter from SHPO:

“North Front Street is the traditional district boundary marked by a distinct natural drop-off down toward the Esopus Creek. This natural contour clearly marks the northern boundary of the historic 1658 stockade. The lower portion to the north of the district now contains modern buildings and the shopping plaza further to the north, but the historic boundary remains readily apparent and continues to characterize the district. The new construction would significantly alter the northern district boundary and would be clearly visible from within the historic district. The Montgomery Ward building, now demolished, was the only structure that extended significantly beyond that traditional northern border. The proposed new development is much larger and would extend well beyond the old Montgomery Ward footprint.”

“By the mid-19th century, when the commercial street front was developed, the section of Fair Street extending north from North Front Street was established to access railroad facilities and the lumber yards. This historic street, which allows pedestrian and vehicular access to the district, would be virtually eliminated as part of the proposed development.”

“The historic commercial and residential buildings of the Kingston Stockade are characterized by a variety of materials, styles, and colors. The new construction is monolithic compared with the surrounding district. Though the currently proposed design attempts to reference the historic setting and surrounding architecture, we believe that a much greater effort is warranted for a construction of this scale.

“In accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, and based on our comments above, we believe that the proposed development will have adverse effects on the Kingston Stockade Historic District. Through our continued consultation, we request that you develop and evaluate modifications to this project that could avoid, minimize, or mitigate the adverse effects.”

Now that the environmental review process is complete, agencies listed in the applicant’s Environmental Assessment Form as having discretionary authority in this project can proceed with their reviews. This includes the Kingston Common Council (sale or lease of land/closing of Fair Street/amending the Mixed Use Overlay District boundaries); Kingston Planning Board (site plan approval and special use permit); Zoning Board of Appeals (area variance); Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (design approval); Ulster County Industrial Development Corporation (a PILOT agreement); and others. Typically speaking, the Planning Board’s negative declaration determination will be factored into these future decisions.  Any of the potential environmental factors already reviewed during SEQR may not be reconsidered. Additionally, with a negative declaration, all public funds awarded to this project may now start to flow. 

Additional Reading/Viewing

READ:  “Planning Board Sees No Potential Impact on Character of Stockade District by Kingstonian Project (with video)”

PETITION:  Common Council Must Uphold Affordable Housing, Full Accounting of Kingstonian Public Funds

1 thought on “Negative Declaration Made in Environmental Review Process for The Kingstonian; Planning Board Chair Cherrypicks SHPO Letter

  1. A great disappointment! I really thought it would go the other way. No one opposed the general idea of this project (although its size/scale was and is of concern) but to say that there is not sufficent environmental impact is to deny the fact that it will be cited on/in and near one of our nation’s most unique and important historic districts. Had the design of the project respected that fact, there would have been at least an argument for a negative declaration but that is not the case. (Thank you, Rebecca, for helping to keep us involved.)

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