By Rebecca Martin
In April, community members impacted by the proposed Irish Cultural Center (ICC) located at 32 Abeel Street in the Rondout co-authored a letter to the Common Council Laws and Rules Committee ostensibly asking, “Why does the City of Kingston have laws on its books that it won’t enforce?” The letter was referring to a recent decision by the Building Safety and Code Enforcement Department guided by the Executive Branch’s Corporation Counsel in the City of Kingston, where it was determined that the ICC’s expired permit (the third since 2011) would not be upheld due to the city not having found “… an instance of its usage” and that it would be “unfair to arbitrarily enforce said article by invalidating (the ICC’s) building permit.”
The Laws and Rules Committee took up the question at its May meeting where they decided to send an inquiry to the Director of Building Safety and Code Enforcement. In an email, Chairman of the Council’s Laws & Rules Committee and Ward 1 Alderman Jeffrey Ventura-Morrell asked, “In your letter to the developers, you mentioned that you found no previous instance of its (the article’s) enforcement and therefore you determined that it would be unfair and arbitrary to enforce it in this instance. Can you please expand on why you reached that conclusion?”
The Director replied, “Following a review of a number of files, conversations with current staff and speaking with former inspectors, no one could remember an instance when a permit had been invalidated for this reason. Building Safety issued 1350 permits last year and we have no mechanism to alert us when each permit has reached the six months’ revocation limit. The recognition of a permit’s potential invalidation date is only the first step in the process. An actual inspection of the premises would be needed to verify the presence or absence of construction work. I am of the belief that this code, if strictly enforced, would overwhelm the capacity of the department and frankly is not necessary.”
What is notable here is that the Building Safety, with guidance from the Executive Branch’s Corporation Counsel, provided two explanations. In his letter dated March 10 to the ICC, the law would not be upheld because the city hadn’t used it before and concluded that it would be unfair to the applicant if it were enforced. In the June 2 reaction to the chair of the Laws and Rules Committee’s inquiry, the reason was because of a lack of mechanism to alert his department of the six month expiration for each permit that they have approved.
It’s problematic for Kingston going forward, as enforcement of the law is critical. If the law is flawed, then it should be reformed. Additionally, in the 21st century, technology must exist to provide a ‘mechanism’ that would allow the City of Kingston Building Department to assure compliance of all of its 1,350 approved building permits. (Note to City: Check out Airtable)
The City of Kingston’s Common Council Laws & Rules Committee will continue the discussion “Building / Zoning Laws” during their remote meeting on Wednesday, June 17th at 6:30pm.