Back in August, we reported on the Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation Training Center and “Gas Village”, a new construction in the Town of Ulster. With a speedy environmental review process, the Town of Ulster Town Board determined that the project would have no significant adverse environmental impacts.
Construction on the site destroyed nearly 30 acres of forest located in the Lower Esopus Creek watershed. Complaints about stormwater, erosion and turbidity started to roll into the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and on October 29th, a notice of violation (NOV) was issued for the projects State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) Permit for stormwater discharges caused by construction activity. On that very same day, another NOV was issued for another contentious local project known as “850 Route 28” also for stormwater pollution.
In the case of Central Hudson, the state wrote that, “At the time of the inspection, the water quality in the wetland was indicative of pollution from discharges from stormwater runoff related to construction activities. This is a violation of Article 17 of ECL. Please be advised that violations of the ECL are subject to penalties of up to $37,500 per day per violation.”
A final determination on enforcement is not yet known, though we are all pleased by the DEC’s initial action.
What is a State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) Permit?
On the NYSDEC’s website, it says that ‘”New York is rich in surface and groundwater resources”, it says on the . “Article 17 of the Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) entitled “Water Pollution Control” was enacted to protect and maintain these valuable resources. Article 17 authorized creation of the State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) program to maintain New York’s waters with reasonable standards of purity.
The SPDES program is designed to eliminate the pollution of New York waters and to maintain the highest quality of water possible– consistent with public health, public enjoyment of the resource, protection and propagation of fish and wildlife and industrial development in the state.
New York’s SPDES program has been approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency for the control of surface wastewater and stormwater discharges in accordance with the Clean Water Act. However, the SPDES program is broader in scope than that required by the Clean Water Act as it controls point source discharges to groundwaters as well as surface waters”.
VIEW Central Hudson “Gas Village” training facility in Town of Ulster Destroys 28 Acres of Forest (KingstonCitizens.org)
WHEN: Thursday, December 2 at 6:30pm. View the City of Kingston’s FACEBOOK event.
SUGGESTIONS FOR YOUR TESTIMONY: A public hearing seems premature. The city has yet to confirm whether or not Fair Street Extension can be offered for sale before discussing a public bid at fair market value.
By Rebecca Martin
Following an October 14th Common Council Finance and Audit Committee meeting, Kingston lawmakers were poised to approve a plan to abandon and close a portion of Fair Street Extension to through traffic to make way for the Kingstonian proposal, a luxury apartment development in Uptown Kingston, and the centerpiece of Kingston’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) that was awarded by former Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Just days before the full council planned to vote, Victoria Polidoro of the law firm Rodenhausen Chale & Polidoro submitted a letter to the city on behalf of her client, a landowner in Uptown Kingston, that said if lawmakers proceeded as planned the “City will not be following the requisite procedure for the closing of a public street and subsequent conveyance of an interest in the former street bed”. That procedure included a public hearing. The firm threatened a temporary restraining order “until all statutory requirements were followed”.
“The rights of the public in city streets are inalienable, and may only be sold or conveyed in limited circumstances” she wrote. According to Kingston’s city code and NYS general city law, “…to discontinue a City of Kingston Street, the Code first requires the City Planner to establish a list of streets or portions of streets which are no longer used as ‘public thoroughfares’ and are now vacant”, which is not the case for Fair Street Extension. “The Code then directs the circumstances under which these streets are to be offered for sale, with sale as the only provided for manner of conveying or otherwise disposing of a street.”
“There will be a public hearing before a vote”
Although the City code is clear, the differences of opinion about the process steps to abandon a street by the council has been confusing for the public. Early in October, we were told by Council President Andrea Shaut with certainty that, “…there will be a public hearing before a vote” as outlined in the City code. However, a week later, the Council Finance and Audit Committee members passed a resolution “endorsing a plan to abandon and close a portion of Fair Street Extension to through traffic” without any discussion about the process and no mention of a public hearing. When a constituent followed up, Ward 3 Alderman Rennie Scott Childress (the democratic majority leader and chair of the Finance and Audit Committee) said “…a public hearing would be called for (only) if the City were selling or otherwise disposing of the property”.
Did Kingston’s Corporation Counsel find some clever new hook? Were our council members being placed in a position to defend their decision by saying that the process doesn’t apply to a street if it is being given away? A local street, like all infrastructure, is a public good built on generations of investment by Kingston families. How could our city be so frivolous?
Prevailing Wage and former Governor Cuomo’s exemption for Downtown Revitalization Initiative projects like the Kingstonian
Although the City of Kingston set the original public hearing to occur on December 9th, without any explanation, it was moved up a week to December 2nd. This move by corporation counsel was likely made to allow the public hearing and council vote to occur within the same month (as the next full council meeting is on December 7th). The Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission will also be busy reviewing recent project changes during their December 2nd meeting (the same date and time as the Fair Street Extension public hearing) for an approval, and likely soon. All that’s left is the site plan approval by the Planning Board and variance change by the Zoning Board of Appeals. There is a sense that these approvals are being rushed and out of step, and at the expense of both the public and the process.
In a recent article in the New York State Bar Association “New York to Require Contractors to Pay Prevailing Wages on Certain Private Projects“, they write: “On April 3, 2020, New York lawmakers passed a $177 billion budget bill that significantly expanded the application of prevailing wages on construction projects in the state. While previously the payment of prevailing wages had been reserved for public construction projects only, the new bill expands the prevailing wage requirement to certain private projects for the first time in our state’s history….The law, which becomes effective on January 1, 2022, extends prevailing wages to projects that previously both sides may have viewed as “private,” where total project costs exceed $5,000,000 and where the project receives 30% or more of its total construction project costs from public funds.”
The Kingstonian project costs are well over $5 million and they are also receiving more than 30% of their cost through public funds (consider the DRI funding, grants, PILOTs). But former Governor Andrew Cuomo slipped in an exemption for construction projects from prevailing wage requirements even if they otherwise met the foregoing criteria. Guess which ones? “Projects funded by § 16-n of the Urban Development Corporation Act or the Downtown Revitalization Initiative“making the Kingstonian currently….exempt.
The ball is in Governor Hochul’s court, and Cuomo’s unscrupulous DRI exemption could be struck by the board that she will (or has already) established.
If we are aware of this, then it is without any doubt the City and project developers are too. It is likely motivating them to push hard to get everything in place while they are still exempt. Prevailing wage, if ever applied to the Kingstonian project, would likely make it too expensive to build.
“New York City is dumping millions of gallons a day of muddy water from its Ashokan Reservoir into the Lower Esopus Creek. For over a decade, Ulster County residents have been demanding that they find a better way to manage their drinking water supply in the face of climate change – and protect communities downstream.”
On November 18 from 6-8pm, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) and towns along the lower Esopus Creek are hosting a public meeting to provide information about Ashokan Reservoir, its operations during the ongoing Catskill Aqueduct shutdown, and an overview of the protocols that currently govern releases from the reservoir.
Although the public may not impact decision-making for the October aqueduct closure (that is scheduled to remain closed through January), it is an important (and rare) opportunity for community members to learn more and to publicly hold New York City and the NYSDEC accountable.
We received a copy of this letter from a community member who resides on the Lower Esopus Creek in the Town of Ulster. She wrote to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio with an invitation to tomorrow’s meeting that we are sharing with permission:
Dear Mr. Mayor,
As you know, New York City has closed its Catskill Aqueduct for repair work through mid-January – a change that will have major effects on the Ashokan Reservoir and the region. Specifically, the Lower Esopus Creek will experience increased releases from the Ashokan Reservoir, causing damage to the stream beds and surrounding areas. We can expect erosion to the existing shoreline and turbid water that severely affects water quality, wildlife habitat and recreation. The impacts also reach the Hudson River, a drinking water source for seven mid-Hudson communities.
On Thursday, November 18, we (residents of the lower Espous) have an important chance to hear directly from the city’s Department of Environmental Protection – and to be heard.
I’m writing to urge you to assign someone to attend the meeting, or attend it yourself. Since this work is being done to benefit New York City your office should be aware of just how adversely it affects the homeowners, business owners and communities of the lower Espous Creek. I have a dual interest in this in that I reside in New York City where I am able to enjoy the clean drinking water we are provided from the Catskill region but I also own a waterfront home in the Town of Ulster in the hamlet a Lake Katrine. My house backs right up to the Esopus Creek where we have seen massive erosion over the past two decades due in large part to the releases from the Askokan reservoir. We have all but lost our entire retaining wall and are now experiencing massive erosion including trees falling off of our land into the creek. We are not receiving any relief or any assistance from New York City or the Town Ulster. We can no longer swim or fish in the creek because if it’s high turbidity. This has gone on for decades and it’s only getting worse.
Another fact that you should know is that we do not even have clean safe drinking water. After hooking up to “city water“ a couple of years ago we quickly found out that we could not even drink the water that we are paying for. It is not the same clean water brought down from the reservoir to New York City but water from a well that has now been determined to be cancerous. All of this is completely unacceptable and that’s why I’m bringing this to your attention. This work is being done, in part, so that New York City can continue to receive the beautiful clean water from the Catskill region, while the communities who are continually flooded out so that New York City can boast clean drinking water don’t even have clean water themselves.
Excess water needs to go somewhere. Without adequate planning, the reservoir is forced to discharge its waters when it fills beyond capacity – typically through controlled releases to the Lower Esopus, or spills over the reservoir. Without the aqueduct drawing down the reservoir’s waters, such events become more likely, and Lower Esopus communities are left more vulnerable to flooding. Under the current operations protocol, the combined discharges into the Lower Esopus Creek may total up to 1 billion gallons a day. When faced with the addition of such large volumes of water, the Lower Esopus will see damage, as it has in years past and a much higher level.
These new challenges add to existing ones. For years we’ve been calling on New York City to stop its massive muddy releases into Lower Esopus Creek as a solution to its turbidity problem in Ashokan Reservoir.
The event will be located at the Frank D. Greco Senior Center at 207 Market Street in Saugerties at 6:00pm (masks will be required for any attendees who are not vaccinated).
We sincerely hope that The New York City Mayor’s office will be in attendance and support the residents and communities of the lower Esopus Creek.
Last week, the Kingstonian project development team that includes Michael Moriello (legal), Dennis Larios (engineering) and Scott Dutton (architect) joined the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission’s (HLPC) monthly meeting to discuss the required Preservation Notice of Action and demolition permit that the developers will need to proceed.
HLPC chairman Mark Grunblatt outlined concerns raised in a letter dated 9/6/19 for the developers to prepare to address during their upcoming presentation and public hearing in January.
Clarifying the boundaries of the Historic District and whether or not they cover Schwenk drive;
A plan to preserve and properly handle any archeological artifacts found during demolition and construction by a certified archeologist professional;
Addressing visual impacts to the historic district and surrounding area;
Address potential damage to neighboring properties when demolition and construction begins.
City of Kingston Assistant Corporation Council Dan Gartenstein noted that the project’s State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) negative declaration decision had fully resolved several of the issues identified by the chairman that evening, and that the Preservation Notice of Action items would pertain to some items such as visual impacts and demolition.
Dutton said that the team is working to define their plans and that they were not making any dramatic changes, only refinements and improvements to the visual and facade, to take it to “another level”. Moriello added that there would be no dramatic moves, and that although SEQR had concluded, the applicant could continue on with visual impacts and analysis.
Gartenstein said that according to the City of Kingston’s code 405-49 (Building Permits), the project would require an application for a building permit for demolition, and that the building safety division would notify the commission, who would reply to the request for demolition. When asked if a demolition permit had yet been requested, the Kingstonian attorney answered that it had not.
As a side note, we would be remiss if we didn’t point out the irony that while the Friends of Historic Kingston (located only blocks away from the Kingstonian project) and others host exhibits mourning the demolition of the Kingston post office and urban removal, we continue to tear down buildings and this time, in the heart of Kingston’s historic district. “History teaches us that we learn nothing from history” is fitting here.
The Applicants’ attorneys will prepare information to present to the commission and members of the public regarding the necessity to demolish the building at the next HLPC meeting on December 2. Moriello pointed out that according to 405-65 (d), a public hearing will be required, suggesting that the presentation and public hearing could all be held on the same day. City of Kingston Planning Director Suzanne Cahill said that the city should hold off scheduling a public hearing until the materials were released, and that it would not be fair to the public to not have those materials in order to make comments in December.
A public hearing will likely be set in January, 2022. The Commission tabled the application until their next meeting on December 2.
ADDITIONAL SELECTED RESOURCES: by historic preservation specialist Marissa Marvelli
Then, on Friday afternoon (11/5), the City of Kingston’s Corporation Counsel received a letter from Victoria Polidoro of the law firm Rodenhausen Chale & Polidoro regarding the city’s plans for 9-17 & 21 N. Front Street and Fair Street Extension, threatening a temporary restraining order.
“Based on the discussion during the Finance and Audit Committee meeting (see below) and the lack of a public hearing notice for November 9, 2021, my clients are concerned that the City will not be following the requisite procedure for the closing of a public street and subsequent conveyance of an interest in the former street bed…our clients are prepared to seek a temporary restraining order from the Ulster County Supreme Court preventing the City from discontinuing and conveying an interest in the Fair Street Extension until all statutory requirements have been followed.”
In the letter, Polidoro outlines the process and procedure for closing a public street and conveyance of public land. “The rights of the public in city streets are inalienable, and may only be sold or conveyed in limited circumstances.” wrote Polidoro. “To discontinue a City of Kingston Street, the Code first requires the City Planner to establish a list of streets or portions of streets which are no longer used as “public thoroughfares” and are now vacant.”
“Code §355-56. The Code then directs the circumstances under which these streets are to be offered for sale, with sale as the only provided for manner of conveying or otherwise disposing of a street: “The [Common] Council shall determine whether the street is of public use or whether it is in the interest of the City of Kingston to sell such street.” Code §355- 58. Property descriptions, assessments, public hearings, and ultimate approval of any deal to sell the public street by the Common Council and Mayor are required before a public thoroughfare can be conveyed. Code §355-61-63, -65. The City must hold a public hearing on ten days’ notice regarding the proposed sale before it can be approved. Code § 355-62.
Community members in the Town of Ulster have asked Central Hudson to hold a virtual informational meeting in order to answer questions and concerns regarding Central Hudson’s “Gas Village” training facility project next to a residential neighborhood and located in the Esopus Creek watershed. They rejected that request and instead, scheduled an in-person meeting at their headquarters even in the midst of surging Covid-19 infections.
TAKE ACTION: You can support residents in the Town of Ulster to make this meeting virtual in order to be seen by more community members by contacting John Maserjian of Central Hudson Gas & Electric at: email@example.com
From Town of Ulster Community members to Central Hudson:
“We appreciate your response to our request for a community meeting to address the many concerns that we have for the environment, Esopus Creek watershed water quality, long-term noise and aesthetics due to the construction of your Gas Village next to a residential neighborhood and in the Esopus Creek watershed located off of route 9W. Being in-person as well as the format however, is not what we asked for and therefore we will not be attending.
The roving meeting format does not allow for complete transparency. This unstructured way of questions and answers facilitates sidebar conversations either muffled due to mask-wearing or inaudible to the rest of the public. Furthermore, you are forcing strangers whose vaccination status is unknown to be confined in a room for an hour or more and to walk around the room to see your displays and converse with each other. This increases risk and exposure.
If you choose to proceed despite these concerns that is your prerogative. But we request that you provide us with your construction timeline, as we asked for two weeks ago, by September 17, 2021.
Once we have that we can adequately review your plans and hold our own remote community meeting to compile town members’ and CenHud customer concerns and present those to you to address them.
Our goals are safety, inclusion, transparency, and collaboration. Respectfully, we urge you to reconsider and to make your upcoming meeting virtual. “
READ: Central Hudson “Gas Village” in Town of Ulster Destroys 28 Acres of Forest
Last week, we met a resident who lives on Glenerie Boulevard in Lake Katrine. Her home is sandwiched between the Lower Esopus Creek and the CSX train tracks. We got the call because of the ongoing muddy releases in the Lower Esopus Creek and offered to come and look to see the creek from her property.
In December of 2020, she had witnessed the massive muddy pollution released into the Lower Esopus from the Ashokan reservoir first hand during an unprecedented storm event. A mix of rain and snow melt resulted in 63 billion gallons of water flowing into the Ashokan reservoir during a 48-hour period, making it one of the largest runoff events in the history of NYC’s water supply.
The releases turned the Lower Esopus into a thick chocolate milk colored mess, and the harms to the creek have been ongoing throughout the spring and summer months. Furthermore, our area has experienced heavy rains this year, leading to the Town of Ulster recently issuing an alert that more releases from the Ashokan reservoir were to be expected. New York City had measured the rainfall in July to be 5.31 inches at the reservoir, more than the area typically receives for the entire month and falling into the 90th percentile conditions for runoff.
Climate change is no longer some future existential threat. It is here, now.
During our visit, we learned about a recent clearing of nearly 28 acres of forest between 9W and Glenerie Boulevard. “It’s now a huge hole in the ground and none of us were informed it was even happening, “ she said. With the daily dynamite blasting, residents complained and were finally given an auto bot call an hour before and loud horns moments before each incoming blast. Residents reported damage to their foundations and roofs.
“What is it?” we asked. Turns out, it’s a large training facility and Gas Village project for Central Hudson. How did we miss this?
When we left, we made several calls to local advocates to find out if they were familiar with the project. Most were as surprised as we were. After some digging, we learned that Central Hudson purchased property in this area to the south. For the present project, they purchased a separate 56 acres from Carriag Properties, an apparent Callanan Industries affiliated entity and needed a 1+ acre lot line adjustment from Largay LLC (Bread Alone) to connect the two parcels. The lot line adjustment occurred in 2019 at the Ulster Planning Board and Town Board together with site plan approval. No one appeared at the public hearing. At that time it appeared from the Town minutes that various residents were focused on Glidepath (a fossil fuel project that was proposed in the Town of Ulster that we, along with residents, NGOs and county representatives, were able to transition into a battery storage proposal outcome).
Residents who own property on Glenerie Boulevard are faced with three serious environmental and economic harms: Muddy pollution from the Ashokan Reservoir into the Lower Esopus Creek; a freight train that carries hazardous materials (such a Bakken crude oil); and now, deforested lands that many believe has displaced thousands of animals in order to build a Central Hudson training facility and outdoor gas ‘village’. Where are the Town of Ulster representatives? Where is the county?
The Town of Ulster is notorious for bad planning and projects that are shortsighted and potentially harmful to their community and our area at large. They were nearly successful in selling the City of Kingston’s drinking water supply back in 2014 (Niagara Bottling Company) and welcomed a fossil fuel power plant a few hundred feet from a residential neighborhood (Glidepath). Luckily, both projects were forever changed for the good by the hard work of local advocates.
Unfortunately, with the Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation Training Center’s speedy environmental review process completed some two years ago where the Town Board as lead agency found that the project would have no significant adverse environmental impacts and made a determination of nonsignificance within a month’s time. It’s anyone’s guess what the residents living nearby can expect.
This project caught us by surprise, so there is a lot of catching up to do. It’s uncertain what long game strategies there can be. But in the short term, Town of Ulster residents should demand that the Town Board implement environmental oversight of any future developments.
The Town of Ulster is one of the few municipalities in Ulster County that has rejected the implementation of a Conservation Advisory Council (CAC). CAC’s are important bodies created by a municipal board to advise local agencies on development, management and the protection of natural resources. Even though residents have asked for and offered to participate in a CAC for nearly a decade, the Town Board, led by Supervisor James Quigley did not support it and what Quigley says, so goes the board.
Additionally in June, the Town of Ulster – one of the impacted communities on the Lower Esopus Creek – declined to submit comments to the New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation during the public comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement on behalf of their constituents. Again the Town Board, led by Supervisor James Quigley did not support it and what Quigley says, so goes the board.
There is an election this fall, where Supervisor Quigley is up for re-election. Without anyone running against him, he is sure to win another four years. There are also two town board seats up for grabs, but they, too, haven’t any real competition. It is so important that we nurture new leadership in the Town of Ulster. If you are a resident there, consider challenging future elections. They have it in mind to keep passing the baton to those who think like the current administration does. Get in there.
TAKE ACTION: In the short term, Town of Ulster residents are encouraged to join members of TownOfUlsterCitizens.org to insist that the Town of Ulster take the Climate Smart pledge. Residents can also demand that the town initiate a Conservation Advisory Council in order to help shape good protections for its remaining natural assets. Consider asking them how you can run for office in your town. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
A Timeline of Transactions: Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation Training Center
1982-1983: Callanan Industries buys land located at N.Y.S. Route 9W and Eastern Parkway in the Town of Ulster. The Covenant is not mentioned in these documents that turns up later on.
“The Applicant, Central Hudson Gas and Electric Corporation, is proposing to construct a 40,351 square foot Training Academy that will feature offices and classrooms, a separate 31,358 square foot indoor training area and an outdoor gas ‘village’ containing (6) 120 square foot residential training buildings, (1) 800 square foot commercial training building, (1) 240 square foot apartment training building, and simulated electric transmission and distribution pole yards. A 41,550 square foot Electric Transmission and Distribution Primary Control Center will be developed adjacent to the proposed Training Academy. The site will tie into an existing municipal water main and a request to extend the existing municipal sewer district will be made to allow connection to an existing sanitary sewer pressure line. The buildings will utilize proposed parking areas on the north and south of the Training Academy and Primary Control Center providing 226 parking spaces. The project area is a 56.51 acre wooded site located on New York State Route 9W and Eastern Parkway. The project area is situated in Highway Commercial (HC) and 1-Family Residence District (R-30) Zoning Districts. A 1.8 acre land swap with the adjacent site, Bread Alone (Largay, LLC), is also proposed.”
7/30/19: Date of Submission Letter addressed to the Planning Board. Did they obtain (or need to) a zoning variance for the 1-family Residence district portion? (need to look at zoning code and ZBA agendas and minutes)
“The applicant, Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation, is seeking site plan, special use permit and lot line realignment approval for the development of a 56.51-acre parcel located in the Highway Commercial HC) and 1-family Residence (R-30) zoning districts. The proposal includes a 1.8-acre land swap with the adjacent Bread Alone site to allow Central Hudson to access the proposed Training Center, Primary Control Center, Training Annex and outdoor training facilities through their site.”
Project Narrative: “The project site is currently a 56.51-acre vacant lot …..The area of the new development currently includes wooded area, unregulated streams and a Federal Wetland in the southwest corner of the parcel. The proposed improvements will result in approximately 28.7 acres of disturbance”;
5. Carraig Properties LLC sells 56.43 acres of land to Central Hudson.
12/10/19: Having gone to contract just 2 1/2 months after the Callanan Industries/Carraig Properties sale, Carraig Properties LLC. sells 56.43 acres of land to Central Hudson for $630,000, nine times the price they paid. In the deed, the land has a covenant that prohibits “overburden” (a term that in this case is a product of mining).
Did Callanan Industries know that this was (evidently) purchased to sell to Central Hudson? Would that include clear cutting?
Central Hudson purchased a large piece of land, which the subdivision map calls “Glenerie Lake Park”, from Carraig Properties LLC (who, as per the 7/31/18 deed listed above, held the deed for less than a year after purchasing it from Callanan Industries LLC). This piece of land had a covenant attached to it (that may prohibit clear cutting) that prohibits “overburden” (a term that in this case is a product of mining), which was also in the deed from it’s previous sale, less than a year prior.
“…Land swap with the adjacent Bread Alone site to allow Central Hudson to access the proposed Training Center, Primary Control Center, Training Annex and outdoor training facilities through their site.”
9/30/20: Contract for sale from Largay LLC (Bread Alone) to Central Hudson
9/30/20: Contract for sale from Central Hudson to Largay LLC (Bread Alone)
12/02/20: Largay LLC (Bread Alone) sells 1.7 acres to Central Hudson for $100,000
12/02/20: Central Hudson sells 1.8 acres to Largay LLC (Bread Alone) for $100,000
Central Hudson already owned land, just below the Bread Alone Land. In order to connect their old land with their new land, Central Hudson traded a section of their new land with a section of Bread Alone’s land.
Business transactions between Largay LLC (Bread Alone) Bank of Greene County are also listed on UC Deeds filed on the same date (12/22/20)
Tonight, as the council discussed a draft resolution for charter reform that we helped to create, we listened in shock as Ward 5 Council member Don Tallerman accused KingstonCitizens.org of corroborating with Neil Bender’s Kingstonian lawsuits, saying that our volunteer advocacy group was “Holding a gun to our city”.
A year later, and in support of our entire community, we created draft language to help our council, taking the time to do some research and looking at communities similar in size and scale locally (all of which is cited in the original google document for the entire city to review) for a resolution that would allow the council to hire its own staff, have a say in the appointments/removal of committee, boards and commission members and formalizing mandatory training for council members (the Board of Education has yearly trainings).
Disregarding the substance, Tallerman said that KingstonCitizens.org’s main supporter is engaged in a dozen lawsuits. “Why would we entertain a suggestion from an entity who is holding a gun to our city…if a constituent comes to me with a good idea, and at the same time they are holding a gun up to the head of my family, no I’m not going to listen to that constituent when they are holding a gun up at my family’s head.”
Is it appropriate for an elected official to use a gun reference to describe the advocacy work of constituents? What’s the message he is trying to deliver? He ought to be censured for what he said tonight.
In a recent Board of Education vote, candidates who were placed on the ballot as retribution for the BOE Kingstonian vote lost the election.
In another major upset, longtime legislator and Kingstonian supporter Dave Donaldson lost the democratic line during the primary to newcomer Phil Erner.
Why is Ward 5 Alderman Don Tallerman Angry at KingstonCitizens.org?
Over the years, we have called for Council member Tallerman to recuse himself from any Kingstonian project vote due to his conflicts. We’ve created a timeline of those items as well as to how it pertains to our recent charter reform request. REVIEW the timeline
CORRECTION: The speaker Jessica’s title is Empowerment Coordinator. Her comments regarding the Kingstonian are her personal opinions and do not reflect the opinions of the YMCA.
WATCH/LISTEN: “Here is the audible improvement, the last of the three segments is where we are now. The birds are louder!” said Lisa Darling
This is such a great story!
AFTER ONE WOMAN’S PURSUIT OF PEACE, CHANGES COME TO THE NYS DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION SITES STATEWIDE
Kingston, NY: Assemblyman Kevin Cahill’s office ensured positive change for neighbors of 60 NYS Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) facilities throughout the state, an initiative stemming from efforts spearheaded by Kingston, NY resident and sound healing artist Lisa Darling. A few months after moving into her new home, Darling was stunned to hear the ongoing sound of a loud-piercing backup beeper throughout the night as the facility operated to maintain winter roads. When Darling approached the DOT, their response was that they were getting accolades for the good work they were doing, and they were not going to change anything”. They said, “this is how it has always been”.
In her original outreach, after making calls to state officials with no response, Darling took the advice of a friend and reached out to KingstonCitizens.org, a local non-partisan citizen engagement organization. They provided a roadmap of Kingston’s local government, along with a direct introduction to Darling’s council member Jeffrey Ventura Morrel (D-Ward 1). Darling created a petition with her neighbor Chas Gritman and together, collected 40 names asking DOT officials to consider alternatives to the high-pitched alarms. Morrel involved Darling’s County Legislator Abe Uchitelle (D-District 5), and leveraging the petition, Uchitelle gained the attention of state Assemblyman Kevin Cahill (D-Kingston)’s office. Darling also reached out to noise-reduction advocates, researched the link between noise and erosion of health, and looked for OSHA-approved alternatives, discovering that federal workplace safety rules offer options to traditional backup alarms. The equipment used by the DOT was in use for the simple reason that it came pre-installed on the agency’s loaders and other vehicles.
Staff at Cahill’s Kingston office reached out directly to the DOT, who agreed to pilot a less intrusive white noise reverse alarm, finally deciding to approve the alternative device at the Kingston location and at all DOT facilities statewide.
“It’s thrilling to make a change in your local community and transform a problem at home and for communities throughout the state,” said Darling. “I hope that others can become inspired to work with their local officials. Being civically engaged really works.”
With much emphasis on solid waste management issues in the Hudson Valley, what short term solutions are there to our current unsustainable consumption of stuff?
City of Kingston Recycling
The City of Kingston has a weekly recycling program where the materials are taken to the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency (UCRRA). It removes accepted materials out of the waste stream, but there are many gaps where we end up throwing much of what we consume away in the trash. From clam shells and toothbrushes to single use batteries and latex paint, in Ulster County, these are just some of the materials that end up in the Seneca Meadows landfill that is set to close in 2025 some 235 miles away from here.
Ulster County Recycling Oversight Committee and UCRRA
The Ulster County Recycling Oversight Committee is a committee that meets quarterly and has some authority in determining any new types of recyclable materials accepted in Ulster County. This becomes complicated, as the potential investment of equipment and capacity must also be accounted for for any new materials not currently accepted. This can be costly out front. However, the costs to travel our waste so far away and with tipping fees, or establishing a new landfill in Ulster County? How about calculating the environmental harms? What are those costs and in the long run, would they offset the needed investment? Imagine if companies were made to include the backend of disposing of their packaging? There are probably large lobbying efforts against it, because it would be cost prohibitive for them. But if lawmakers are serious about solid waste, then those brave souls who are in it for the public good come together and push back to succeed, it would certainly provoke a nearly immediate culture shift. (1)
Last I knew, the Zero Waste 2020 plan in Ulster County stalled in the Energy and Environment committee due to timeline differences between the legislature and UCRRA. UCRRA recently was selected as “one of eleven recipients of the 2020-2021 Community Grants Program, a project of the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute (NYSP2I). UCRRA will launch a county-wide community engagement campaign, the UCRRA Zero Waste Seminar Project, to raise awareness of the environmental impacts of single use plastics, and how waste reduction and reuse can be practical strategies for pollution prevention.” So it appears to be coming.
Out of site, out of mind
Meanwhile, the Ulster County Solid Waste Management plan was recently approved by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC). Written into it, an “emerging technology” known as BioHiTech that we lobbied against. BioHiTech is merely a Refuse-Derived Fuel (RDF), first in collecting municipal waste. After removing any valuable metals, the plastic and fibers are dried and shredded into confetti. They are then trucked away to cement plants where it is incinerated to supplement coal in creating energy. The remaining waste is dumped in unnamed landfills or garbage incinerators. It is unprincipled for materials to be trucked away as far as Pennsylvania where the output of the incineration is dealt by the neighboring communities several states away from where the waste was generated. Most of the time, these are environmental justice communities that lack resources or a voice to improve their circumstances. We mustn’t contribute to it.
Last year, KingstonCitizens.org reached out to Institute for Local Self Reliance who generously reviewed Ulster County’s Solid Waste Management Plan. They summarized the good and the bad, stating that “Citizens should request participation in the decision-making process used by UCRRA to determine how the Plan will be implemented. The City Council of Honolulu just passed a resolution calling for zero waste experts to be part of decision-making for the $2 billion of federal pandemic relief funds that have been allocated to the city. The County should develop a zero waste purchasing/procurement guidelines that are available from organizations. These programs reduce costs and reduce the County’s environmental footprint.”
Zero Waste now
In the meantime, there are a couple of local opportunities that can help.
They also accept single use alkaline batteries that are currently being encouraged to be thrown in the trash. This is partly due to the Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act passed in 1996 that phased out the use of mercury in alkaline batteries, making them less of an issue when disposed in landfills. But this doesn’t mean alkaline batteries are not recyclable. The Ozone in Red Hook is the only place we’ve found within 25 miles of Kingston that takes them. The cost is $0.10 per battery, and a non-conductive clear tape must be used on the positive ends when they are returned to keep them from sparking. I personally haven’t felt comfortable throwing them out and I’ve kept a bucket in the basement for them for years. Today, we delivered nearly 200 of them and the effort and the cost gave me pause. It’s easy to understand why they will mostly end up in the dump.
In Kingston, the brand new Village Grocery & Refillery located at 2 Jansen Street in downtown Kingston has a fill-up station for laundry & dish soap, shampoo and all sorts of other household and personal items. Check it out.
We’ve got a “mountain to climb“
Seneca Meadows’ mountain of trash is going to come to a screeching halt soon. Those who are passionate about this issue can reach out to the Ulster County legislature, who have direct oversight of UCRRA, to learn how to plug in. You can also contact your Kingston Council member and let them know that you want Kingston to do more on the zero waste front. It’s a problem that can only be solved when we are all involved.
ADDITIONS (7/5 @ 9am)
(1) The proposed “Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act” (Federal), offers some hope that we can stop some of the production of plastic and hold producers accountable. Learn more and take action by clicking the link. (Thanks Tanya!)
In the City of Kingston’s Charter Article X section C10-1 (a) it says that “The Corporation Counsel shall be appointed by the Mayor. The Corporation Counsel will serve at the pleasure of the Mayor.”
That means that the mayor can hire/remove members of the corporation counsel at any time, serving at their “pleasure”. They haven’t civil service protection.
In section (b): “The Corporation Counsel shall be the primary legal advisor of the Mayor, Common Council and of all commissions, departments and other offices of the city. The Corporation Counsel shall conduct, supervise or monitor, as required, the prosecution and defense of all actions or proceedings brought by or against the city or by or against any of its officers in their official capacity and appeal from all such orders, decisions and judgments as he or she deems advisable.”
Building on that, the mayor’s counsel represents the mayor (executive branch) all boards, committees and commissions as well as the council (the legislative branch) and department staff too – who like everyone else at city hall, may or may not have civil service protection and can be hired/removed at the mayor’s whim.
Going further, in Article XV section C15-4 “other boards and commissions”
“…Successors to these other commissions, boards or agencies shall be appointed by the Mayor as their terms severely expire or as vacancies occur.”
In other words, the mayor has the authority to also appoint/remove all members of committees, boards and commission members, the community volunteers who we rely on to freely interpret our current policies and laws for the public good, are also guided by city hall staff. Going backwards, many of those city staff are beholden to the mayor.
That’s a whole lot of influence by one person and that’s obviously not a good scenario for a healthy democracy in Kingston. A monarchy is more like it.
The council understands that Kingston’s charter needs to be addressed in order for the legislative branch to provide its critical work in providing checks and balances to the executive branch. On June 17 of 2020, they invited Wade Beltramo, General Counsel of the New York Conference of Mayors – NYCOM to give a presentation and overview on charter reform.
As of late, the Kingston democrats have ushered in the Kingstonian PILOT for luxury housing, and initially worked against a censure for Hector Rodriguez’s reprehensible behavior in order to hoard power. But the recent Board of Education election and David Donaldson’s shocking loss of the recent primary to newcomer Phil Erner is proof that what once worked without question in Kingston isn’t going to work any longer.
If a holistic look at Charter reform is too much for Kingston right now, then how about amending the items we outlined above in a referendum including the council having mandatory training? It may not cost the community anymore then it does currently, as the mayor’s office has two full time corporation counsel staff. How about we move one of those salaries over to the council to hire their own?
We’ve done the work for the council and the community to begin with a resolution that is ready to workshop. If the current chock-hold blocks the community from holistic charter reform, then let’s do it piecemeal and get the show on the road. Let’s bring the obvious changes that we all can agree to in the charter to referendum in 2022 and let the public decide
VIEW: How Kingston got its strong mayor form of government
That is perhaps why the KLDC requested an outside lawyer to review the 21 N. Front street transfer. After a selection process, Harris Beech was selected to advise the KLDC on its transfer of 21 N. Front Street. Bob Ryan from the firm was in attendance at the May meeting.
What follows is a loose transcription of the May KLDC meeting. Video is available by visiting the City of Kingston’s YOUTUBEchannel.
Mayor Noble, who serves as the chair of the board of the KLDC, introduced attorney Ryan as having, “been able to look at all of the documents, policies and procedures” in order to provide some initial thoughts on the transfer.
Ryan’s recommendation for the city owned parcel was to create a three-way land development agreement between the city, the KLDC and the developer. This agreement would lay out and set forth all the terms and conditions for the transfer of the property as well as the development once that agreement was negotiated and developed. “Obviously we would come before the board with an authorizing resolution to consider in accepting the property and executing the land development agreement as well as make determinations that would be necessary under the Public Authority Accountability Act in addition.”
Once the land development agreement was authorized then the board could proceed.
“Why would a development agreement with anyone come before a discussion and a decision on whether or not to even accept the property into the KLDC?” asked Board member Hayes Clement.
“Because if you don’t like the terms and conditions you wouldn’t accept the property. I wouldn’t recommend that you accept the property without knowing the terms and conditions of the disposition of that property and the development of that property…” Ryan said to describe the KLDC as being implemented to be used as the agency to best advance the city’s project.
“When the Common Council approved to turn the land over to the KLDC was it to be used for a specific development?” Clement continued.
“It has a specific purpose in the city’s resolution to be used for public parking and a park…We would start by drafting the land development agreement and try to work with all the parties to come up with an agreement that is acceptable to all parties that would be reviewed by the board. If acceptable then the agreement would be authorized and take place prior to a fee title being transferred from the city to the KLDC. Once that agreement is developed and all parties are in agreement, the board would approve to execute it and issue a 90-day notice under the Public Authority Accountability Act. At which point we can work on the actual transfer of title from the city to the KLDC. The subsequent step would be transferring fee title from the KLDC to the developer pursuant to this land development agreement.”
Ryan recommend an appraisal of the property as a first step to be placed in the file of the disposition and also, because under the land development agreement there might be additional steps required by the Public Authority Accountability Act.
“Have you seen or personally had all the contracts that originated with the city and the developer starting from the Request For Qualifications (RFQ) to know that everything is in order?” asked board member Glen Fitzerald.
“I believe I’ve seen everything.” said Ryan. “There may be stuff that I have not, but I do have the RFQ and the agreements going back a number of years.”
“The answer seems a little vague,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s been quite a bit of reporting that some contracts aren’t available or haven’t been seen and so our question is we don’t want to transfer something or get involved in something that is not precise right from being the initial RFQ. I would say that if you’ve seen it and had it in your hand it would be part of your file.”
Ryan assured Glen that by the time that a resolution is put before the board that he would ensure that he would have seen the entire record and would provide an opinion as to “the sufficiency of what took place”.
The board agreed to select an appraiser located out of the area. Board member Paul Casciaro asked whether the appraiser would take into account the value of the property at the time the RFQ was initiated, as in today’s market, it would likely be valued at ten times more than it was back then. Ryan answered that the original value of the property might not have been originally based on its highest value but rather on other goals that could take precedent such as parking. The appraisal that the KLDC would ask for of 21 N. Front Street would therefore reflect the fair market value at the current time it is transferred. Board member Feeney reminded the KLDC that it was not involved at that time.
It is significant to remind readers at this point that in the developer’s original application, the KLDC was not listed as an involved agency. The transfer of lands and Fair Street Extension was to all be handled by the Kingston Common Council. During the May Board of Education vote, the public sent a clear message that it understood the devastating impacts the Kingstonian PILOT could have on Kingston’s school budget. With nearly all of the Kingston Common Council members voting in favor of the Kingstonian PILOT last year, they are likely heaving a sigh of relief that they are not embroiled in negotiating more public assets during this years election cycle. Hopefully, the public will not forget the council’s involvement in the PILOT approval. The same is true for David Donaldson who is facing a primary for his seat (District 6) on the Ulster County Legislature on June 22 and who championed the PILOT process from start to finish.
Toward the end of the meeting, board member Miles Crettian asked Ryan, “Is it an issue that the original RFQ from 2016 was not and could not be awarded to the current Kingstonian developers (although the transfer was to JM Development Group, Brad Jordan’s Herzog Supply Co. was a partner and at the time served also served as a member of the City of Kingston’s KLDC and police commission) and in terms of the KLDC’s disposition, how can it know it is following the guidelines laid out in that RFQ if the original recipient of the RFQ was another entity which is no longer a party to this process?”
“We can certainly discuss these issues…and into the possible ramifications…but I’d prefer to do that in a non-public attorney/client privilege situation.” said Ryan.
The next KLDC virtual meeting is on Thursday, June 17 at 8:00am. WATCH on the City of Kingston’s YouTube channel or call in to listen:
May 29, 2021: Speak Out! (starts at 1:02:25). Click on the image to listen.Tanya Garment and Rebecca Martin of KingstonCitizens.org
“Form based code is about how the public realm is shaped. It is more about how the buildings shape the public realm and the experience outside of the building, or the shared community experience. The needs of the community can be changed over time this way…It would allow for more incremental development. Form Based Zoning Code would allow more locals a chance to develop so that we are not left begging for all of these big developments by those who can borrow on a large scale. Right now, the zoning code doesn’t allow small changes, leaving us to give big developers land, PILOT agreements, all sorts of stuff so that it becomes a large bet, and we are not necessarily going to get what we need when it’s such a large bet.” – Tanya Garment, KingstonCitizens.org
May 2, 2021: Let’s Talk, Kingston! Click on the image to listen.With City of Kingston Council President Andrea Shaut and KingstonCitizens.org’s Tanya Garment
“Why do we have a traffic problem? Why don’t we ever seem to be able to solve our problems? Why are the processes given away? Seeing how power is brokered by some people who have specific ideas and narrow goals that think about people as collateral damage rather making changes that can serve the greater good…I’m thinking a lot about the history (of urban renewal) and how to repair the damage of the policies put into place over the course of the last century that have done so much damage to communities. ” – Tanya Garment, KingstonCitizens.org
On Tuesday, April 6 at 7:30pm, the Kingston Common Council will vote on whether or not to invest in a critical form-based zoning code proposal. Community members are encouraged to sign-up to speak in favor.
By Tanya Garment
You may have heard that the Common Council is considering approving a significant investment for the development of a new city wide zoning code. It is wise as keeping with our current zoning and relying on spot zoning, which has been our band-aid approach for decades, would move us further down the inequitable road we are on.
What has been proposed by the Kingston zoning task force, a group of volunteers appointed by the mayor of Kingston, is a completely different kind of land use regulation than we have now. “Form-based code” that would cover the entire City and drafted by a firm of leaders in the field of planning and form-based codes. One of the leads grew up in the area, and members of the sub-consultant team are based in New York. The bulk of the work that the firm will perform is through public engagement, and that community input will lead to a code that is responsive to the needs of the whole community.
Here is a timeline of some of the events that led to where we are now:
The City of Kingston adopted a new comprehensive plan on April 5, 2016 that would finally replace our old 1961 Comprehensive Plan. This new plan is called Kingston 2025. Active members of the community made sure to get the public’s input into the Kingston 2025 plan, as unfortunately, the consultants did very little to facilitate this. Public input should be the primary focus of developing a document about the goals of the City, but with such a small budget ($50,000 for the Comprehensive Plan and $50,000 for the zoning work to follow, both by Shuster-Turner Associates), the amount to do such a big job was inadequate. (Shockingly, Daniel Shuster was the primary consultant for both of Kingston’s comprehensive plans in 1961 and then in 2016. The 1961 Comprehensive plan was created to secure funding for and ushered in Urban Renewal to Kingston).
After Kingston 2025 was adopted, a committee to produce a new zoning code, the rules that support the goals of the plan, was formed. The committee (also facilitated Dan Shuster) met sporadically over the course of approximately a year. They held some informational sessions and public forums (though public input was not reflected in any changes), and submitted Proposed Comprehensive Amendments to the City before Shuster-Turner’s contract concluded on December 31, 2017. That proposed zoning document was incomplete and only covered a fraction of what the comprehensive plan called for. What’s worse, it was still the same problematic type of zoning code that we already have. Use-based code separates the city into areas with “uses” with many restrictions as to what can be done or built in each. Sprawl and cars are prioritized over housing. Accessibility, inclusion, and efficiency suffer without any sort of predictable result.
Around the same time, Mayor Noble stated that there was much rezoning work still to be done, and announced that a new group would be assembled to continue the job. In February 2019, a newly appointed Zoning Task Force began to meet and within nearly a years time, developed a request for proposals (RFP) to find planners to rewrite Kingston’s zoning code as a form-based code. Four proposals were submitted in reply to the RFP, and the task force chose Dover Kohl and Partners. Dover, Kohl and Partners’ proposal for crafting new code for Kingston is available for review.
In February of 2020, the Kingston Common Council’s Finance and Audit Committee voted unanimously in favor of funding the work of Dover, Kohl and Partners. However, before the resolution could be voted on at the April 2020 Common Council meeting, the COVID pandemic took hold and with all the unknowns then, the item was sent back to committee. Since that time, bidding wars on homes in Kingston have become the norm, the Planning Board has seen multiple lot line adjustment requests, and the Common Council has been asked to consider many band-aid style, site specific zoning code changes.
I belong to a group called Kingston Code Reform Advocates. We formed in late 2020, to encourage people to think about planning, and the importance of a clear, fair, and responsible code. We hosted a Strong Towns event in February which is now available on YOUTUBE. Strong Towns wrote a great ARTICLE about the benefits of adopting a form-based code. We’ve also been working with Ward 1 Alderman Jeffrey Ventura Morell and Common Council President Andrea Shaut. Our group’s email address is KingstonCodeReformAdvocates (at) gmail.com
The Common Council ‘s Finance and Audit Committee met with Dover Kohl for the first time this March, to pose some questions, and get a better sense of what their proposal would include. At a second Finance and Audit meeting, the committee confirmed that the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process would be assisted by the firm as well – a big benefit – and voted 3-1 in favor of funding the creation of a new zoning code for Kingston.
If we want to have a city built by many hands and that can result in a resilient and equitable community, then we must replace our current overly complicated and divisive zoning code with something that allows neighborhoods to grow incrementally from the ground up. Form-based code can do that.
On Tuesday, April 6 at 7:30pm, the Kingston Common Council will vote on whether or not to approve the form-based code proposal. Community members are encouraged to sign-up to speak in favor. To get the call-in number and directions on public speaking, please visit the City of Kingston’s FACEBOOK PAGE
At last evening’s public hearing, dozens of community members provided testimony in front of the Kingston Common Council’s Finance and Audit Committee to support or to question the transfer of 21 N. Front Street, a publicly owned parcel, to the Kingston Local Development Corporation (KLDC) by the City of Kingston Common Council. The transfer request was made by Mayor Steve Noble in order to provide the public parcel (assessed at $724,000. Its true value would be higher and is not yet publicaly known) to the developers in exchange for “public benefits” that include a couple of public bathrooms (it is believed that they will be located on the other side of Schwenk Drive at Herzog Plaza, owned by one of the developers). Although it is true that the community was aware of the council’s role in selling or leasing lands that would include 21 North Front Street and Fair Street Extension, the KLDC was not included as an involved agency in the developers Environmental Assessment Form. READ: Finance Committee Discusses Transfer of 21 N. Front Street to Kingston Local Development Corporation (KLDC) on February 10
Not lost on us, was that although some of the council members names were rattled off at the start of the meeting as being present, all but one chose to be on camera to assure the public that they were attentive and taking the matter seriously. Davis, Hirsch and Schabot, all Democrats, are running for reelection in the fall of 2021.
The developer’s public relations team initiated a new form letter that was included in the public hearing packet (that is available on the City of Kingston’s website). It’s expected that council members will receive dozens more. More highlights:
The Bruderhof community:
The Jordan Family:
The City of Kingston’s Finance Committee will hold a special Finance Committee meeting on Monday, March 1 at 6:30pm (although the city calendar also says 6:00pm) where council members are expected to vote on the transfer of 21 North Front Street. Although there will not be public comment, you can call in to the number below, or stream live at the City of Kingston’s YOUTUBE channel.
Topic: SPECIAL FINANCE/AUDIT COMMITTEE MEETING Time: Mar 1, 2021 06:30 PM
Dial by your location +1 646 558 8656 Meeting ID: 875 3817 4793 Passcode: 43255357