This post was updated December 21, 2018, to clarify two details. Firstly, the assistant corporation counsel, who provides legal counsel to the city’s commissions and boards, insisted to the Commission that the transcript of the final hearing would be sufficient for explaining the rationale of the Commission’s decision in lieu of a thorough written decision. Secondly, frequent intrusions in the commission’s final deliberations were made by the applicant and their lawyer and not other members of the public.
“The purpose...is to provide for the promotion of the educational, cultural, economic and general welfare of the public through the protection, enhancement, perpetuation and preservation of landmarks and Landmark Districts. The legislative body declares that it is in the public interest to ensure that the distinctive landmarks and Landmark District shall not be injuriously affected, that the value to the community of those buildings having architectural and historical worth shall not be impaired and that said districts be maintained and preserved to promote their use of the education, pleasure and welfare of the citizens of the City of Kingston and others.” Legislative Intent of the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission, City of Kingston Administrative Code §405-63
The HLPC failed in its review of the ICC—not on principle but on procedure. The final written decision of the HLPC is inadequate in describing the Commission’s reasons for its denying approval for the ICC.No member of the Commission was directly involved in the composition of the written decision, a concern that was raised by members in the weeks following the final hearing. In response, the assistant corporation counsel for the City of Kingston, who provides legal counsel to the city’s boards and commissions, insisted that the transcript would be sufficient for conveying the commission’s rationale. That transcript, which by default became the primary record of the hearing, documents a circuitous deliberation by Commissioners with frequent intrusions by the applicant and their lawyer. The record further reveals the difficulty that Commissioners had in interpreting the criteria for review as outlined in the code, because the language is too vague and weighted towards the consideration of changes to individual buildings rather than new construction in historic districts. In this light, it is not difficult to see why the ZBA and this judge concluded that the HLPC’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious.”
One of the fundamental duties of the HLPC when reviewing proposed changes in a historic district is to ensure that the character of the historic district is maintained, and “prevent construction, reconstruction, alteration or demolition out of harmony with existing buildings insofar as character, material, color, line and detail are concerned, and thus to prevent degeneration of property, to safeguard public health, promote safety and preserve the beauty of the character of the landmark or Landmark District.” (City of Kingston Administrative Code §405-64 D)
No single detail defines a historic district’s character. It is the multitude of details taken together that creates a distinctive environment and sense of place. Such character-defining qualities include the relationships of buildings to each other and to the street. Do the buildings form a continuous streetwall or are they spaced apart? Are they situated directly at the street or are they set back from it? What was the historical development trend that led to their existence? Is there a discernible rhythm or pattern of details, be it building sizes, roof massing, cornices, or windows? Many districts have multiple rhythms. Character is also defined by the type of buildings, their construction, and scale—the architecture of a single-family dwelling is different than that of a store-and-loft building in terms of massing, façade proportion, materiality, fenestration, and building features like porches and storefronts.
The qualities described above are aesthetic ones. It is incumbent on members of the HLPC to consider all of them when considering the appropriateness of new construction in a historic district, be it an addition to an existing structure or a wholly new building on a vacant site.
There was a big turn-out at last evening’s Planning Board meeting, where several items of interest were discussed. They included a Communications Tower being proposed near Colonel Gardens (a public housing complex in Ward 7); The Irish Cultural Center’s (ICCHV) site plan public hearing; and a new proposed project, the ‘Super Garage’ located in the Rondout, Kingston.
Here are highlights.
The outcomes were mostly predictable. The proposed Communications Tower was tabled while the applicant performs a balloon test for visual impacts and looks at a secondary site in the Town of Ulster; the ICCHV was also tabled, although there was some confusion from the public as to what they were expected to comment on without materials or any communication/guidance by the planning department, and the “Super Garage” project and lot line revisions were both tabled as well.
We asked the planning board to table the proposed communication tower project (which they were going to do anyway), in light of learning about New Hempstead’s model law for cell towers. In order to allow the Kingston common council to analyze the overall planning issue and to decide where and under what conditions tower constructions may proceed, a brief moratorium on cell towers given our ongoing comprehensive plan and zoning amendment work could be requested.
Robert Iannucci, the project applicant for the “Super Garage” project, will host a public informational hearing on Thursday, December 6th at 6:00pm at the Cornell Steamboat Building located at 108 East Strand in the Rondout.
VIEW Facebook Event on “Super Garage” Public Informational Hearing
On March 8, 2018, the Irish Cultural Center of the Hudson Valley (ICC) got a pass from the City of Kingston’s Zoning Board of Appeals to move on to the Planning Board’s Site Plan Review when it overturned another City Commission’s decision.
In what appears to be the City of Kingston’s first-ever appeal of a Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC) decision, the ICC appealed the September 25th, 2017, decision by the HLPC to deny the application a preservation notice of action, the approval necessary for the application to obtain a building permit from Kingston Building and Safety. HLPC commissioners cited concerns
HLPC commissioners cited concerns with:
the width of the building
the proposal’s harmony with existing buildings and the desired character of the neighborhood
relation of the proposed building to neighboring buildings surrounding it
and proportion (how it fits in overall with the district)
The Zoning Board of Appeals heard evidence on the appeal and decided that the HLPC had approved the application in the past. They rendered their decision to overturn the HLPC’s decision and issue the preservation notice of action itself on March 8, 2018..
We looked for another instance where an HLPC decision was appealed to the Zoning Board of Appeals in the City of Kingston but weren’t able to find any evidence of one. The City’s Corporation Counsel together with the ICC’s lawyer determined that next step in an appeals process from their interpretation of the City’s Zoning Law for the HLPC:
Any person aggrieved by an action of the Commission in disapproving or limiting a preservation notice of action application and the Zoning Board’s support of such Commission action may bring a proceeding to review in a manner provided by Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules in a court of record on the ground that such decisions are illegal, in whole or in part.
What Are the Next Steps in the Process for the Public?
On March 19th, 2018, the ICC returned to the City of Kingston’s Planning Board for Site Plan Review and a Parking Waiver request. The Planning Board decided at that meeting to schedule a public hearing on those two elements of the application to be held on Monday, April 16th.
The Site Plan has been updated to address some of the comments from the HLPC. The ICC is required by the City to provide 55 parking spaces, based upon calculations of the square footage of the building. The ICC is offering to provide 8 parking spaces in a private parking lot next to the proposed building. They are requesting a Parking Waiver for the remaining 47 spaces based on the availability of municipal and street parking within 400 feet of the ICC property.
Call to Action
Citizens are invited to attend the Planning Board’s public hearing and speak to the ICC’s Site Plans and Parking Waiver on Monday, April 16th, 2018, beginning at 6:00 pm. Kingston City Hall is located at 420 Broadway in Kingston.
*The ICC would be but one element of commercial activity in the Rondout. Nearby restaurants, museums, and waterfront attractions already compete for parking. The ICC’s proposed uses and inability to provide sufficient parking for itself would increase stress on other local businesses and Rondout economic development.
*The Rondout neighborhood is a deeply residential neighborhood where the majority of housing does not have driveways and residents rely upon street and municipal parking, particularly in the event of snow emergency parking restrictions. The ICC would greatly increase stress on residents in relying heavily on municipal and street parking by preventing them from finding parking near their homes.
*The ICC’s proposal to use municipal lots for their parking needs would take away from mandated public access to the Marina and other water-based activities as outlined in the LWRP.
SAFETY (We don’t want the construction site to become an attractive nuisance.):
* The construction site needs to be secured with sturdy fencing or security guard every day.
* Any closure of Company Hill Path will affect business and restrict public access to a National Register of Historic Places site.
* What kind of funding do they have to complete the construction in a timely manner?
* What is their timeframe for construction? What happens if they don’t meet the timeframe?
Don’t make a decision on the application on the same night as the public hearing. The Planning Board members need time to digest the information submitted at the public hearing and in some cases, may need to conduct further research. A vote that evening would appear to be a rush to approve the project.
Deny the parking waiver.
If site plan approval is granted, it should be contingent upon:
No banquet hall use allowed, as the ICC promised.
No noise permits granted and no outside speakers.
No uses not fully enclosed in a structure allowed.
Additional changes to the exterior should be reviewed by the HLPC.
Only upon satisfactory answers to safety, access, and funding questions above.
Hillary Harvey is a journalist, and a zoning code activist, working for transparency and responsible development that considers the welfare of residents and small businesses. Together with her neighbors, she runs Grow the R-T Responsibly , a neighborhood collective dedicated to that cause. A yogi and devoted traveler, she lives in an old house in Kingston’s historic Rondout district with her college sweetheart and their three muses.
The Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC) recently chose to change its format to allow the public an opportunity to participate on applications in real time, creating a more democratic format for both the applicant and the public. The changes provide a model of a more participatory meeting format that all City of Kingston boards, committees and commissions might consider applying.
Currently, in the City of Kingston, the majority of committees and subcommittees offer public speaking at the discretion of the committee chair. It is possible to reach out to the chair ahead of a meeting to let him/her know that citizens would like time to present comments or questions.
WHAT Come to the public hearing at City Hall, Council Chambers, on Monday, July 10th at 6:00 pm, and weigh in on the latest changes to the proposed Irish Cultural Center (ICC) project.
Kingston City Hall
Council Chambers (top floor)
Monday, July 10th
6:00 pm Sign-up to speak at 5:45pm
If you can’t attend the meeting, you can submit the comments in the body of this EMAIL and any other additional concerns you might have. The email will go directly to the Kingston Planning Board and City of Kingston. We will receive a copy, too, and will compile a packet to submit to the Board at the public hearing on July 10th.
Deadline for email submissions is July 7th.
WHY Public input on this project proposal so far has helped to make for a stronger Irish Cultural Center proposal. The public needs to keep weighing in until the project fully fits the Kingston waterfront community, or the ICC determines another location that is suited to their goals.
By Hillary Harvey
The Irish Cultural Center proposed for Abeel Street on the Rondout in Kingston has just come back to the Planning Board with the latest in a series of updates to their project site plan.
ICC Site Plans, March 8, 2017 VIEW Floor Plans, March 2, 2017 VIEW
Included are responses to the State Historic Preservation Office, the City of Kingston’s Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission, and the Ulster County Planning Board, all of which were presented at the June 12th City of Kingston Planning Board meeting.
The Irish Cultural Center of the Hudson Valley is proposed to be a 16,213 square foot newly constructed building on a 0.43-acre parcel at 32 Abeel Street with rights, granted by the City of Kingston’s Zoning Board of Appeals, to follow the zoning for West Strand Street. New designs indicate a red, brick building of three stories measuring 49.5′ from the Company Hill Path side (South Elevation), with one story underground on the Abeel Street side (North Elevation). There would also be an elevator accessible roof garden, with outdoor seating and a 12’ tall room that rises above the height of the building. On the Company Hill Path side, there would be three full balconies with exterior gathering space that each run the width of the building. The building would be a “community center” with a 171-seat theater, exhibition space, commercial kitchen, 70-seat pub/restaurant, flex space, offices for the ICC and the Ancient Order of Hibernians (the ICC’s parent organization), radio station, map room, etc. The project would have 8 on-site parking spots and seek a parking waiver from the Planning Board for 47 parking spaces.
There will be a public hearing on these changes at the City of Kingston’s Planning Board meeting on July 10th, during their regular meeting, and comments can be made via email to the Planning Board before July 7th. We encourage everyone to weigh in.