On September 19th, the Kingston Common Council’s Laws & Rules Committee may discuss whether or not to throw out or to table the Corporation Counsel office’s draft legislation to merge the Heritage Area and Historic Landmarks Preservation Commissions. It will be nearly the fourth consecutive meeting for which this matter has been a topic, and it’s our opinion that the Council should not hesitate to throw out the legislation and instead, continue on the promising path that they are on now.
The council members who serve on the committee deserve praise for their careful study of the Corporation Counsel’s draft legislation and the reasons why it is being proposed. After a lot of information-gathering—particularly at their meeting in July where they heard directly from program administrators—it appears the broad consensus of the committee is that merging the commissions will not meaningfully address issues concerning the regulatory review process, and in fact, may create new problems.
And what are the issues exactly? What problems is “streamlining” meant to solve? Were other solutions considered before the legislation was put forward? No one could say for sure. The reasons repeated by city administration is that merging the commissions is a recommendation of the now disbanded Comp Plan Re-zoning Subcommittee without sharing any notes that show how that conclusion was reached. At face value, the idea to eliminate one step in the public review process by combining two related volunteer commissions would seem like a rational change. Why make an applicant appear before two separate commissions for a new business sign? No one is arguing in favor of such redundancy, but is there another way to solve this?
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.
A small group of citizens, however, respectfully pressed for one and ultimately, the planning board obliged. In December of 2015, the first public hearing was scheduled and many good points were raised.
VIEW public comment from December’s public hearing on the proposed shooting range.
Testimony from this hearing revealed that a shooting range inside of Kingston is actually illegal. Kingston City administrative law 223-3 specifically prohibits the discharge of firearms. “No person, other than in self-defense or in the discharge of official duties, shall willfully discharge any species of firearm within the city limits of the city of Kingston, New York.”
There are other concerns for our Planning board to contemplate on Monday. Regardless, the purpose of zoning is to uphold “the protection and promotion of the public health, safety and welfare” of a community. Decisions of a Planning and Zoning board are not based on opinion. Their role is to uphold the law and the law clearly states that discharging a firearm is illegal in the City of Kingston except under very specific circumstances.
Citizens in the City of Kingston spoke regarding the proposed Shooting Range in Midtown, Kingston. Some requested a public hearing, and it appears that the Planning Board has determined it to be appropriate to hold one.
More details shortly. Part three of the video, by the way, will be available later on today. Please review the video below.
This is a great primer for the Planning Board meeting this evening created by Jennifer Schwartz Berky, a Kingston resident and planning professional. It should help you a great deal in following along.