Kingstonian Zoning Amendment and the Kingston Common Council

By Rebecca Martin

As the community waits for the Planning Board to issue a positive or negative declaration in the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) for the Kingstonian project, it has come to light that a portion of the Kingstonian site is located outside of the Mixed-Use Overlay District (MUOD) in Uptown Kingston and therefore requires an additional approval by the Kingston Common Council.

What is the Mixed Use Overlay in the Stockade District? 

“The Mixed Use Overlay District (MUOD) was adopted in 2005 as an amendment to the City’s Zoning Code following three years of debate. (See “Kingston council OKs Uptown/Midtown loft law,Daily Freeman, 5 January 2005. ) Its primary purpose was to ease the regulatory burden of converting upper floors in existing commercial buildings to residential use. Instead of applying for a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals, building owners could apply for a less onerous Special Use Permit from the Planning Board.

There are two MUODs in the city: the Stockade and Midtown. The thinking of council members at the time was that by making the adaptive reuse of commercial buildings in these districts easier, it would incentivize the creation of affordable housing units. Much of the text of the amendment (which was created with assistance by Greenplan, a planning consultant out of Rhinebeck) focuses on affordable housing, which is intended to be based on guidelines outlined therein. It is intended to apply to adaptive reuse projects containing five or more residential units wherein 20% of those units must be maintained as affordable (defined as 80% of the Ulster County median income.) Such units are to be dispersed throughout the proposed housing project, be indistinguishable from market-rate units, and the affordable unit rents are not to exceed 30% of a household’s income.

But there are few (if any) buildings in the Stockade that could accommodate five units or more. An analysis of these properties is likely to show that no affordable units have been created in the Stockade District with this regulation. (See  “Upstairs Apartments Fail to Materialize in Stockade, Midtown Kingston,” Daily Freeman, 11 February 2007.)

In addition to promoting the creation of affordable housing, the MUOD text describes a second underlying purpose: “to encourage mixed-use, mixed-income, pedestrian-based neighborhoods” (§ 405-27.1, subparagraph B-2.) It seems that the Kingstonian project, which neither proposes to build any affordable housing units nor seeks to adaptively reuse any buildings, is narrowly interpreting this second clause as the basis for its qualifying for the more expeditious Special Use Permit application process. (In its Environmental Assessment Form, the applicant flags the MUOD as an applicable zoning measure.) To achieve this second purpose, the amendment allows “site and building enhancements that promote a mixed-use, mixed-income, pedestrian-based neighborhood” to qualify for a Special Use Permit. Apparently, “site enhancements” can be interpreted to mean new construction. 

What happened?

It remains unclear to citizens how the MUOD can be applied to a project like the Kingstonian, which is entirely new construction for the reasons outlined above. Should it have instead been directed to the Kingston Zoning Board of Appeals for a variance? As usual, the Planning Department has not responded to any of our inquiries seeking clarity on the matter.

Beyond that, why is the Planning Department, after months of reviewing the project application and well into the SEQR process, only now addressing the fact that 12% of the project site lies outside the MUOD and therefore needs a zoning change?  Had it been identified at the outset, would the process have been different? Would the Common Council, whose responsibility it is to approve zoning amendments, have needed to act before the SEQR process began? 

Where are we now? 

The developers petition, received by the City of Kingston’s clerk’s office on June 5, 2019, requests a “zoning district overlay change of 0.313 acres of improved lands whích are situate adjacent to and outside of the Mixed Use Overly District for inclusion within the Mixed Use Overlay District by extension of the present Mixed Use Overlay District and by the accompanying Zoning Map Amendment in the City of Kingston, County of Ulster and State of New York.”  According to Ward 9 Alderwoman Andrea Shaut who is also chair of the Council’s Laws and Rules Committee, the council has 90 days from the petition date to vote on the zoning amendment. 

(click on image for video)

The  process by which a specific lot is granted a zoning district exception in this location includes three involved agencies in the SEQR process – the Kingston Planning Board (KPB), the Ulster County Planning Board (UCPB), and the Kingston Historic Landmark Preservation Commission (HLPC).  They have only 30 days to respond. At the July 15th Planning Board meeting, the reviewed the request without any comments.

(click on image for video)

As part of the process, the Council, also an involved agency, must set a public hearing which has been announced for August 12 at 6:30pm at Kingston City Hall, Council Chambers.

VIEW  the Facebook event.

From there the matter will be sent to the Common Council’s Laws and Rules Committee where on August 21 council members will discuss public comments and the responses from the other involved agencies (KPB, UCPB and HLPC). If it passes through committee at that meeting, the amended MUOD will go to the full Council for a vote in early September.

What can you do?

Attend the Common Council’s August 12 public hearing on the MUOD amendment.  If you wish to testify, you can request an explanation of the applicability of the MUOD to a project like the Kingstonian and how a significant portion of the project site laying outside of the district was belatedly discovered six months after the SEQR process got underway. 

Even though the Planning Department is the responsibility of the city government’s executive branch, the public can still request that our Common Council press them to do a better job outlining and communicating the process in advance.

The Common Council does not answer questions during a public hearing, but will likely address them at both the Laws and Rules Committee meeting on August 21st and then again during Council Caucus in September. 


RESOURCES

READ  “Zoning, the Mixed Use Overlay District, Comprehensive Plans and the Kingston Project”

Zoning, the Mixed Use Overlay District, Comprehensive Plans and the Kingstonian Project

A comprehensive plan is a powerful document in New York State that creates a framework for making important decisions while guiding growth and development. Kingston’s own plan, adopted by the Common Council in April 2016, quite forcefully calls for an affordable housing requirement in new developments:

“Strategy 1.1.2: Require affordable housing for any new or expanded residential building or development project.  The City should consider expanding the number of projects that must provide a ‘fair share’ of affordable housing. Currently, affordable housing is only required for projects taking advantage of the mixed-use overlay district provisions.” (p. 21, Kingston 2025)

The City of Kingston continued to promote that goal in its 2017 Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) application in which the Kingstonian Project was proposed:

“Housing development in the Stockade Business District (SBD) has been limited, and a significant percentage of renters in the SBD and surrounding area are cost burdened, spending more than 30% of their incomes on housing costs.”  (Executive Summary of the City of Kingston’s 2017 DRI application).

However, in February of 2019, the developers of the Kingstonian Project submitted an application that includes 129 market-rate residential units in the Stockade District. The mandate for affordable housing that is outlined in Kingston’s Comprehensive Plan seems to be ignored with this substantial project.

At its first hearing on April 10th, the Kingston Planning Board began accepting public comments for the proposed Kingstonian. To date, the Board has not provided a timeline for review, a date for when the public comment period will close, or indicated when the Planning Board as lead agency will likely make a positive or negative declaration (pos or neg dec) in the project’s State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR), a decision that is meant to be made within 20-days following the acceptance of lead agency.

Since February, KingstonCitizens.org has spoken with many stakeholders about potential significant environmental impacts as it pertains to the Kingstonian Project. We have also fielded questions about the applicant’s zoning listed in its  Environmental Assessment Form (EAF).

 

 

What is a C-2 Zone in the City of Kingston?

The mixed residential and commercial Kingstonian Project is located in a C-2 zone where residential use is not a permitted as-of-right use. The City of Kingston Zoning Code for a C-2, short for Central Commercial District (§ 405.17), outlines uses that are permitted as-of-right:

A building may be erected, altered, arranged, designed or used, and a lot of premises may be used, for any of the following purposes by right and for no other: Retail stores; banks, including drive-in windows; service businesses, such as, but not limited to, barbershops, beauty parlors, tailors and dry-cleaning stores, custom dressmakers, jewelry repair, shoe repair, travel agents, auto rental offices, appliance repair and duplicating businesses and job printing establishments having not more than 10 persons engaged therein; business, professional and governmental offices; theaters and assembly halls; restaurants, art or craft studios or studios for teaching the performing arts; libraries, museums and art galleries; manufacturing, assembling, converting, altering, finishing, cleaning or any other processing of products where goods so produced or processed are to be sold at retail, exclusively on the premises, in accordance with the requirements of § 405-16B(13); public and private off-street parking lots and parking garages unless accessory to and on the same lot with a use otherwise permitted, such garages and parking lots shall be limited to use by passenger automobiles exclusively.”

Wouldn’t the Kingstonian Project be required to gain a variance for residential use by the City of Kingston Zoning Board of Appeals? It doesn’t appear to due to it being within a Mixed Use Overlay District.

What is the Mixed Use Overlay in the Stockade District?

The Mixed Use Overlay District (MUOD) was adopted in 2005 as an amendment to the City’s Zoning Code following three years of debate. (See “Kingston council OKs Uptown/Midtown loft law,Daily Freeman, 5 January 2005. ) The primary purpose of it was to ease the regulatory burden of converting upper floors in existing commercial buildings to residential use. Instead of applying for a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals, building owners could apply for a less onerous Special Use Permit from the Planning Board.

There are two MUODs in the city: the Stockade and Midtown. The thinking of council members at the time was that by making the adaptive reuse of commercial buildings in these districts for residential lofts easier, it would incentivize the creation of affordable housing units. Much of the text of the amendment (which was created with assistance by Greenplan, a planning consultant out of Rhinebeck) focuses on affordable housing, which is “intended” to be based on guidelines outlined therein. It is intended to apply to adaptive reuse projects containing five or more residential units wherein 20% of those units must be maintained as affordable (defined as 80% of the Ulster County median income.) Such units are to be dispersed throughout the proposed housing project, be indistinguishable from market-rate units, and the affordable unit rents are not to exceed 30% of a household’s income.  

But there are few (if any) buildings in the Stockade that could accommodate five units or more. An analysis of these properties is likely to show that no affordable units have been created in the Stockade District with this regulation. (See  Upstairs Apartments Fail to Materialize in Stockade, Midtown Kingston,” Daily Freeman, 11 February 2007.)

In addition to promoting the creation of affordable housing, the MUOD text describes a second underlying purpose: “to encourage mixed-use, mixed-income, pedestrian-based neighborhoods.” (§ 405-27.1, subparagraph B-2) It seems that the Kingstonian Project, which neither proposes any affordable housing nor seeks to adaptively reuse any buildings, is narrowly interpreting this second clause as the basis for its qualifying for the more expeditious Special Use Permit application process. (In its Environmental Assessment Form, the applicant flags the MUOD as an applicable zoning measure.) To achieve this second purpose, the amendment allows “site and building enhancements that promote a mixed-use, mixed-income, pedestrian-based neighborhood” to qualify for a Special Use Permit. Apparently, “site enhancements” can be interpreted to mean new construction.

More on Market-Rate and Affordable Housing.

At this time, all of the residential units planned for the Kingstonian Project will be market rate, which has no rent restrictions. A landlord who owns marketrate housing is free to attempt to rent the space at whatever price the local market may tolerate. In other words, the term applies to conventional rentals that are not restricted by affordable housing laws. So while the project entirely skips over the affordable housing purpose of MUOD, it is availing itself of the special use permit perk that comes with being in a MUOD.

A decade ago, the Teicher organization proposed a similar mixed-use project— though shaped differently and without a street closure—on a portion of the Kingstonian site. It received a positive declaration in SEQR with the attendant public scoping process. In its final scoping document, the Teicher team outlined an affordable housing plan where they would “…present a program and procedures that will result in at least 10% of the proposed housing units being set aside as affordable/workforce housing units as defined in the City Zoning Law.” It also stated that “…the plan may identify any appropriate options for promoting or creating such affordable housing units in off-site locations in lieu of within the proposed development.”

It is important to note that the City of Kingston’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) application touts the goals of the MUOD and places them in context of Kingston’s 2025 Comprehensive Plan as it pertains to affordable housing in commercial districts:

“…the overlay was mapped in 2005 to allow for the adaptive reuse of industrial and commercial buildings for rental and affordable housing and to promote the development of a mixed-use, mixed-income, pedestrian- based neighborhood. Properties within the overlay district have certain affordable housing requirements and pedestrian-friendly design standards. In addition, the City has a goal to simplify the district’s affordability standards while allowing for the adaptive reuse of former industrial and commercial buildings throughout the city, not just in the overlay district… . Kingston 2025 identifies the Stockade Business District (SBD) as the “Uptown Mixed-Use Core” neighborhood and specifies goals and strategies specifically pertaining to this area. The vision for the SBD as articulated in Kingston 2025 is to be a center ‘for local life providing nutritious fresh food, necessary personal services, transportation and mass transit options, employment opportunities at a range of incomes, a diversity of housing options, and nearby public and private recreational facilities…’. Kingston 2025 outlines several strategies for residential development in the SBD, including allowing mixed- uses in the C-2 zoning district, and moving toward city-wide standards for adaptive reuse and affordable housing. Therefore, it is likely development guided by the Comprehensive Plan will include more housing opportunities in the SBD.”

If not now, when?

Why are only some of the goals of the City’s Zoning Code being followed? Over the past generation, public officials and members of the community have repeatedly identified a clear need to keep housing affordable in Kingston. It is why the MUOD was created. As has been stated earlier, our 2025 Comprehensive Plan also recognizes the need for affordability throughout the city, which is also in keeping with the Courts’ recognition of the requirement for inclusionary zoning. Now that we have an adopted plan that states this, it has the full force of law, as noted by the NY State Department of State in Zoning and the Comprehensive Plan: “New York’s zoning enabling statutes (the state statutes which give cities, towns and villages the power to enact local zoning laws) require that zoning laws be adopted in accordance with a comprehensive plan. The comprehensive plan should provide the backbone for the local zoning law.”

It goes on to note that public spending at any level of government must be in accordance with that plan: “Once a comprehensive plan is adopted using the State zoning enabling statutes, all land use regulations of the community must be consistent with the comprehensive plan. In the future, the plan must be consulted prior to adoption or amendment of any land use regulation. In addition, other governmental agencies that are considering capital projects on lands covered by the adopted comprehensive plan must take the plan into consideration.

At what point will Kingston do more than aspire for 20% affordable housing in all new development projects, reuse or otherwise? With each passing year that we lack good planning, we lose precious time in balancing the new opportunities coming to Kingston and the pressing needs of our existing community.

Key Citizen Public Comments On Process and the Proposed Kingstonian Public Hearing.

Click on the image to learn more about the SEQR process.

By Rebecca Martin

At the April 10th public hearing on the Kingstonian proposal, over 50 speakers provided three hours of testimony.  Most of which had little to do with the decisions that were currently in front of the Planning Board as Lead Agency of the State Environmental Quality Review Process (SEQR) in making a Positive or Negative Declaration for the project.

Below are three citizen comment highlights that speak directly to the current process the proposal is currently in.

If you wish to review the meeting in full and the “listen to the community” rally beforehand, you can do so HERE   We are also uploading 19 key testimony segments HERE

No decisions were made that evening.

Filmed by Clark Richters of The Kingston News. Brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org.

 

“I’m a little perplexed by a lot of the discussion we’re having tonight. I thought we were not here to decide ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on the project. I thought we were here to decide whether the project would have a positive declaration of significance or not.  

It seems really obvious to me that this project will have significant impacts. I don’t think I’ve heard a single person say that it won’t. I’ve heard people say, “Yes the impacts are large but all positive” and I’ve heard others say “Lets trust the developer to deal with the negative ones in a friendly sort a way without all that legal stuff.”

The SEQR process is there to help communities think through large projects like this and it just seems really clear there the impacts are significant. Certainly significant impact on neighborhood character, we’re talking about a neighborhood that’s historic full of lots of two and three story buildings we’re going to put this giant modern building in it – that’s a significant change to the community character.

In the language of DEC’s guidance, “Is the proposed action inconsistent with the predominant architectural scale and character?” Yes it clearly is. That’s not to say it’s not a good project, that it shouldn’t happen or that the negative impacts outweigh the positives. That’s what the SEQR process is for is to look into those impacts and weigh them.

We know that there is going to be traffic increases in this already very congested area, again – that’s not a reason to decide yay or nay today – that’s a reason to study the impacts and importantly the SEQR process calls for looking for ways to mitigate those impacts to find ways to redesign the projce so it will be better.

I’ve heard advocates of this project saying “It’s not going to happen if a positive declaration is made”. To me, that suggests that the impacts are so significant that something would come up and stop the project. If the members of the planning board agree with that concern then you have to declare a positive declaration so that we can study those impacts and design the proper mitigations. SEQR is not an optional process – it’s not that you engage it when you don’t like a project and want to kill it and you skip it when you like a project and want it to go ahead….and the Mayor’s recent action to remove people from the HLPC suggests after they voiced these concerns that there is an attempt to subvert the process going on here.

Suggesting that…developers won’t come here unless they can count on the city to subvert the process is even more concerning.

I want to see the law followed here.”

 

“The Kingstonian could, without a doubt, be an exciting possibility for our city.  It has also become a very polarizing issue.

Continuing to focus on the negative “pro versus anti” doesn’t help and I would prefer to concentrate on the “all of us” in this picture.

The “all of us” is a fair and transparent SEQR process. It is important to allow public participation in anything that affects the community on this grand of a scale and it is just as important in helping the developers to get it right.

The Kingstonian project is being proposed within a National Historic District, which means it is an area officially recognized by the United States government for its national historical significance.

I urge you to please consider that all it takes is one environmental impact to issue a positive declaration of impact. The current findings of the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC) weigh towards a positive declaration, with at least five possible impacts.

Our own city code has this to say regarding the Stockade Area:

“… it is in the public interest to ensure that the distinctive and historical character of this Historic 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 Historic District be maintained and preserved to promote its use of the education, pleasure and welfare of the citizens of the City of Kingston, New York…”

This alone should be enough to automatically trigger a positive declaration, which would give the community an opportunity to weigh in and ensure that the project moves forward with everyone’s support.”

 

“I’d like to read a letter dated March 11, 2019 – from the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission to the Planning Board, care of Suzanne Cahill – into the public record.

March 11, 2019
City of Kingston Planning Board
City Hall
420 Broadway
Kingston, NY 12401

Dear Chairman Platte and members of the Planning Board,

The Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission, as an involved agency, supports the Planning Board’s request to be the lead agency in the SEQR process for The Kingstonian project. Along with our support, we would like to share with you general concerns we have about this project as you determine its significance. Our concerns are informed by the project applicants’ public presentations and our review of their EAF Part 1 dated Nov 27, 2018.

The information provided therein suggests that the proposed action has the potential to effect significant environmental features, including archaeological and architectural resources, topography and community character. Specifically:

The project site has the potential to yield information important in history or prehistory, such as evidence of the former presence of the stockade which crossed on or near to this site and/or other previously unknown archaeological resources. Such evidence was unearthed nearby on Clinton Avenue in 1970. This site has been identified as archaeologically sensitive by the NY State Historic Preservation Office.

This project involves the demolition of an existing architectural resource in the Stockade Historic District and may seek to replicate this building, which might create a false historical record.

This project involves new construction in the Stockade Historic District. Potential impacts include those that are construction-related, such as falling objects, vibration (from blasting or pile-driving), dewatering, flooding, subsidence, or collapse. The project’s close proximity to two architectural resources—the Senate House and grounds and the John Tremper House at 1 North Front Street—may negatively impact them if adequate precautions are not taken.

Additionally, new construction may impact the visual context of the district, including the architectural components of the district’s buildings in this area (e.g., height, scale, proportion, massing, fenestration, ground-floor configuration, style), streetscapes, skyline, landforms, and openness to the sky. The project may also impact the visual context of the Senate House, a significant state landmark.

This project proposes changes to a significant landscape feature of this historic district: the bluff, an important element to interpreting the district’s history. The National Register nomination for the Stockade Historic District states:

“To this day, the boundary lines of this stockade are formed by Green Street, Main Street, Clinton Avenue, and North Front Street and are still intact. Also, amazingly enough, almost the entire bluff promontory forming the perimeter of this area, elevated above the lowland, is still comparatively intact. Therefore, of the three first settlements in New York State—Albany (Fort Orange), New York (New Amsterdam), and Kingston—it is only Kingston that the authentic elements of an original fortification remain. Documents indicate that this log palisade was in existence until the early eighteenth century, having been kept in repair as protection against later Indian raids. While this area at present is surrounded by commercial development, aerial photography has recently indicated the existence of outlines suggesting that the angle itself may as yet be relatively undisturbed. This area forms a sharp bluff and this may account for its preservation.” 

Taken together—demolition, new construction, and changes to topography—this project may impact the area’s community character or sense of place. The potentially large impacts on the Stockade Historic District and nearby landmark buildings described above weigh toward a positive declaration of environmental significance, we believe. As an involved agency, the HLPC asks that the Planning Board keep these historic preservation issues and concerns in mind as you review and classify the significance of the Kingstonian.

This project will be subject to an Article 14.09 environmental review under the New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Law. A draft EIS can serve as the review procedure for complying with subdivisions (b) and (c) of Section 428, Part 8 of this law. Thank you for your time and consideration. We value your service to our community.

Sincerely,

Mark Grunblatt
Chair, Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission

Cc: Mayor Steve Noble
New York State Historic Preservation Office
James Noble, Kingston Common Council Alderman-at-Large
Andrea Shaut, Common Council Member, Ward 9
Patrick O’Reilly, Common Council Member, Ward 7, and HLPC liaison
Hayes Clement, Heritage Area Commission, Chair”

WHAT TO EXPECT. Public Hearing on Proposed Kingstonian Project on April 10

WHAT
City of Kingston Planning Board
Public Hearing on the Kingstonian

WHEN
Wednesday, April 10, 2019
6:00pm

WHERE
City of Kingston City Hall
Council Chambers (Top Floor)
420 Broadway
Kingston, NY

“LISTEN TO THE COMMUNITY” Rally
Before the public hearing
5:00pm
Front Lawn
Kingston City Hall

Co-sponsors include:  Kingston Tenants Union, Midtown Rising, Rise Up Kingston, Citizen Action of New York Mid-Hudson Valley Chapter, Nobody Leaves Mid Hudson and KingstonCitizens.org

MORE
It is not expected that the planning board will make any decisions on the 10th.

A regular planning board meeting will occur on Monday, 4/15 where the planning board may decide on the items listed in the 4/10 AGENDA  (lot line deletion, site plan / special permit and SEQR determination (pos or neg dec)).

 

 

By Rebecca Martin

On April 10th, the Kingston Planning Board will hold a public hearing on the proposed Kingstonian project regarding the following approvals (in bold) and a SEQR Determination:

AGENDA

#9-17 & 21 North Front Street and 51 Schwenk Drive and a portion of Fair Street Extension LOT LINE DELETION of the Lands of Herzog’s Supply Company and the City of Kingston. SBL 48.80-1-25, 26 & 24.120. SEQR Determination. Zone C-2, Mixed Use Overlay District, Stockade Historic District. Kingstonian Development, LLC/ applicant; Herzog’s Supply Co. Inc. & City of Kingston/owner.

#9-17 & 21 North Front Street and 51 Schwenk Drive and a portion of Fair Street Extension SITE PLAN/SPECIAL PERMIT to construct a Mixed Use building with a 420 car garage, 129 apartments, 32 hotel rooms, and 8000sf of retail space. SBL 48.80-1-25, 26 & 24.120. SEQR Determination. Zone C-2, Mixed Use Overlay District, Stockade Historic District. Kingstonian Development, LLC/ applicant; Herzog’s Supply Co. Inc. & City of Kingston/owner.

The Significance of State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) Determinations. 

What is SEQR?

The State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) “establishes a process to systematically consider environmental factors early in the planning stages of actions that are directly undertaken, funded or approved by local, regional and state agencies. By incorporating environmental review early in the planning stages, projects can be modified as needed to avoid adverse impacts on the environment.”

What step are we at in the process?

On April 10th, the City of Kingston Planning Board will collect public comment on its next step in making a “determination of significance.” This is the most critical step in the SEQR process. This is the step in which the lead agency must decide whether or not a proposed action is likely to have a significant adverse impact upon the environment. If the lead agency finds one or more significant adverse environmental impacts, it must prepare a positive declaration identifying the significant adverse impact(s) and requiring the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

At this time, environmental impacts must be cited before the social or economic concerns are included in an Environmental Impact “Scope” (p. 93, SEQR Handbook), and a pos dec would be required in order for a public scoping process to occur.

FOR YOUR REFERENCE: SEQR Handbook

The project would seem to be justifiably determined as a pos dec, as only one potential adverse environmental impact is required in order for a pos dec to be triggered (p. 85, #5).   Uptown Kingston’s significance as a National Historic District is a reason for a pos dec. Traffic (the traffic for this project appears to be over the threshold for peak hour outlined in the law) would be a trigger. Visual and Aesthetic and Neighborhood Character are all legitimate environmental impacts (p. 90 of the SEQR Handbook).

As the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commissions (HLPC) has already weighed in as an “involved agency” to indicate the potential significant adverse environmental impact on the character of the Stockade National Historic District, the Planning Board, as the “lead agency” is obligated to take a “hard look” according to important case law precedents that have invalidated findings by lead agencies that have failed to do so.

VIEW:
Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC) Identifies Potential Significant Environmental Impacts of the Kingstonian Project.

Other important questions that the public should ask on Wednesday include:

1. Where is the planning board currently in the SEQR determination process?

2. When will the planning board make that determination?

3. Is the project being modified and will it be modified by the applicant and developer to try to address or mitigate potential impacts?

4. Will the public be notified of those modifications and have an additional opportunity to comment on the modified project before the Board makes a SEQR determination?

Below are excerpts from the SEQR Handbook to help you to identify good information to shape your public comment for Wednesday evening.

From pages 90 of the SEQR Handbook onward:

34. May determinations of significance be based on economic costs and social impacts?  No. A determination of significance is based on the regulatory criteria relating to environmental significance. If an EIS is required, its primary purpose is to analyze environmental impacts and to identify alternatives and mitigation measures to avoid or lessen those impacts. Since the definition of “environment” includes community character, these impacts are considered environmental. However, potential impacts relating to lowered real estate values, or net jobs created, would be considered economic, not environmental. Social and economic benefits of, and need for, an action must be included in an EIS. Further, in the findings which must be issued after a final EIS is completed, environmental impacts or benefits may be balanced with social and economic considerations.”

23. Are there impacts on non-physical resources that should be considered when determining significance?  Yes. There may be environmental impacts related to various community or regional values not necessarily associated with physical resources. Examples would include aesthetic impacts, impairment of community character, growth inducement and social and economic conditions, which are discussed below.

24. Why should the significance of visual and aesthetic impacts be considered under SEQR?The courts have upheld inclusion of effects on scenic views as an element of the SEQR review process; for example, in the case of a new radio transmission tower proposed to be constructed near the F.D. Roosevelt estate on the Hudson River (see WEOKBroadcasting Corp. V. Planning Board of Town of Lloyd 1992).

25. What methods or resources may a lead agency use in assessing potential visual and aesthetic impacts?  Because the quality of an aesthetic resource cannot be determined by a precise formula and because opinions may vary concerning the evaluation of visual impacts, there exists a widespread, but erroneous, notion that aesthetics analysis is hopelessly subjective. Instead, research has clearly established that landscape preference and perception are not arbitrary or random, so that along with some variability there is substantial regularity in the perceptions of significant adverse and beneficial visual impacts. It is upon this regularity of human judgement concerning aesthetics that objective decision making depends.  Developing an objective process for considering visual impacts is most effective if undertaken before controversial projects appear. To establish or clarify values, policies and priorities related to existing visual resources, agencies or municipalities should conduct an inventory of visual resources within their jurisdictions. Such surveys need not be elaborate, but are a recommended feature of any comprehensive planning process that the agencies or municipalities may undertake. The prime objective is to be proactive and identify visual resources that are significant within that jurisdiction and could be adversely affected by potential development.

To evaluate potential visual impacts likely to result from individual proposed projects, the Visual EAF Addendum [(Appendix B of 617.20) (pdf, 936 kb)] may be used by the lead agency to supplement the EAF. The Visual EAF Addendum form highlights the following objective components of visual impact analysis are generally considered:

• Whether the value of the aesthetic resource has been established by designation; for example: state park, designated scenic vista, designated open space, etc.

• The number of people who could observe the potential impacts.

• The circumstances or contexts under which impacts would be visible.

• The distance the viewer is from the aesthetic resource.

When the responses to these and other pertinent questions about potential impacts to aesthetic resources are compiled, the lead agency will know, for example, whether the resource is designated as important, is viewed by thousands of people annually when they use the resource (e.g. park), or if the potential impact is adjacent to that resource. Based on this systematic assessment, the lead agency will then be able to consider visual and aesthetic impacts in developing its determination of significance.

26. Has the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) developed any additional resources for assessing aesthetic and visual impacts?  The DEC guidance policy “Assessing and Mitigating Visual Impacts” was developed to provide direction to DEC staff for evaluating visual and aesthetic impacts generated from proposed facilities. The policy and guidance defines what visual and aesthetic impacts are; describes when a visual assessment is necessary; provides guidelines on how to review a visual impact assessment; differentiates State from local concerns; and defines avoidance, mitigation and offset measures that eliminate, reduce, or compensate for negative visual effects.

The cornerstone of the DEC guidance document is its inventory of aesthetic resources of statewide or national significance. The scenic and aesthetic resources identified in the guidance have all been protected by law or regulation, and are therefore special places that the public has deemed worthy of protection due to the inherent aesthetic value associated with the resource. For example, one category is state and national parks which havebeen established by government to protect unique resources, and are accessible for use and appreciation by the public.

The DEC guidance defines State regulatory concerns, and separates them from local concerns. However, the DEC guidance may be used as a model by other agencies or municipalities. Once local authorities have officially identified locally important visual resources, the guidance may be used to assist a lead agency in systematically evaluating potential visual and aesthetic impacts from a proposed development.

27. How do aesthetic and visual impacts differ from community character impacts? Visual impact assessment considers a single class of resource. While visual resources may contribute to a community’s perception of its character, a number of other resources should also be assessed or evaluated to enable a more thorough description of a community’s character.

28. Why is “community character an environmental issue?  The Legislature has defined “environment” to include, among other things, “…existing patterns of population concentration, distribution or growth, and existing community or neighborhood character” (see ECL 8-0105.6). Court decisions have held that impacts upon community character must be considered in making determinations of significance even if there are no other impacts on the physical environment.

29.  How can you determine whether an impact upon community character may be significant? Community character relates not only to the built and natural environments of a community, but also to how people function within, and perceive, that community. Evaluation of potential impacts upon community or neighborhood character is often difficult to define by quantitative measures. Courts have supported reliance upon a municipality’s comprehensive plan and zoning as expressions of the community’s desired future state or character. (See Village of Chestnut Ridge v. Town of Ramapo, 2007.) In addition, if other resource-focused plans such as Local Waterfront Revitalization Plans (LWRP), Greenway plans or Heritage Area plans have been adopted, those plans may further articulate desired future uses within the planning area.

In the absence of a current, adopted comprehensive plan, a lead agency has little formal basis for determining whether a significant impact upon community character may occur.

  • Examples of actions affecting community character that have been found to be significant include the introduction of luxury housing into a working-class ethnic community and construction of a prison in a rural community.

• Examples of actions found not to be significant include low-income housing and shelters for the homeless proposed to be located within existing residential areas.

VIDEO: Kingston Planning Board and the ICC, Boarding House, Hospital Campus. Kingstonian Project Tabled.

By Rebecca Martin

At last evening’s Planning Board meeting, we captured several items for the public to review that include:

  1. The Irish Cultural Center’s third request for a site plan application in the Rondout, Kingston.  (Item #8)
  2. A controversial ‘boarding house’ special use permit on West Chestnut Street, that has been vying for permission to be approved as a ’boutique hotel’.  (Item #7)
  3. A downsized project of Benedictine Hospital on Mary’s Avenue (Westchester Medical) by Health Alliance of the Hudson Valley.

The developers for the Kingstonian tabled their project yesterday afternoon.

Read more…

Brooklyn Real Estate Management Company Negatively Impacts Quality of Life in Ulster County.

 

Last evening, we attended the Sunset Gardens Tenant Association meeting at the Town of Ulster’s Senior Center.  One after another, tenants of apartment complexes in the Towns of Ulster and Esopus spoke of the shocking disrepair, unsafe conditions and treatment of those living at Sunset Gardens (ToU), Lakeshore Villas (ToE) and Black Creek Road (ToE).  Special thanks to Laura Hartmann and all of the citizens from Sunset Gardens who had the courage to organize.

The culprit – E & M Management – the real estate investment and management company based in Brooklyn, NY is mostly new to the area, gobbling up apartment complexes that include “68 apartments across from the Rondout Creek” in downtown Kingston and a vacant parcel near the Maritime Museum to build the “Kingston Waterfront Plaza”, a mixed-use project.  There is speculation that they are looking at Dutch Village, too – in uptown Kingston.

Although the planning process in Kingston is complete for their new build downtown – with a negative declaration in SEQR which is absolutely unbelievable – we are continuing our efforts to advocate for an improved development process for our planning department and planning board. We will keep a close eye on this company and work with our neighbors to assure that if E & M and all of their LLC partners want to come to our community, it is not on their terms.

Thanks to Clark Richters of The Kingston News for filming the event, brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org.

 

VIDEO: Kingston Planning Board – ICCHV, Verizon Communication Tower, “Super Garage” Proposal

By Rebecca Martin

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.

VIEW
Model Law (New Hempstead)

VIEW
NYSDOS Recommendation on Communication Towers

VIEW 
NYSDOS Moratoria on Land Use

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

Read more…

GUEST EDITORIAL: Beyond ‘Streamlining’ – Improving Kingston’s Preservation and Heritage Programs

Click on Imagine to review educational panel “Historic Preservation in the City of Kingston: Re-thinking the Review Process”

By Marissa Marvelli

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?

Read more…

The Irish Cultural Center Gets a Pass to Move on to Site Plan Review

 

 

Click on the image of the map provided in the ICC’s FEAF regarding their parking waiver request.

CITIZEN CALL TO ACTION

Attend the Planning Board’s public hearing and speak to the ICC’s Site Plans and Parking Waiver.

WHEN:
Monday, April 16th, 2018
6:00pm

WHERE:
City Hall Council Chambers, 420 Broadway in Kingston

VIEW
The ICC Site Plan from March of 2018

 

by Hillary Harvey

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.

BACKGROUND

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:

§ 405-69 Appeals. 

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.

Talking Points

PARKING:

*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.

ACCESS:

* Any closure of Company Hill Path will affect business and restrict public access to a National Register of Historic Places site.

LOGISTICS:

* 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?

REQUEST:

  1. 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.
  2. Deny the parking waiver.
  3. If site plan approval is granted, it should be contingent upon:
    1. No banquet hall use allowed, as the ICC promised.
    2. No noise permits granted and no outside speakers.
    3. No uses not fully enclosed in a structure allowed.
    4. Additional changes to the exterior should be reviewed by the HLPC.
    5. 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.

A More Democratic Approach to Public Meeting Discussions in the City of Kingston.

By Hillary Harvey
hillary@kingstoncitizens.org

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.

Read more…

Is Proposed Shooting Range in Midtown Kingston Illegal Under City Code?

 

12670333_495578203958183_1121558481408475066_nAs citizens of Kingston are aware, last fall a proposed shooting range project came up on the radar for Midtown. Initially, the City of Kingston’s Planning Board, perhaps wishing to avoid a contentious and emotional public comment period on 2nd amendment rights, declined to host a public hearing on the subject.

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.

So lets start there.

Read more…

Planning Board Meeting: Public Hearing on Proposed Shooting Range in Kingston Public in Midtown, Kingston?

12240022_861692483926557_5371702070390999861_n

 

By Rebecca Martin

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.

Read more…