In April of 2018, draft legislation to merge the Historic Landmarks Preservation and Heritage Area Commissions was introduced by the City of Kingston’s executive branch to the common council with support from both the Planning and Building Departments. Merging the two commissions, they argued, would eliminate any redundancies and create a more efficient process for project sponsors who came forward with development concepts for the city. KingstonCitizens.org created an educational panel (Historic Preservation in the City of Kingston: Rethinking the Review Process) and advocated against the merger without a more thorough understanding of actions impacts. In the end, Mayor Steve Noble overruled the common council’s wishes to remove valuable members and perform an adhoc merger (the timing of which conveniently coincided prior to the Kingstonian project’s review process).
READ: Our blog posts on the City of Kingston’s attempt to merge the Historic Landmarks Preservation and Heritage Area Commissions to streamline development projects.
Statement delivered to the HLPC April 4, 2019.
My fellow colleagues:
As you can see I am not sitting at the table with you tonight nor is Alan Baer. Yesterday we both got the boot from Mayor Noble. He told me he was dismissing me because our visions for historic preservation did not align. He also said I was not fit to be a Landmarks Commissioner.
About his vision, the entirety of it can be summed in two words: merging commissions. It is the only preservation policy initiative he has put forward since he has been in office. He will point to the new administrator position that he recently created as evidence that he supports a strong municipal preservation program. While I agree it’s better than having no administrative support (which was our situation for more than a year), the annual salary—less than $19,000—is far from commensurate with the qualifications he seeks, which includes an advanced degree in historic preservation or a related field. I thought it was his administration’s desire to attract talented professionals to work in local government. I suppose it still is as long as that new talent is willing to work for peanuts.
My vision—and I think the collective vision of this body in recent years—has been to increase the professionalism and credibility of the Kingston Landmarks Commission. I am incredibly proud of the improvements we have made together. First, we have come into compliance as a Certified Local Government by submitting annual reports and receiving annual commissioner training. This state-administered program provides us valuable technical support and grant funding. I hope we maintain our compliance going forward.
We have also made great strides in adhering to proper procedure in terms of how our meetings are conducted, delivering clear findings of fact that are tied to our review criteria, and making sure our written decisions are thorough enough to be easily understood by a judge. (I have included in the materials I handed out a template that I created as a guide for making findings of fact.)
Most importantly, I am proud of our engagement with applicants. Education, open dialogue, and reasoned decisions form the core of this commission’s service.
It was my hope that in my tenure we would designate a new historic district and in tandem, have it nominated to the National Register so that property owners within it qualify for historic tax credits for undertaking rehabilitation work. It’s been 30 long years since this Commission last designated a historic district. However, with Kevin McEvoy’s help and the support of the Kingston Land Trust, a Preserve New York grant application was submitted two weeks ago to fund work to certify the Fair Street Historic District, which as you know is a local district only. With certification, property owners will qualify for the tax credits. I should add that certification is possible because Kingston is a Certified Local Government.
It was also my hope to work with the Common Council to improve the existing preservation ordinance so that it is more in keeping with the 2014 New York State Model Preservation Law. I doubt that that effort will be moving forward now.
It was also my hope that there would be a collegial working relationship between our Commission and members of the administration. Unfortunately, they are not welcoming of new ideas that are not their own. Some members tend to be obstinate, incurious, uncommunicative, and at times, resentful of being questioned. I would argue that some officials have occupied their desks for far too long to the detriment of our changing city.
This Commission is the backbone of historic preservation in Kingston. This is why it is so incredibly important that this citizen body maintain an independent voice in city government. You are not here to carry out one mayor’s agenda nor should you be distracted with caring for a planter box in Uptown. Your legislative intent is to promote and protect Kingston’s landmarks and historic districts for the education, pleasure, and general welfare of our community today and tomorrow. Please keep your focus on that.
Thank you for your service. It was an honor to serve with you.
Marissa Marvelli is a Kingston resident and former vice chair of Kingston’s Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission. She works as a freelance historic preservation specialist for preservation-focused development projects and community groups seeking to protect their historic resources. She draws from a decade of experience with an award-winning Manhattan architecture firm and extensive involvement with non-profit preservation advocacy groups. She earned her Masters degree in historic preservation from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.