Since the first renderings of the proposed Kingstonian project were released in late 2017, many citizens have expressed strong concerns about how the unprecedentedly large mixed-use development would impact the character and integrity of the Stockade Historic District. At over 218,000 gross square feet spread across two buildings containing 143 units of housing, a 32-room hotel, 8,000 square feet of retail space and a new pedestrian plaza, all of which is piled on top of a parking garage, the development will dwarf all other buildings in the small district. Numerous of you spoke at hearings and submitted comments requesting that the Kingston Planning Board take a “hard look” at this potential impact with the hope that its adverse effects could be mitigated through the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process. Historic resources and “community character” are included in the definition of “environment” in SEQR.
“Is the proposed action inconsistent with the predominant architectural scale and character?” Without hesitation, the Planning Board unanimously agreed that the development will have little or no impact on the character of the Stockade District.
This question was among the dozens of questions that the Board answered in the course of reviewing Part 2 of the Environmental Assessment Form (EAF) for the SEQR process at their special meeting on November 6. Oddly, the form was completed by the applicant instead of by the lead agency, the Planning Board, as SEQR rules require. By having the applicant do the agency’s homework for them, the Planning Board effectively unburdened themselves of applying critical thought to the questions at hand. Instead, they simply affirmed or tweaked the applicant’s assumptions about their project’s impact—whether the individual impacts will be small or moderate to large.
The aforementioned question regarding character is one of seven raised in section 18 of the Part 2 form which evaluates impacts to community character. The EAF Workbook defines community character as “all the man-made and natural features of the area. It includes the visual character of a town, village, or city, and its visual landscape; but also includes the buildings and structures and their uses, the natural environment, activities, town services, and local policies that are in place. These combine to create a sense of place or character that defines the area. Changes to the type and intensity of land use, housing, public services, aesthetic quality, and to the balance between residential and commercial uses can all change community character. Most proposed actions will result in some change in community character.”
In the Planning Board’s unanimous opinion, none of the resources mentioned above will be impacted by the Kingstonian. How they reached this conclusion without at least defining the existing community character is perplexing. It is like a jury rendering a not guilty verdict without discussing the evidence.
a. The proposed action may replace or eliminate existing facilities, structures, or areas of historic importance to the community. Community character is, in part, influenced by the buildings and structures that exist in a community. Historic structures are especially influential on the character of the built environment. Whenever existing buildings and structures are replaced or removed, the character of the street, neighborhood, district or entire community can change. For example, replacing a traditional three-story main street structure having parking in the rear with a modern concrete block structure having parking the front could significantly change the character of the street. In some communities the character is also influenced by entire blocks, streets, or neighborhoods that may be altered by a project. Removal or replacement can significantly change the function, look, and economics of an area.
Analysis — What specific buildings or structures are to be replaced or eliminated? If so, what is proposed in its place? — Is the new structure of similar scale, siting, design, and function? — Is there a designated historic district impacted? How will that change? — Will the proposed project change the ratio of street width to building height? For example, are narrow streets having buildings set close to the road being replaced by wider streets with buildings having deep front setbacks?
Will there be an impact? If no facilities, structures or areas of historic importance to the community are being replaced or eliminated, then there will be no related impacts. However, many proposed actions will result in some change in community character. There are probably few that will result in no change at all. Examples of actions that may not affect community character include passage of a local law that is not related to land use, or other discretionary actions that require SEQR but that do not result in building or development. Another example may be infill development that is consistent with the style and character of the neighborhood. Check ‘No, or small impact may occur.
Small Impact: A small impact could occur under one or more of these circumstances: — The visual character of the area is changed in a minor way but is generally consistent in the design, placement, size, streetscape, intensity and architecture of the neighborhood or community. — The balance between retail commercial uses and residential uses does not change in a significant way. — The proposed project is a land use that is similar to others that can be found in the neighborhood or area.
Moderate to Large Impact: A moderate to large impact could occur under one or more of these circumstances: — The proposed project moderately or significantly changes the visual character of the area. — The proposed project is of a larger scale than currently exists in the area. — New building design, lot layout, streetscapes, or intensity of use is in sharp contrast to that which exists. — The project introduces a land use that is inconsistent or in sharp contrast with surrounding land uses. — The project introduces odors, lights, noise, or traffic to an area in a way that is different than currently exists.
It was not as if the Planning Board was trying to avoid identifying moderate to large impacts altogether. With relation to construction grading and demolition, stormwater runoff, visual impact on aesthetic resources, and impact on archaeological resources, they appeared comfortable stating that the project may have moderate to large impacts.
By concluding that the Kingstonian will have little or no impact on the character of the district, the Planning Board is essentially saying that buildings of the size, scale, type, density, and architectural style as the Kingstonian already exist in the district. They are also essentially stating that there will be no change to the historic development pattern; that closing a street and altering the natural topography of the the 362-year-old settlement—a key feature of the historic district’s significance—to accommodate a parking garage entrance on Fair Street Extension are inconsequential impacts. It also sets a precedent for future development of this scale in the Stockade Historic District.
Such conclusions are denialist.
They ignore the concerns that were expressed by two preservation agencies: the New York State Historic Preservation Office and Kingston Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC) before it was gutted. (Soon after raising their concerns in March, two members of the HLPC—a licensed architect and myself, a professional preservationist—were removed by Mayor Steve Noble and replaced with less experienced individuals. Two other HLPC members resigned in protest of his action.) They also ignore the many of you who have expressed similar concerns in testimony at meetings and written comments.
By concluding that this development poses little or no impact on the character of the district, the Planning Board has shut down the opportunity to assess, debate, and potentially mitigate it beyond the tiny tweaks to the architecture that the now weakened HLPC may request in its routine review.
After going through the EAF Part 2 form, the Planning Board discussed their calendar of meetings. Board member Robert Jacobsen suggested that they schedule another public hearing on this project at their regularly scheduled meeting on Monday November 18 so that they can show that there are “no backroom deals” as if another hearing is supposed to convince citizens that this has been a transparent and inclusive process. Apparently the developers of the Kingstonian also desire this hearing.
They tentatively scheduled a discussion of the EAF Part 3 on Monday December 2 in which they will decide if the moderate-to-large impacts identified are significant, whether impacts will be avoided or substantially mitigated, and whether or not to require an environmental impact statement.
What can you do? While the Planning Board’s final decision has seemed predetermined from the very beginning of this review process, residents can attend the public hearing on the Kingstonian project at the upcoming Planning Board meeting on November 18 at 6:00pm at Kingston City Hall (Council Chambers). The Planning Board is requesting input as it pertains to the 14 affordable units and the potential environmental impacts, however, according to the agenda, public comment made that evening will not be included in the official record of the review process for this project.
Therefore we suggest that you use this opportunity to let the Planning Board know what you think about their “transparent and inclusive” environmental review process, as this will probably be the final public hearing for the Kingstonian project before the board makes a determination, most likely in December.
2:35 Public comment by Sarah Wenk (Kingston resident), who expressed concerns about the EAF not having been amended to reflect all of the changes.
7:25 Kingstonian development team representative Joe Bonura, Jr. outlines the changes to the Kingstonian project. “We’ve been trying to find ways to include affordable housing from the beginning.”
8:20 Bonura: “We added a story to the building that has only seven units…the other seven units were made out of converting existing units inside.”
12:45 Frank A. Filiciotto, PE, of Creighton Manning discusses traffic studies and impacts.
DOCUMENT: Creighton Manning response to traffic comments for The Kingstonian.
DOCUMENT: Creighton Manning Updated Trip Generation Evaluation for The Kingstonian.
16:49 Kingstonian engineer consultant Dennis Larios on water and sewer impacts.
20:39 Bonura explains that they are making the project sustainable by including efficient toilets, showers and sinks.
21:09 Larios discusses drinking water, water use, visual impact and stormwater.
22:47 Planning Board chair Wayne Platt asks if the board received results from their independent traffic studies consultant.
23:40 Platt: “Even though it’s not a requirement under zoning, how/why did you arrive to include affordable housing into your project?”
Bonura: “…when we were originally asked to look at this project…affordable housing, while important, wasn’t as important as it is now.” “…as we got the architecture to the point where we thought, ‘we’re there’, we came to the epiphany where we realized affordable housing was really important.” “…we are reaching into our pockets to make the affordable units possible.”
30:20 Platt: “Explain the impact of the additional units to the parking garage.”
Bonura: “We are not reserving any more spaces for the new units. There will be 129 parking spots for the project. We foresee the need for people moving into this building not needing as many cars (due to proximity to services)…”
32:30 Bonura provides a unit count: (9) studios, (65) 1-bedrooms, (60) 2-bedrooms, and (10) 3-bedrooms.
33:00 Planning Board member Jacobson asks about the closing of Fair Street.
34:15 Michael Moriello, the attorney for the applicant, argues that the EAF Part 1 does not need to be amended to reflect changes to the project scope.
35:50 Moriello presents a “submittal” to the Planning Board that addresses the site plan and special use permit impacts as per Kingston’s zoning. “Meld themselves with the SEQR issue.”
37:30 Bonura: “Our target market for this building are seniors… Seniors often drive less, use fewer vehicles or don’t have a vehicle at all. …Parking rates will match the City’s.”
42:06 City Planning Director Suzanne Cahill begins reading the EAF Part 2 form line by line to review the applicant’s opinion on individual impacts, whether they will be small or moderate/large.
EAF Part 2 for Kingstonian Project:
1. Impact on Land
a. The proposed action may involve construction on land where depth to water table is less than 3 feet. No/Small impact
b. The proposed action may involve construction on slopes of 15% or greater. Moderate / Large
c. The proposed action may involve construction on land where bedrock is exposed, or generally within 5 feet of existing ground surface. No / Small Impact
d. The proposed action may involve the excavation and removal of more than 1,000 tons of natural material. No / Small impact
e. The proposed action may involve construction that continues for more than one year or in multiple phases. Moderate / Large Impact
f. The proposed action may result in increased erosion, whether from physical disturbance or vegetation removal (including from treatment by herbicides). Small / Moderate
g. The proposed action is, or may be, located within a Coastal Erosion hazard area. No / Small
h. Other impacts: Construction, grading and demolition. The applicant marked: No / Small. The Planning Department disagreed: Moderate / Large
2. Impact on Geological Features
The proposed action may result in the modification or destruction of, or inhibit access to, any unique or unusual land forms on the site. No / Small (Skip)
3. Impacts on Surface Water
a. The proposed action may create a new water body. No / Small
b. The proposed action may result in an increase or decrease of over 10% or more than a 10 acre increase or decrease in the surface area of any body of water. No / Small
c. The proposed action may involve dredging more than 100 cubic yards of material from a wetland or water body. No / Small
d. The proposed action may involve construction within or adjoining a freshwater or tidal wetland, or in the bed or banks of any other water body. No / Small
e. The proposed action may create turbidity in a waterbody, either from upland erosion, runoff or by disturbing bottom sediments. No / Small
f. The proposed action may include construction of one or more intake(s) for withdrawal of water from surface water. No / Small
g. The proposed action may include construction of one or more outfall(s) for discharge of wastewater to surface water(s). No / Small
h. The proposed action may cause soil erosion, or otherwise create a source of stormwater discharge that may lead to siltation or other degradation of receiving water bodies. (Esopus Creek) Applicant: No / Small. Planning Board: Moderate / Large. The applicant’s stormwater study will be appended to the form to allow it to go back to ‘No/Small’ impact.
i. The proposed action may affect the water quality of any water bodies within or downstream of the site of the proposed action. No / Small Impact
j. The proposed action may involve the application of pesticides or herbicides in or around any water body. No / Small Impact
k.The proposed action may require the construction of new, or expansion of existing, wastewater treatment facilities. No / Small
4. Impact on Groundwater
a.The proposed action may require new water supply wells, or create additional demand on supplies from existing water supply wells. Skip
b. Water supply demand from the proposed action may exceed safe and sustainable withdrawal capacity rate of the local supply or aquifer. No / Small
c.The proposed action may allow or result in residential uses in areas without water and sewer services. Skip
d. The proposed action may include or require wastewater discharged to groundwater. Skip
e. The proposed action may result in the construction of water supply wells in locations where groundwater is, or is suspected to be contaminated. Skip
f. The proposed action may require the bulk storage of petroleum or chemical products over ground water or an aquifer. Skip
g. The proposed action may involve the commercial application of pesticides within 100 feet of potable drinking water or irrigation sources. Skip
h. Other impacts Skip
5. Impact on Flooding
a. The proposed action may result in development in a designated floodway. No / Small
b.The proposed action may result in development within a 100 year floodplain. No / Small
c. The proposed action may result in development within a 500 year floodplain. Moderate / Large.
(Continued from above)
d. The proposed action may result in, or require, modification of existing drainage patterns. Applicant: No / Small. Planning Department: Moderate / Large. Project engineer Dennis Larios thinks it’s small. After a vote, Planning Board: No / Small
e. The proposed action may change flood water flows that contribute to flooding. No / Small
f. If there is a dam located on the site of the proposed action, is the dam in need of repair, or upgrade? No / Small
6. Impacts on Air
No / Small (Skip)
7. Impact on Plants and Animals
a. The proposed action may cause reduction in population or loss of individuals of any threatened or endangered species, as listed by New York State or the Federal government, that use the site, or are found on, over, or near the site. No / Small. Attach survey provided to us for flora/fauna.
b. The proposed action may result in a reduction or degradation of any habitat used by any rare, threatened or endangered species, as listed by New York State or the federal government. No / Small
c. The proposed action may cause reduction in population, or loss of individuals, of any species of special concern or conservation need, as listed by New York State or the Federal government, that use the site, or are found on, over, or near the site. No / Small
d. The proposed action may result in a reduction or degradation of any habitat used by any species of special concern and conservation need, as listed by New York State or the Federal government. No / Small
e. The proposed action may diminish the capacity of a registered National Natural Landmark. No / Small
f. The proposed action may result in the removal of, or ground disturbance in, any portion of a designated significant natural community. No / Small
g. The proposed action may substantially interfere with nesting/breeding, foraging, or over-wintering habitat for the predominant species that occupy or use the project site. No / Small
h. The proposed action requires the conversion of more than 10 acres of forest, grassland or any other regionally or locally important habitat. No / Small
i. Proposed action (commercial, industrial or recreational projects, only) involves use of herbicides or pesticides. No / Small
j. Other impacts: wildlife displacement and street trees. Applicant: No / Small. Planning Department says their reports will address it.
8. Impact on Agricultural Resources
No / Small(Skip)
9. Impact on Aesthetic Resources
The land use of the proposed action are obviously different from, or are in sharp contrast to, current land use patterns between the proposed project and a scenic or aesthetic resource.
a. Proposed action may be visible from any officially designated federal, state, or local scenic or aesthetic resource. (Senate House and the Stockade Historic District) Moderate / Large
b. The proposed action may result in the obstruction, elimination or significant screening of one or more officially designated scenic views. Applicant: No / Small. Planning Department: Moderate / large. Larios: “What is an officially designated view? We are obstructing the view coming down Wall Street to the foothills, but nothing designated. ” Planning Board: No / Small
c. The proposed action may be visible from publicly accessible vantage points: i. Seasonally (e.g., screened by summer foliage, but visible during other seasons) ii. Year round Moderate / Large
d. The situation or activity in which viewers are engaged while viewing the proposed action is: i. Routine travel by residents, including travel to and from work ii. Recreational or tourism based activities. No / Small
e. The proposed action may cause a diminishment of the public enjoyment and appreciation of the designated aesthetic resource. No / Small
f. There are similar projects visible within the following distance of the proposed project: 0-1/2 mile 1⁄2 -3 mile 3-5 mile 5+ mile. No / Small
g. Other impacts: Visual context of the historic district. Moderate / Large
10. Impact on Historic and Archeological Resources
The proposed action may occur in or adjacent to a historic or archaeological resource. (Part 1. E.3.e, f. and g.)
a. The proposed action may occur wholly or partially within, or substantially contiguous to, any buildings, archaeological site or district which is listed on the National or State Register of Historical Places, or that has been determined by the Commissioner of the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to be eligible for listing on the State Register of Historic Places. Moderate / Large
b. The proposed action may occur wholly or partially within, or substantially contiguous to, an area designated as sensitive for archaeological sites on the NY State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) archaeological site inventory. Moderate / Large
c. The proposed action may occur wholly or partially within, or substantially contiguous to, an archaeological site not included on the NY SHPO inventory. Applicant: No / Small. Planning Department: Moderate / Large with archaeologist Joe Diamond’s report attached. “He will be on site during excavation. There’s been some Native American activity.” Larios: “But that’s all of Ulster County.” Planning Board: No / Small
e. If any of the above (a-d) are answered “Moderate to large impact may occur”, continue with the following questions to help support conclusions in Part 3:
The proposed action may result in the destruction or alteration of all or part of the site or property. Moderate / Large
The proposed action may result in the alteration of the property’s setting or integrity. Moderate / Large
The proposed action may result in the introduction of visual elements which are out of character with the site or property, or may alter its setting. Moderate / Large
11. Impact on Open Space and Recreation
No / Small(Skip)
12. Impact on Critical Environmental Areas
The proposed action may be located within or adjacent to a critical NO YES environmental area (CEA). (See Part 1. E.3.d)
No / Small (Skip)
13. Impact on Transportation
The proposed action may result in a change to existing transportation systems. (See Part 1. D.2.j)
a. Projected traffic increase may exceed capacity of existing road network. No / Small
b. The proposed action may result in the construction of paved parking area for 500 or more vehicles. No / Small
d. The proposed action will degrade existing pedestrian or bicycle accommodations. No / Small
e. The proposed action may alter the present pattern of movement of people or goods. Moderate / Large
f. Other impacts: Closing off Fair Street Extension Moderate / Large. The Planning Department states that they will attach the Creighton Manning and HVAA reports.
14. Impact on Energy
The proposed action may cause an increase in the use of any form of energy. (See Part 1. D.2.k)
a. The proposed action will require a new, or an upgrade to an existing, substation. No / Small
b. The proposed action will require the creation or extension of an energy transmission or supply system to serve more than 50 single or two-family residences or to serve a commercial or industrial use. No / Small
c. The proposed action may utilize more than 2,500 MW hrs per year of electricity. No / Small
d. The proposed action may involve heating and/or cooling of more than 100,000 square feet of building area when completed. No / Small.
15. Impact on Noise, Odor, and Light
The proposed action may result in an increase in noise, odors, or outdoor lighting.
a. The proposed action may produce sound above noise levels established by local regulation. Applicant: No / Small. Planning Department: Moderate/Large, though temporary due to construction. “They’ll need a noise permit from the city as a routine measure.” Planning Board: No / Small.
b. The proposed action may result in blasting within 1,500 feet of any residence, hospital, school, licensed day care center, or nursing home. No / Small
c. The proposed action may result in routine odors for more than one hour per day. No / Small
d. The proposed action may result in light shining onto adjoining properties. No / Small
e. The proposed action may result in lighting creating sky-glow brighter than existing area conditions. No / Small
16. Impact on Human Health
The proposed action may have an impact on human health from exposure.
No / Small. “Attach asbestos work report that it has been removed from the Herzog Building.” Moriello asked about digging up solid or hazardous waste. Larios: “Only old footings from Montgomery Ward, old Parking Garage and Herzogbuilding.”
17. Consistency with Community Plans
The proposed action is not consistent with adopted land use plans.
a. The proposed action’s land use components may be different from, or in sharp contrast to, current surrounding land use pattern(s). No / Small.
b. The proposed action will cause the permanent population of the city, town or village in which the project is located to grow by more than 5%. No / Small
c. The proposed action is inconsistent with local land use plans or zoning regulations. No / Small
d. The proposed action is inconsistent with any County plans, or other regional land use plans. No / Small
e. The proposed action may cause a change in the density of development that is not supported by existing infrastructure or is distant from existing infrastructure. No / Small
f. The proposed action is located in an area characterized by low density development that will require new or expanded public infrastructure. No / Small
g. The proposed action may induce secondary development impacts (e.g., residential or commercial development not included in the proposed action). No / Small
h. Other: The proposed action requires a zoning change for this site. No / Small
18. Consistency with Community Character
No / Small (Skip)
37:18 The Planning Board discusses a public hearing on the proposed changes to the application. “I think we’ve been open with all of our meetings with the community, we haven’t hid or had any back room meetings. I think in transparency, one more meeting, I’m fine with…and the record is what it is” Board Member Jacobson.
42:20 The Planning Board tables both Kingstonian items. Sets a public hearing for November 18th. Another special meeting is discussed for December 2nd.
There will be an opportunity for the public to speak at the top of the meeting for any planning related topic. In the Planning Board’s agenda, the public is reminded that the Kingstonian is not listed as a public hearing.
This event will be filmed by The Kingston News and is brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org.
It is incumbent upon the Planning Board to conduct a thorough State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) on the Kingstonian application. The review must encompass the actual size and scope of the project as currently proposed.
The Environmental Assessment Form (EAF) Part 1, prepared nearly a year ago in November 2018 by the applicant, describes a project that differs considerably from the project now before the Planning Board. Because the project has grown in scope and scale, the impacts are not accurately calculated in the EAF Part 1. The Planning Board must require the applicant to amend the EAF to reflect the project in its current iteration.
An EAF is “a form used by an agency to assist in determining the environmental significance or nonsignificance of actions. A properly completed EAF must contain enough information to describe the proposed action, its location, its purpose and its potential impacts on the environment.” 6 NYCRR 617.2(m)
The applicant’s 2018 EAF states that the project will include 129 residential units. The latest announcement by the City touted 143 units. The EAF lists water use, energy use, wastewater output and solid waste output, which were presumably calculated based on the number of residential units. All of those figures must be revised to reflect the impacts of the current project proposal.
Further, the EAF does not accurately account for the new bulk of the project, which is essential to assessing its impacts on the visual environment, historic resources, and community character. The old EAF states that the largest building in the project will be 48 feet tall. The elevations submitted in August 2019 show the project to be six storiesor at least 60 feet tall. The changes announced in October would add an additional story, bringing the total to at least 70 feet (see the image above).
Accurate statistics about the size and bulk of the building are essential for the Planning Board to determine whether it has the potential to create a significant adverse impact within its architectural context. SEQR regulations specifically call for an assessment of these types of impacts, including: “(iv) the creation of a material conflict with a community’s current plans or goals as officially approved or adopted; (v) the impairment of the character or quality of important historical, archeological, architectural, or aesthetic resources or of existing community or neighborhood character;” 6 NYCRR 617.7(c)(1)(iv-v) (emphasis added).
It has also come to light that the project will require one or more approvals that were not originally projected. In particular, the applicant has applied to the Common Council for a zoning amendment to extend the Mixed Use Overlay District to cover part of the project area. The zoning amendment is not listed among the necessary agency actions on the EAF.
Failure to account for all components of the project can lead to illegal segmentation of the SEQR review. Failure to account for all impacts of the project risks producing a determination of significance that disables the relevant boards and commissions from addressing certain concerns in their subsequent reviews.
In sum, the lead agency must determine the significance of the proposed action based on a full and properly completed EAF. Given changes in the project and the failure to address the zoning change in the current EAF, the Planning Board does not currently have a full and complete EAF for the project as currently proposed.
KingstonCitizens.org appreciates the developer’s recent inclusion of affordable housing. However, the increased building height in the revised plan only exacerbates the project’s adverse effects on what is an extraordinarily important historic district—for its history, its architecture, and as an economic driver. The State Historic Preservation Office has articulated strong concerns about these impacts.
It is therefore even more important to complete a thorough and proper SEQR review. Once the EAF is revised to reflect the project in its current iteration, the Board must issue a Positive Declaration so that they can study—along with the community—potential mitigation of the significant adverse environmental impacts.
READ: “Sign the Petition: Kingston Common Council must uphold its affordable housing mandate and provide constituents with a full accounting of Kingstonian public funds”
READ: “The Kingstonian to be Jointly Reviewed Tonight; State Preservation Office Finds ‘Adverse Effects’ in its Evaluation of the Project; Confusion about Historic District Boundaries”
READ: “SEQR Process for Kingstonian Project Possibly to be ‘Segmented’”
Standing in Kingston’s City Hall Common Council Chambers on September 24th, John Tuey, the City’s Comptroller, offered the roomful of citizens a general analysis of what a budget is and what it does. This was the annual community budget forum – an initiative of the Noble Administration. The City’s Comptroller is appointed by the Common Council but works with the Mayor on developing the budget. After the forum, it was still unclear what the 2020 proposed budget contained.
Mayor Steve Noble then presented his proposed 2020 budget on October 17th. The budget was available online the next day. In his presentation, the Mayor primarily discussed what a budget generally does and offered basically a campaign speech about budgetary achievements of the past. He outlined to the Common Council in a letter his highlights of the 2020 Recommended Budget: a 0% tax increase; the tax levy remains at about $17.65 million for the fifth year in a row; 0% increase in sewer rates; no layoffs; 12 full-time positions added or expanded including a full-time bilingual Clerk, a full-time Director of Arts & Cultural Affairs, three positions at DPW including a Tree Maintenance Technician; major infrastructure projects to be completed or underway in 2020; and a Low Fiscal Stress Score (6.7 out of 100). In the budget, the Mayor also proposed Wi-Fi in the Kingston parks, essential DPW equipment, a new fire engine, and a skatepark at Hasbrouck Park, among other things. But the presentation wasn’t a line-by-line read of the 178-page budget document… thankfully.
The line-by-line read began on October 28th at 6:30p when the Kingston Common Council’s Finance Committee held the first of several public meetings that week to discuss the budget and ask questions of departments such as the Kingston Police Department, the Department of Public Works, the Kingston Fire Department, and the Parks & Rec Department. But at 6p that night, before those discussions began, the Common Council held a public hearing on the proposed budget. Not surprisingly, only five people attended. Of those, only two spoke: the DiFalcos, a political-hopeful power couple. Ellen DiFalco is running for Mayor on the Republican and Independence Party lines. Joe DiFalco is running for Ward 3 Alderman on the Republican and Independence Party lines.
The Common Council’s public hearing on the Mayor’s budget proposal was originally scheduled for Thursday, October 24th – the same night as the final Mayoral debate. It was then rescheduled for Monday, October 28th. The public notice in the paper was incorrect. The notification on the City’s website initially didn’t mention what the hearing was on, and the agenda for it was blank. When I asked the Council members about that, I was told that the hearing was on the budget, as the agenda indicated. And when I pointed out that the agenda was blank, I was told that was because it was an open public hearing.
Here in Kingston, we have ample opportunity for public engagement busy work: surveys that don’t allow for comments and don’t relate to the topic specifically; participatory workshops and charrettes with facilitators who don’t buy into it and where the public feedback is never seen or discussed again; local committees whose feedback is used to simply justify an outcome that’s been predetermined by top-down leadership; and public hearings which happen before all the information on something is revealed.
How many people really know how to read a budget?
To make a truly informed comment during the Kingston Common Council’s public hearing on the Mayor’s proposed 2020 budget, prior to those more detailed discussions which will continue at the Council’s Finance Committee throughout the month of November, a member of the public would need to be skilled in reading a budget, knowledgeable about previous city budgets, and able to anticipate the future discussions, the Council members’ questions, and the forthcoming answers that will be happening throughout the Council’s public budget review process. In short, they’re asking the public to achieve an unattainable level of understanding for a layperson and a measure of potentially supernatural foresight.
In my experience following the civic issues of Kingston, I have noticed that the citizens of Kingston have a diversity of experience, knowledge base, and interests which, when they can participate in the public discourse in a meaningful way, result in informed and intelligent discussions which can sometimes be challenging but also offer outside perspectives and considerations that can broaden the understanding of an insular group, like elected officials at City Hall.
Perhaps the public hearing on Monday was meant to get a sense of the concerns and needs of the Council’s constituents. Something that could be achieved in Ward meetings, and calls for constituents to reach out directly to their alderperson.
The Council should hold a second public hearing on the budget after their in-depth public discussions, so that they can benefit from the input of a fully informed public. And if they prefer to hold only one public hearing on the budget, in the future that should happen after the Finance Committee’s discussions of the budget so the public can be as informed about the proposal as the Council itself is.
What is the true purpose of the public hearing on the proposed budget? And if the true purpose of the public hearing on the budget is to hear from an engaged, informed public, then how does the current process support that?
As it stands, the Council’s public hearing process on the budget is like so many other processes we see in Kingston government: backwards – requiring that the lay citizens of Kingston have an expertise that many of the City officials and staff themselves may not have. If the Council was seeking to simply check a box that they allowed the public an input period where they could feel heard, then that was achieved on Monday. But if they’re seeking to actually hear from the public, then the public needs to be at least as informed about the proposal as the Council is itself. And that will only come after the public discussions in the Finance Committee.
The Council should reconsider this (perhaps historically so) flawed process and update it to be truly transparent and inclusive of the informed civic engagement that the citizens of Kingston have proven time and again they will participate in.
The Kingston Common Council’s Finance Committee will meet again at City Hall, 420 Broadway, on November 4th at 6:30p to discuss the Kingston Fire Department and Building Safety Budget, on November 6th at 6:30p to discuss the Parks & Rec budget, on November 18th at 6:30p to discuss the City Hall budget, and on November 25th at 6:30p to wrap up budget discussions before the December 3rd vote.
Hillary Harvey is a journalist who hosts, The Source on Radio Kingston, a civic issues show focused on hyper local news and politics to inform civic engagement. An audio version of this editorial aired on November 1st and is available on the archive at RadioKingston.org (linked above).
TONIGHT: During public comment at tonight’s Ulster County Legislative meeting, request that county legislators immediately censure any county offical when in violation of county sexual harassment policies.
Tuesday, October 15th @ 7:00pm County Office Building 6th Floor 244 Fair Street Kingston, NY 12401
On Friday October 4th, Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan (D) called on the legislature to publicly condemn Legislator Hector Rodriguez (D), who has been credibly accused of sexually harassing as many as eight women according to an independent investigation.
“Clearly, these actions, had they involved any member of my own administration, would lead to a summary dismissal. Legislator Rodriguez violated the public trust, violated women, and is unfit for public service.”
In summarizing the testimony of the women, the investigator found that “Mr. Rodriguez exploited his position as a legislator to gain access to multiple women in an effort to proposition them and ‘hit on them’.” When the women declined his advances he retaliated by refusing to interact with them professionally. At least two of the women directly confronted Legislator Rodriguez about his sexually harassing behavior and one woman stated that he “forcibly kissed her.” Additionally, while working at the Golden Hill Nursing Home, Legislator Rodriguez received a written warning in 2014 asking him to cease making sexual advances after an employee reported that he engaged in unwanted physical contact and made her feel “uncomfortable.”
While individual legislators have condemned his behavior, the legislature itself has not issued a collective statement acknowledging the wrongdoing and upholding a commitment to zero tolerance. There have been discussions at censuring Legislator Rodriguez at tonight’s meeting at 7pm, though not all members of the caucus support censure.
Censure holds no professional repercussions beyond what Rodriguez has already revealed, but it has significant meaning to the victims and the public-at-large to know that sexual harassment will not be tolerated in Ulster County government.
We write regarding the zoning amendment request for the Kingstonian project. The Ulster County Planning Board has reviewed the proposed amendment and has determined that, as presented, it is inconsistent with the City’s zoning and Comprehensive Plan. If the amendment is to be adopted, the County has required changes, particularly the inclusion of affordable housing. We urge the Council to make the changes the County requires. Affordable housing is a critical need in Kingston, and there is no reason that a project receiving substantial public subsidies should escape the responsibility to supply affordable units.
Ulster County and the City of Kingston have an affordable housing crisis, with 55% of residents county-wide spending over 30% of their income on rent. When the City adopted the Mixed Use Overlay District in 2005, it called for 20% affordable units per project. Kingston’s 2025 Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2016, took the mission city-wide, calling for affordable units in all new residential developments throughout the city. Kingston is the only city in the Mid-Hudson region currently pursuing coverage under New York State’s new rent control laws to rein in its spiraling housing costs.
Applying the City’s affordable housing requirements to the proposed 131-unit Kingstonian project would bring much needed affordable units to Kingston families. In contrast, allowing construction of a luxury housing development with no affordable units would only worsen the housing crisis by further gentrifying Uptown and Kingston overall.
If the Common Council has determined that every developer in the city should provide affordable units at their own expense, then the heavily-subsidized Kingstonian project cannot be excused from providing the same.
The Ulster County Planning Board warned in its letter that “it is disquieting that there is little disclosure of the public investment needed to bring the project to fruition.”
The community is aware of at least $6.8 million in taxpayer-funded grants:
* $3.8 million from Governor Cuomo’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI);
* $2 million has been granted by the Empire State Development Corp;
* A $1 million Restore NY Grant.
Here’s what our community remains in the dark about:
* The value of tax breaks through the Ulster County IDA, which may excuse the developer from paying sales and mortgage taxes, as well as portions of its city, county and school taxes;
* Thevalue of all municipal real estate that will be contributed to the project, including Fair Street Extension, which will be eliminated, and the city parking lot parcel on North Front Street;
* The municipal parking revenue that will be lost once the public lot is sold.
* The cost of any infrastructure upgrades the City will undertake to accommodate the project.
* Any other public grants, tax credits, or subsidies the Kingstonian is seeking.
Therefore, we make two requests of the Common Council:
1. Do not amend the zoning map without also making the changes to the text of the zoning that the County requires. In particular, clarify that new multi-family housing must include affordable units.
2. Step up to your fiduciary responsibilities and provide the community with a full accounting of the public subsidies expected by the Kingstonian project. Ensure that all decisions requiring Common Council approval, including discretionary approvals and funding awards, have been identified and included in the SEQRA review.
Tonight, the City of Kingston Water Superintendent Judith Hansen gave a thorough presentation to explain the phases and costs of the Cooper Lake Dam Project. We were pleased to learn that the city is in contact with the Town of Woodstock (an important partner where Kingston’s water supply is located) and also, that the worst case scenario for water rate increases is only approximately $79.81 PER YEAR for average users and $37.42 PER YEAR for minimum user. That’s a couple tanks of gas per year for a once in a century drinking water infrastructure investment.
Kingston is fortunate to have the drinking water supply that it does. It is some of the best drinking water in the state (if not the world).
“Most people pay $200 per month for cable ($2,400 per year), Natural Gas / Oil ($1,700 year per year) Cell Phones @ $100 per month ($1,200 per year), Electricity ($1,100 per year). The Kingston Water Department is asking residents to pay less than $500 per year for something that they can’t live without” said Water Superintendent Judith Hansen.
Still, for most on a tight budget any increase can create a hardship. A Home Water Assistance Program like the one that the New York City Department of Environmental Protection offers, “…is an initiative to make water and sewer bills more affordable for low-income homeowners.” A similar bill is making its way through NYS currently which is good news for everyone.
In the meantime, thanks to the Kingston Water Department and Board for their hard work and efforts.
Filmed by The Kingston News and brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org.
Overview of Kingston Water system 1:46 – 8:26
Cooper Lake Dam: Project Drivers, Project Goals and Elements, Dam Rehabilitation Site Plan (Main Dam, West Dike), Construction Stating and Cofferdam, Cooper Lake (1957 Drought, Temporary Construction Level, Historial Elevation), Ashokan Reservoir Connection, Temporary Ashokan Reservoir Connection, Completed/Ongoing Permitting Items, Project Phasing, Engineers Opinion of Probable Construction Cost, 8:40 – 35:20
Ward 2 Alderman Doug Koop (Chair, Finance Committee) “How are we going to pay all of this?” 35:25 – 35:37
Town of Woodstock Supervisor has been contacted. A presentation is being planned to occur at their community center. 35:38 – 36:40
Financial Implications 36:44 – 51:30
* Town of Ulster (ToU) purchases 700,000 GPD. ToU can make their own water. The city could ask that the ToU use their own supply, and send us 300,000 back.
* Purchasing raw water from the Ashokan Reservoir current rate is $1,800 per million gallons.
* The Dam project will cost an estimated $12 million (+ or -).
* 2019 Water Department budget is $4.8 million, most from the sale of water (94%). Every $45k in spending creates a 1% increase in rates.
* $250k per year are taxes paid out to the Town of Woodstock.
* There are not grants available to fix dams. Phase 1 and 2 fortunately (totaling $7m of the $12m required) is for drinking water supply work. There is funding available for that portion via WIIA and DWSRF.
* If the city were to bond the full $12m (which is unlikely) @ 3.5% for 20 years would create a 19% increase in water sales. The would mean that the average family user increase is $79.81 per year. The minimum bill payer increase of $37.42 per year.
Putting it into perspective. 51:34 – 52:31
“Most people pay $200 per month for cable ($2,400 per year), Natural Gas / Oil ($1,700 year per year) Cell Phones @ $100 per month ($1,200 per year), Electricity ($1,100 per year). The Kingston Water Department is asking residents to pay less than $500 per year for something that they can’t live without.” – Water Superintendent Judith Hansen
Town of Ulster Supervisor Jim Quigley 52:38 – 54:01
“Any consideration for financial impacts of users using less water to save money?”
On September 26th, a joint meeting was held between the Kingston Planning Board, Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC) and the Heritage Area Commission (HAC) to review a new design presented by the Kingstonian project’s architect Mackenzie Architects from Burlington, Vermont. The new design was triggered by a letter submitted by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) on September 19th stating that their current project design would indeed have “adverse effects to the Kingston Stockade Historic District.” It’s what historic preservation advocates had been saying from the start and why, in part, they had advocated for a positive declaration in SEQR. As you may recall, all that is required for a positive declaration (Pos Dec) for a Type 1 action in the State Environmental Quality Review process (SEQR) is for there to be a single potentialadverse environmental impact. SHPO’s letter is confirmation of at least that.
In what typically takes months to address, the architect created a new design in a week’s time (between SHPO’s letter on 9/19 and the special joint meeting on the 9/26), comparing his ongoing process to Beethovan (video #1 starts at 16:46).
The Kingston Planning Board ultimately tabled the discussion. The HLPC also moved to table further consideration. The HAC did not have a quorum so did not vote.
I presume that the architects new design will be submitted to SHPO with comments from the meeting for further comment. The planning board agreed to set a special meeting in October.
The next planning board meeting is scheduled to occur on Monday, October 21 at 6:00pm. Currently, their agenda lists no detail.
The following video is a document of their discussion. Public comment takes place at the top of Video #1.
The meeting was filmed by The Kingston News brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org.
This evening members of the City of Kingston Planning Board, Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC), and the Heritage Area Commission (HAC) will convene for a joint meeting to discuss the visual impact analysis and other architectural drawings that were prepared for the proposed Kingstonian development by the applicant’s architect. It is one of nine consultant reports submitted in July as part of the project’s State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR). These reports are meant to help inform the Planning Board, the lead agency, as it completes Parts 2 and 3 of the Environmental Assessment Form (EAF), which assesses a project’s potential impacts, including those on historic, archaeological, architectural, or aesthetic resources. Although the applicant’s attorney volunteered to fill out the forms during the last Planning Board meeting on September 11th, completing these forms is the responsibility of the lead agency; the applicant cannot be its own critic.
Marissa Marvelli, a historic preservation consultant and a former member of the HLPC, has prepared an illustrated guide for evaluating new construction in the Stockade Historic District. It is meant to complement the questions asked in the EAF Part 2. While her guide does not attempt to prescribe design solutions as that is the responsibility of the project’s architect, it does call attention to the special qualities, features, and significance of the district. The guide is viewable at the bottom of this post.
Understanding Impacts on Historic, Archaeological, Architectural, and Aesthetic Resources
The following questions come directly from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation’s SEQR Workbook, which is meant to assist the lead agency in completing a Part 2 EAF. They pertain specifically to impacts on historic, archaeological, architectural, and/or aesthetic resources:
Does the proposed project contain, or does it adjoin a structure listed on the national or state register of historic places, or a structure that has been determined by the Commissioner of OPRHP to be eligible for listing on the State Register of Historic Places? (The Kingstonian project site does not contain such a structure.)
Is the proposed project located in a national, state, or local historic district, or one that has been determined by the Commissioner of OPRHP to be eligible for listing on the State Register of Historic Places? (The Stockade Historic District is a designated local district. It is also listed on the National and State Registers.)
Does the community have a local survey, inventory, or list of important historic, architectural, or aesthetic resources, and are there any resources recorded on or near the project site? (Yes, the Senate House & Grounds to name one important one.)
Is the proposed project located in an archaeologically sensitive area? (Yes.)
If the project site is located in such an area, additional information may need to be collected to see if there are any resources in or near the specific location that may be impacted.
Are there historic or archaeological resources on the property or nearby?
Has an archeological survey been done to confirm if the project site has any such resources? (Only a Phase 1a survey has been completed so far. Consulting archaeologist Joseph Diamond has recommended a Phase 1b.)
Will the proposed project directly or indirectly affect them? How? (A Phase 1b survey would reveal potential impacts.)
Is the proposed project located in a scenic overlay district, scenic byway, or scenic area of state significance? (No.)
Is there a specific architectural style that identifies the community or neighborhood? For example, most buildings may be predominantly of colonial architecture, or perhaps all the buildings in the neighborhood are constructed of red brick. (Yes, the immediate blocks are predominantly 19th-century brick commercial buildings. The district boasts the largest assemblage of 18th and early 19th century stone buildings in New York.)
Will the project block important scenic views, or change the aesthetic character of an area? (Yes, the project’s scale and massing break drastically with the pattern of the district and the development would close a historic street to create an open plaza, which has no precedent in the district. It also proposes to drastically alter the topography, which is important to the district’s history and significance.)
According to the EAF Part 2 Workbook, in considering impacts, the agency must decide if that impact will be small or moderate to large. This decision should be based on the magnitude of the potential impact. Magnitude is not just the physical size of the project in feet or acres. Magnitude also considers the scale and context of a proposed project, and severity of that project’s impact. The Workbook gives guidance on assessing impact according to each environmental topic, including historic and archaeological resources.
A small impact could occur if:
There is no historic or archaeological resource on the site, but there may be a small impact to community character because of concerns over consistency with existing architectural and aesthetic resources.
There are historic or archaeological resources on the site, but the project design is such that no disturbances or major changes to historic structures will occur. For example, the location where archaeological resources exist will be avoided, or the historic structure on the property will be maintained and restored.
Minor disturbances to the resources will occur or minor changes to the aesthetic or scenic quality of the area but these do not destroy the historic resource or drastically change the character of the area.
Work at a location that is locally designated and historic preservation permits are issued that indicate identified work as being in compliance with relevant local historic preservation code.
Moderate to large impacts may occur if:
Historic structures are planned to be demolished or relocated as part of the development plan.
Historic structures are to be remodeled in a way that destroys or damages its historic value.
The project introduces an architectural design that is not consistent with a designated historic district, or a district that has been determined eligible for listing on the State Register, and that is not consistent with the long-term vision the community has for its aesthetic character as identified in an adopted comprehensive plan.
The project changes the character or view of important aesthetic resources.
SHPO Believes Project Will Have ‘Adverse Effects’ on the Historic District
In a September 19th letter to the Kingstonian applicant, the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) provided its comments on the project after its review of the materials. The comments are part of a consultation mandated by Section 14.09 of the New York Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Law. It is required for projects that are funded, licensed or approved by state or federal agencies.
The letter describes the agency’s concerns:
North Front Street is the traditional district boundary marked by a distinct natural drop-off down toward the Esopus Creek. This natural contour clearly marks the northern boundary of the historic 1658 stockade. The lower portion to the north of the district now contains modern buildings and the shopping plaza further to the north, but the historic boundary remains readily apparent and continues to characterize the district. The new construction would significantly alter the northern district boundary and would be clearly visible from within the historic district. The Montgomery Ward building, now demolished, was the only structure that extended significantly beyond that traditional northern border. The proposed new development is much larger and would extend well beyond the old Montgomery Ward footprint.
By the mid-19th century, when the commercial street front was developed, the section of Fair Street extending north from North Front Street was established to access railroad facilities and the lumber yards. This historic street, which allows pedestrian and vehicular access to the district, would be virtually eliminated as part of the proposed development.
The historic commercial and residential buildings of the Kingston Stockade are characterized by a variety of materials, styles, and colors. The new construction is monolithic compared with the surrounding district. Though the currently proposed design attempts to reference the historic setting and surrounding architecture, we believe that a much greater effort is warranted for a construction of this scale.
SHPO’s comments provided under Section 14.09 are not advisory. The applicant must consult with agency staff to find acceptable solutions for avoiding, mitigating, or minimizing any adverse effects identified.
Confusion About the Boundaries of the Stockade Historic District
According to citizens who were present, during a presentation of the Kingstonian to the HLPC at its September 5th meeting, questions were raised about the location of the northern boundary of the Stockade Historic District as it pertains to their project site. The Kingstonian project team has apparently been operating under the assumption that the boundary bisects the northern part of the City-owned parcel because that is what is shown on SHPO’s Cultural Resource Information System, which maps of State and National Register properties and districts throughout the state. Because the HLPC’s review of a project ends at the boundary line, it would be to the applicant’s advantage to have the boundaries more constricted.
The boundaries of the State and National Register historic district are not relevant to the HLPC because the HLPC reviews only locally-designated districts and landmarks. The boundaries of local districts are approved by the Common Council and are included in the zoning chapter of the City’s Administrative Code. It is clear that the local historic district boundaries avoid bisecting any parcels. Curiously, the applicant is not questioning the boundaries of the Stockade Mixed-Use Overlay District, which mirror those of the local historic district and is of great worth to this project.
Group Editorial by Lynn Eckert, Tanya Garment, Ted Griese, Laura Hartmann, Rebecca Martin, Marissa Marvelli, Melinda McKnight, JoAnne Myers, Giovanna Righini, Rebecca Rojer, Rashida Tyler, Sarah Wenk, Theresa Lyn Widmann
“…in a democracy if it’s going to work, people have to feel comfortable standing up and speaking their mind and speaking truth to power. If you are intimidated in the process…you become increasingly thoughtful and hesitant in the way you enter into public debate and that’s not good for anyone.” – Lynn M. Eckert, Ulster County Legislator and Professor of Political Science at Marist College.
In recent months, not only have City of Kingston officials been misleading the public in the review process for the proposed Kingstonian but the Mayor’s lawyers have singled out select individual citizens in an attempt to silence their advocacy for a transparent and inclusive planning process.
At an August public hearing two citizens – Ted Griese and Sarah Wenk – delivered verbal testimony simply urging the Common Council to have a crystal clear understanding of the zoning law before amending it, which would allow the Kingstonian project to move forward. They, along with Rebecca Martin (lead organizer of KingstonCitizens.org), were the three citizens singled out in the Corporation Counsel’s letter regarding the City’s zoning interpretation, despite the fact that others in the community had also raised the question in written comments to their Council representative.
It was shortly after that hearing that the Corporation Counsel’s office sent the troubling letter as an email attachment to the three private citizens identified above stating that the City was initiating a zoning interpretation process centered on the “Mixed Use Overlay District (MUOD) provisions regarding affordable housing.” The letter stated that the City was in receipt of their comments from the public hearing and that they had been sent to the City’s zoning officer for the issuance of a “formal interpretation of the relevant sections of the Code.” The letter never explained why only these citizens had been singled out among all of the other commentators.
The attorney representing the Kingstonian applicant submitted his written interpretation of the zoning as it pertains to the affordable housing requirement, concluding that “…there has been no waiver or violation of any zoning law 20% affordable housing requirement with respect to issuance of a Special Use Permit, as affordable housing guidelines do not apply to new construction within the Mixed Use Overlay District under the City of Kingston Zoning Law.”
Given the disorganized and opaque Planning Board process and the singling out of individual citizens by the Mayor’s lawyer, KingstonCitizens.org felt compelled on behalf of the public to reach out to an attorney to clarify the question before the zoning enforcement officer – even if it meant participating in a process that they and the citizens had never sought. The applicant argued that no affordable housing was required because it is not adaptively reusing buildings. However, the MUOD is premised on adaptive reuse (which must include affordable housing) and does not authorize new construction of residential apartments. Environmental and land use attorney Emily Svenson asked that the City expand its interpretation “to determine whether the zoning code authorizes new construction of residential uses at the proposed Kingstonian location,” reiterating the question asked by members of the community.
In response to Svenson’s letter, chief Corporation Counsel, Kevin Bryant, who is appointed by the Mayor, sent a reply on September 12th, requesting that, since KingstonCitizens.org was “represented” by counsel, all communications from certain named citizens regarding the project go through counsel only. It also stated that members of city boards and commissions had been instructed to no longer speak to advisers of KingstonCitizens.org. Specifically, it read:
“As you are likely aware, the Kingstonian project is currently before numerous City Boards and Commissions and the Kingston Common Council. Your client has continued to assert an interest and a public position regarding each of the pending applications.
We are hereby requesting that in order to comply with the Code of Professional Responsibility, henceforth, all communications regarding the Kingstonian with officers of Kingstoncitizens.org, including but not limited to Rebecca Martin, Tanya Garment, Marissa Marvelli, Jennifer Schwartz Berky and Lynn Eckert, shall be through counsel.
Please be further advised that City Officials and Board and Commission members involved in the review of the Kingstonian project have also been advised that they are not to speak directly to these individuals as they are represented by counsel.“
Svenson swiftly responded that the City’s request was an infringement on individuals’ First Amendment rights and pointed out the Counsel’s misunderstandings:
“…Please be aware that KingstonCitizens.org is a grassroots, volunteer organization and not a corporation. The individuals named in your letter are simply volunteers acting as organizers or advisors; they are not staff or officers. There is no justification for limiting their ability to communicate as individuals with their government.”
Furthermore, Svenson noted that:
“The Rules of Professional Conduct applicable to attorneys do not limit the rights of represented parties to communicate with one another. Particularly in the context of government, it is essential for citizens to be able to speak freely on matters of public interest pursuant to their rights under the First Amendment.”
If the City’s Corporation Counsel had reached out to Svenson prior to sending his letter, he would have understood that her representation in this case was limited solely to commenting on the City’s zoning interpretation for the Kingstonian project. Unfortunately, he went beyond the understandable need to protect the City and seized on the opportunity to cut off public discourse by advising elected and appointed officials that they should not speak to the citizens, directly undermining public dialog. The City took the approach that it was managing an adverse litigation-type situation rather than a participatory public process. It’s not the first time they have done so. The City has on many occasions tried to steer the process in a certain direction rather than allowing the process to guide its review.
From the beginning of the Kingstonian SEQR process, residents – and particularly those outspoken women who are civically engaged – have been intimidated, bullied, and mistreated by both members of the applicant’s team and city staff. They have been accused of having political agendas; punished for being professionals in their trades; shamed for asking tough questions; and called enemies of progress for demanding an inclusive process.
All the while, our Mayor, with the power to hire and fire city staff and appoint all members of boards, committees, and commissions, remains silent about this undemocratic and bullying behavior. We live in a democracy not an authoritative regime, where citizens have First Amendment rights to play an active role in their government.
We are daylighting these antidemocratic actions today because they erode the public trust and confidence in our local government. Politicizing processes and institutions is the most effective means for discouraging citizen engagement, the evidence of which we are already seeing. No one should have to hire a lawyer to ask questions that government officials may dislike.
We are in the midst of another election season and as usual, elected officials are again boasting about how well they make citizens feel “heard.” To us, it rings particularly hollow. In this instance, the Mayor’s lawyer used the Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers as a pretext to chill the speech of citizens with whom the administration disagreed. If the Mayor is truly committed to “hearing” citizens, he should address the silencing tactics within his own administration.
While reasonable people may disagree about how to interpret and apply the zoning law to the Kingstonian project, we can all agree that actions taken on the part of the Mayor’s lawyer to intimidate, single out, and silence citizens – particularly female citizens – engaging in their right to free speech is simply unacceptable. With officials committed to a fair, open, inclusive, and transparent process such undemocratic tactics would be unnecessary.
Thanks to the hard work (and good timing) of our coalition in partnership with municipal and county elected officials, the ripple effect of our collective efforts on the proposed Lincoln Park Grid Support Center, a fracked gas fossil fuel power plant turned battery energy storage facility can now be seen in the Town of Catskill.
Interested members of the Catskill community have been invited to attend an informational session about “Battery energy storage and GlidePath’s proposed North Catskill Grid Support Center project” this Wednesday, September 18. If you are able to attend, please share your experience with us in the comment section here.
The Town Supervisor outreached to members of KingstonCitizens, Citizens for Local Power and Scenic Hudson weeks ago to learn of our process where we were able to share our collective story in transitioning a fossil fuel infrastructure project to a battery storage for 25mw plants in the G Zone. The site that the project has identified appears to be a suitable one, too.
This is an instance that illustrates the great wisdom in how defining strategies to ‘think globally act locally’ can work. It was a model project that posed not only a major threat to the Town of Ulster and its surrounding communities, but to approximately 127 communities throughout 6 counties that make up the G Zone.
We hope that you can celebrate this success before having to quickly turn your attention towards other important challenges on the fossil fuel infrastructure front.
VIEW our blog posts to review the timeline to learn the story of the coalition’s advocacy. Please scroll to the bottom to start at the beginning.
Last week the Kingstonian project team made a formal presentation to the City of Kingston Planning Board, the lead agency in the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process for the proposal. They have made similar presentations over the past couple of weeks to both the Heritage Area and Historic Landmarks Preservation Commissions’.
In closing, the applicant’s attorney volunteered to fill out the EAF Part Two of the SEQR process for the Planning Department and Assistant Corporation Counsel’s review. He will proceed once the outstanding comments from the remaining boards and agencies were collected and the joint meeting described above occurs.
We will be interested in reviewing this document, particularly Sections 17 (c) and 18 (c).
The next full Kingston Planning Board meeting will occur on Monday, September 16th at 6:00pm. Currently, there is nothing on the Agenda for the Kingstonian project. Visit the City of Kingston’s website and scroll down to ‘meeting events’ to review agendas to check throughout the day on the 16th to see whether or not any new Kingstonian items have been added to the planning board agenda (or visit us on Facebook for updates). We don’t anticipate any major decisions to be made this month.
VIEW the Transcription of the Planning Board’s Special Kingstonian Project meeting.
Video #1(Filmed by the Kingston News and brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org)
Public Comment 3:25 – 6:10: Gai Galitzine, Resident of Kingston 6:22 – 9:00: Ilona Ross, Resident of Kingston 9:24 – 11:06: Jane Eisenberg, Resident of Town of Ulster
11:17 – End: Kingstonian project team presentation
Video #2(Filmed by the Kingston News and brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org)
00:00 – End: Kingstonian project team presentation (continued)
For months, many concerned citizens have asked the City of Kingston to provide its interpretation of the Mixed Use Overlay District—an overlay that adds a 20% affordable housing requirement to any adaptive reuse project with five or more residential units—as it relates to the Kingstonian project, a new construction that does not include affordable housing. This interpretation should have been provided to the applicant in writing prior to the start of the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process.
Presumably, it should be easy enough for the City to upload this existing document to the Planning Office’s project page for the Kingstonian. If not, then the public can FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) it. If such a document does not exist, then the City ought to provide an explanation about how it assists applicants with complicated zoning interpretations.
On August 16th, in a letter oddly addressed to just three private citizens, the City of Kingston Corporation Counsel’s office outlined its process for the current Zoning Officer to issue a formal interpretation of the “relevant sections of the Code.” The letter states that any additional submissions or written arguments regarding the proper interpretation may be sent to the Zoning Enforcement Officer on or before the close of business on August 30th.
On August 28th, the attorney representing the Kingstonian applicant, Michael Moriello, submitted his written interpretation of the MUOD, concluding that “…there has been no waiver or violation of any zoning law 20% affordable housing requirement with respect to issuance of a Special Use Permit, as affordable housing guidelines do not apply to new construction within the Mixed Use Overlay District under the City of Kingston Zoning Law.”
On August 30th, the City forwarded that interpretation via email to the same three citizens with the instruction that “…written responses to the arguments submitted will be accepted for a period of one additional week.” That deadline is today, September 9th.
So today, KingstonCitizens.org, assisted by attorney and counselor at law Emily B. Svenson, submitted a letter to the City of Kingston’s Zoning Officer rebutting the applicant’s attorney’s interpretation.
What follows is a condensed version of our letter:
“KingstonCitizens.org is a non-partisan, grassroots, volunteer organization. Its purpose in commenting is to advocate for fair and proper application of the City’s zoning code, in accordance with the group’s ongoing advocacy for equitable housing, historic preservation, and environmental protection to benefit the Kingston community. Particularly for a project that is receiving significant public funding, it is vital to ensure that the project truly benefits the community.”
“In response to the applicant’s recent submittal, we respectfully ask that you expand your interpretation to determine whether the code authorizes new construction of residential uses at the proposed Kingstonian location. As this letter will show, it does not.”
“The applicant’s strenuous argument that the provisions of the MUOD do not apply to the Kingstonian raises an important question: Does the MUOD support the project at all?”
“The only authorization within the MUOD to establish a residential use is by converting an existing structure into apartments or live/work spaces. As the applicant agrees, that type of adaptive reuse would be subject to affordable housing requirements.”
“If the City of Kingston Common Council had intended for the MUOD to allow construction of new housing complexes, it would have written that into the overlay district. It did not. The Council was clearly attempting to facilitate the adaptive reuse of outdated buildings, while ensuring the resulting apartments would include affordable units. It defies logic to posit that the Council intended to simultaneously allow new construction of apartments without affordable units. Indeed, nothing in the code authorizes that use.”
“Because there is no authorization within the zoning code for new construction of housing at this location, we ask that you issue a determination that the project does not conform to the zoning code. The applicant would have multiple options to proceed, including pursuing a use variance or zoning change, or modifying the project to conform to the code.”
Citizen Action of New York submits FOIL to City of Kingston
Meanwhile, on September 6th, Citizen Action of New York submitted a FOIL request to the City of Kingston for all communications between the applicable City staff identified in the Kingstonian applicant’s Environmental Assessment Form and Addendum letter:
“…copies of all records and documented communications, including written correspondence and emails between former City of Kingston Building and Safety Division Deputy Chief Tom Tiano, City of Kingston Fire Department Fire Chief Mark Brown, Kingston Planning Director Suzanne Cahill, City of Kingston assistant planner Kyla Haber and the Kingstonian applicant and development team from January 1, 2018 – May 1, 2019.”
Citizen Action also requested a 45-day extension of the review process for the Kingstonian applicant’s zoning amendment application in order to give the organization time to review the forthcoming information provided by the City. These communications may shed light on any discussions that the City had with the applicant regarding the interpretation of the zoning for the Kingstonian project site prior to the commencement of the project’s SEQR process.
On Wednesday September 11th, the Planning Board will convene for a special meeting to discuss the studies and comments it has received in relation to the Kingstonian project’s potential environmental impact. While it is unlikely that the Board will issue its SEQR determination at this meeting, the discussion should shed some light on the viewpoints of the individual members.
At last evening’s Heritage Area Commission (HAC) meeting, Steve MacKenzie of Mackenzie Architects P.C. presented his firm’s visual impact analysis for the Kingstonian project. It is the first time the architect has personally presented his design proposal to the community. Included in his presentation were new renderings not before seen by the public.
Although the HAC will play only an advisory role in this case, two of its members also serve on the Historic Landmarks Commission (HLPC), a decision-making body in the review process for the Kingstonian project. At last night’s meeting, HAC Chair Hayes Clement confirmed that no deliberations would be occurring before the project’s SEQR process has been completed.
MacKenzie noted that he will be making the same presentation to the HLPC at its meeting on Thursday September 5th.
Giovanna Righini, a Kingston resident and former longtime member of the HAC, spoke during the public comment portion of last night’s meeting. Righini was one of four volunteers who stepped down this spring in the wake of the City of Kingston executive branch’s efforts to merge the HLPC and HAC commissions against the will of council members, preservationists, civic advocates, and residents. Righini’s comments addressed the general role and responsibilities of the HAC:
I know that the Commissioners are all familiar with the Kingston Urban Cultural Park Draft Management Plan, which serves as the original basis for the Heritage Area Commission’s advisory work. Tonight I am here to put a reminder of it on the public record. As you review tonight’s materials, the HAC should have a clear understanding of the responsibility of its advisory role in structuring comments for the HLPC.
Per the Preservation Plan Approach in Part V, page 28, the Review Board is clearly laid out as follows:
“One of the most potent tools in promoting preservation is architectural and design review. The areas identified above [which include the Stockade District and West Strand] will be placed under the jurisdiction of the HLPC, the City’s existing preservation-oriented board. Standards and procedures set forth in the local laws establishing this Commission and creating the Stockade Historic and Architectural Design District will be applied to these areas as will applicable provisions in the recently adopted City zoning law and preservation standards established by the Secretary of the Interior…”
Continued under Preservation Standards and Guidelines in Part V, page 35, the Zoning Ordinance is noted as establishing preservation standards, guidelines and procedures within the City’s historic districts.
“Applicable portions of the Revised Zoning Ordinance require Landmark Commission review and approval of all applications for any changes made within these districts including construction, reconstruction, alteration, restoration, removal, demolition or painting. These requirements apply to all buildings, structures, out-buildings, walls, fences, steps, topographical fixtures, earthworks, landscaping, paving and signs.”
It goes on to describe requirements imposed by the ordinance pertaining to all aspects of compatibility with existing and adjacent architecture and character. “In short, every conceivable element of significance and compatibility.”
And so, also in short, if it is in a historic district, design review decisions are the purview of the HLPC. While the HAC can and should make comments, it should also make sure to clearly defer final decisions to the HLPC.
On Wednesday, August 21st at 6:30pm, the Kingston Common Council Laws and Rules Committee will have their monthly meeting where they are expected to discuss the Kingstonian Development Group’s petition request to amend the Mixed Use Overlay District (MUOD) boundaries to include approximately 12% of its project site that is currently located outside of the district. The request came in June, and council members, at the direction of Kingston’s Assistant Corporation Counsel, outlined a required 90-day time frame to include amending the zoning law. It included a public hearing that occurred last week.
At that meeting, members of the public pressed the city’s law-makers to not extend the MUOD zoning district without first seeking clarification about the overlay’s intent and applicability to the Kingstonian project. How does an overlay district that mandates the adaptive reuse of existing buildings and that 20% of the new residential units must be maintained as affordable housing — as the MUOD does — apply to the Kingstonian project, which proposes to be all new construction without any affordable housing?
As it turns out, initiating the 90-day time frame while the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) for this project is still underway would have been segmentation, which is contrary to the intent of SEQR. The Assistant Corporation Counsel has all but admitted this truth and has since stated that the 90-day requirement was firm unless the applicant requested or agreed to additional time. This is information that had not been provided at the July 19th Laws and Rules Committee meeting.
IF A ZONING CHANGE IS REQUIRED THEN A NEW ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT FORM (EAF) IS TOO. It is now clear that the applicant’s EAF is incorrect. On page 3 of the form it asks: “Is a zoning change requested as part of the proposed action?” The applicant checked “No” (see image below). The applicant needs to amend its EAF to correct this and list the amendment as one of the Common Council’s discretionary actions. It is critical that all anticipated decisions by a particular agency be identified from the start in both the EAF and the addendum so that the potential environmental impacts associated with them can be considered together.
A revised lead agency coordination letter should then be sent to all involved agencies with accurate information about all of the approvals that would be required including the zoning amendment.
At the end of July, the City of Kingston’s Planning Office posted nine consultant reports pertaining to the proposed Kingstonian project to the City’s website. They were produced on behalf of the applicant, Kingstonian Development LLC, at the request of the Planning Board which they made in their June 4 meeting (see video of that meeting here). The Planning Board as lead agency in the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) of this project will weigh this information as it determines its environmental impact.
In that same meeting, in response to a question about the estimated timeline for review, Kingston Planning Director Suzanne Cahill stated that there would be no hearings on the project in the month of August. But on August 2 the Mayor issued a notice announcing two separate hearings for the Kingstonian that month, including one on Monday August 19 in which the Planning Board will hear public testimony on the consultant reports. The August 19 hearing will probably be the only opportunity for the public to raise questions directly to the Planning Board before it makes its determination.
This means that the community was given just 19 days to digest nine reports worth of information about archaeological resources, visual impacts, geotechnical aspects, stormwater capacity, building demolition, traffic, water supply, sewage, and more—subjects few of us are experts in. Feeling overwhelmed? So are we.
TAKE ACTION: Submit a request in writing to the Planning Board that they allow the public more time to review the reports. email@example.com
There is a prevalent misconception that the “environment” in a State Environmental Quality Review pertains only to natural resources when in fact, according to the SEQR Handbook, “The terms ‘archeological’ and ‘historic’ are specifically included in the definition of the ‘environment’ at Part 617.2(l) as physical conditions potentially affected by a project.” The Handbook explains that such resources are:
“… also often referred to as cultural resources. These resources may be located above ground, underground or underwater, and have significance in the history, pre-history, architecture or culture of the nation, the state, or local or tribal communities. Examples include:
The Kingstonian project site features more than one of these resource examples. The site is in an archaeologically-sensitive area; it contains a historic building—the late 19th century hotel building today the Herzog’s Warehouse; and most of the site lies within the National Register Stockade Historic District. It is also in close proximity to the Senate House State Historic Site.
At the behest of the applicant, Joseph Diamond, a well regarded local archaeologist and professor at SUNY New Paltz, conducted a Phase 1A archaeological survey of the project site. A Phase 1A is an initial survey carried out to evaluate the overall sensitivity of the project area for the presence of cultural resources, as well as to guide the field investigation that follows. No subsurface probing is involved. (More information about archaeological surveys can be found here.) In his summary report, Diamond notes that:
“The project area borders a National Register Historic District in a location where subsurface testing has never been undertaken. Potential archaeological deposits include, but are not limited to 1) the 1658 Stockade along the northern edge of North Front Street, 2) the moat constructed by Stuyvesant in June of 1658 which surrounds 3 sides of the stockade area, 3) deposits associated with the 17th-century Dutch and British Colonial Periods, and 4) deposits of Native American origin which may be mixed with or underlie the deposits from the 17th-century Dutch and British.”
Because of the site’s potential to yield significant pre-historic and historic archaeological information, Diamond recommends a Phase 1B field investigation, which would involve subsurface testing at select locations with the use of a backhoe.
In a letter to the Planning Board dated March 11, 2019, the Kingston Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC) outlined its concerns about the Kingstonian project. In submitting this letter—which was unanimously approved by the Commission at its March 7 meeting—the HLPC was fulfilling its role as an involved agency in SEQR. However, for reasons that remain dubious, Planning Director Suzanne Cahill advised the Planning Board to disregard that letter as they were reviewing responses from various agencies about the project at its June 4 meeting, confirming that it was still being “deliberated.”
A relevant side note: Shortly after the HLPC’s letter was submitted to the Planning Board, two highly qualified members—a historic preservation specialist and an architect—were dismissed from the HLPC by Mayor Steve Noble. Two other members resigned in protest of his action. Since April, he has appointed four new individuals to the Commission. (See “CoK’s Executive Branch Move to Streamline Commissions May Impair Historic Preservation Efforts,” KingstonCitizens.org, April 4, 2019)
The concerns outlined in the HLPC’s March letter closely follow the SEQR criteria for determining significance, focusing on criterion “(v) the impairment of the character or quality of important historical, archeological, architectural, or aesthetic resources or of existing community or neighborhood character.” Specific concerns identified by the Commission include the potential to uncover archaeological resources; the demolition of the old hotel building and the potential to create a false sense of history by replicating it; the potential for negative impacts on nearby buildings from excavation and pile-driving; the degree of change to the visual context of the historic district and the Senate House caused by the new construction; and the altering of a major geographic feature, the bluff, which is a key element of the district’s significance (this bluff is discussed in a recent editorial in the Kingston Times, “Building on the past: the Stockade District’s tipping point,” July 28, 2019).
While the reports prepared by the applicant’s consultants touch on some of the HLPC’s concerns, many remain open questions.
Suggested requests that members of the public can make to the Planning Board as they review the applicant’s consultant reports:
When will the Phase 1B archaeological investigation be conducted? If significant archaeological resources are discovered, such as evidence of the original stockade, what contingencies will there be to mitigate adverse impacts to them during construction? When will those contingencies be established?
The geotechnical engineer should provide a summary assessment of the risks posed to nearby buildings by excavation and pile-driving for the project and how such risks can be mitigated. This assessment should be comprehensible to the general public.
The applicant must demonstrate in photos and engineering reports the necessity of demolishing the old hotel building. The historic building should be documented in detailed drawings, including floor plans, elevations, and sections.
The applicant must illustrate the measures that will be taken to avoid creating a false sense of history with the replica hotel building. The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Reconstruction state that “Reconstruction will be based on the accurate duplication of historic features and elements substantiated by documentary or physical evidence rather than on conjectural designs or the availability of different features from other historic properties. A reconstructed property will re-create the appearance of the non-surviving historic property in materials, design, color and texture.”
Of the ten vantage points illustrated in the visual impact analysis, none show the proposed plaza in any detail, either of it or from it. This is an important experience to understand as it will be wholly new to the Stockade. Another vantage point that needs to be studied is from the intersection of Fair and North Front Street. Oddly, one of the vantage points included in the analysis is a view south along Wall Street with the Kingstonian out of frame. The purpose of showing this is lost on us.
The visual impact analysis does not include a vantage point of the Kingstonian from farther south along Wall Street. The usefulness of the perspective is to demonstrate whether or not the Schwenk Drive side of the Kingstonian development is visible from within the historic district. Other simulations suggest that the north side rises to a greater height than the development’s North Front Street building.
The rendered perspectives show that the North Front Street garage entrance will be on axis Wall Street making this utilitarian building feature visible from a great distance.
Recognizing that the bluff is significant not only to the story of the historic district but to the history of the settlement of New York state and the nation and that the proposed changes to this feature would be irreversible, what options are there to mitigate this negative impact? The applicant and their architect should study this question carefully.
These questions address only the historic and archaeological aspects of the project. Not touched upon here are concerns about traffic, storm water management, water supply, sewage, sustainability, and the lack of affordable housing. Each merit careful scrutiny by the community. With just four days left before the Planning Board’s public hearing, it is not likely that will happen.