By Rebecca Martin
At the April 10th public hearing on the Kingstonian proposal, over 50 speakers provided three hours of testimony. Most of which had little to do with the decisions that were currently in front of the Planning Board as Lead Agency of the State Environmental Quality Review Process (SEQR) in making a Positive or Negative Declaration for the project.
Below are three citizen comment highlights that speak directly to the current process the proposal is currently in.
No decisions were made that evening.
Filmed by Clark Richters of The Kingston News. Brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org.
“I’m a little perplexed by a lot of the discussion we’re having tonight. I thought we were not here to decide ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on the project. I thought we were here to decide whether the project would have a positive declaration of significance or not.
It seems really obvious to me that this project will have significant impacts. I don’t think I’ve heard a single person say that it won’t. I’ve heard people say, “Yes the impacts are large but all positive” and I’ve heard others say “Lets trust the developer to deal with the negative ones in a friendly sort a way without all that legal stuff.”
The SEQR process is there to help communities think through large projects like this and it just seems really clear there the impacts are significant. Certainly significant impact on neighborhood character, we’re talking about a neighborhood that’s historic full of lots of two and three story buildings we’re going to put this giant modern building in it – that’s a significant change to the community character.
In the language of DEC’s guidance, “Is the proposed action inconsistent with the predominant architectural scale and character?” Yes it clearly is. That’s not to say it’s not a good project, that it shouldn’t happen or that the negative impacts outweigh the positives. That’s what the SEQR process is for is to look into those impacts and weigh them.
We know that there is going to be traffic increases in this already very congested area, again – that’s not a reason to decide yay or nay today – that’s a reason to study the impacts and importantly the SEQR process calls for looking for ways to mitigate those impacts to find ways to redesign the projce so it will be better.
I’ve heard advocates of this project saying “It’s not going to happen if a positive declaration is made”. To me, that suggests that the impacts are so significant that something would come up and stop the project. If the members of the planning board agree with that concern then you have to declare a positive declaration so that we can study those impacts and design the proper mitigations. SEQR is not an optional process – it’s not that you engage it when you don’t like a project and want to kill it and you skip it when you like a project and want it to go ahead….and the Mayor’s recent action to remove people from the HLPC suggests after they voiced these concerns that there is an attempt to subvert the process going on here.
Suggesting that…developers won’t come here unless they can count on the city to subvert the process is even more concerning.
I want to see the law followed here.”
“The Kingstonian could, without a doubt, be an exciting possibility for our city. It has also become a very polarizing issue.
Continuing to focus on the negative “pro versus anti” doesn’t help and I would prefer to concentrate on the “all of us” in this picture.
The “all of us” is a fair and transparent SEQR process. It is important to allow public participation in anything that affects the community on this grand of a scale and it is just as important in helping the developers to get it right.
The Kingstonian project is being proposed within a National Historic District, which means it is an area officially recognized by the United States government for its national historical significance.
I urge you to please consider that all it takes is one environmental impact to issue a positive declaration of impact. The current findings of the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC) weigh towards a positive declaration, with at least five possible impacts.
Our own city code has this to say regarding the Stockade Area:
“… it is in the public interest to ensure that the distinctive and historical character of this Historic District shall not be injuriously affected, that the value to the community of those buildings having architectural and historical worth shall not be impaired and that said Historic District be maintained and preserved to promote its use of the education, pleasure and welfare of the citizens of the City of Kingston, New York…”
This alone should be enough to automatically trigger a positive declaration, which would give the community an opportunity to weigh in and ensure that the project moves forward with everyone’s support.”
“I’d like to read a letter dated March 11, 2019 – from the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission to the Planning Board, care of Suzanne Cahill – into the public record.
March 11, 2019
City of Kingston Planning Board
Kingston, NY 12401
Dear Chairman Platte and members of the Planning Board,
The Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission, as an involved agency, supports the Planning Board’s request to be the lead agency in the SEQR process for The Kingstonian project. Along with our support, we would like to share with you general concerns we have about this project as you determine its significance. Our concerns are informed by the project applicants’ public presentations and our review of their EAF Part 1 dated Nov 27, 2018.
The information provided therein suggests that the proposed action has the potential to effect significant environmental features, including archaeological and architectural resources, topography and community character. Specifically:
The project site has the potential to yield information important in history or prehistory, such as evidence of the former presence of the stockade which crossed on or near to this site and/or other previously unknown archaeological resources. Such evidence was unearthed nearby on Clinton Avenue in 1970. This site has been identified as archaeologically sensitive by the NY State Historic Preservation Office.
This project involves the demolition of an existing architectural resource in the Stockade Historic District and may seek to replicate this building, which might create a false historical record.
This project involves new construction in the Stockade Historic District. Potential impacts include those that are construction-related, such as falling objects, vibration (from blasting or pile-driving), dewatering, flooding, subsidence, or collapse. The project’s close proximity to two architectural resources—the Senate House and grounds and the John Tremper House at 1 North Front Street—may negatively impact them if adequate precautions are not taken.
Additionally, new construction may impact the visual context of the district, including the architectural components of the district’s buildings in this area (e.g., height, scale, proportion, massing, fenestration, ground-floor configuration, style), streetscapes, skyline, landforms, and openness to the sky. The project may also impact the visual context of the Senate House, a significant state landmark.
This project proposes changes to a significant landscape feature of this historic district: the bluff, an important element to interpreting the district’s history. The National Register nomination for the Stockade Historic District states:
“To this day, the boundary lines of this stockade are formed by Green Street, Main Street, Clinton Avenue, and North Front Street and are still intact. Also, amazingly enough, almost the entire bluff promontory forming the perimeter of this area, elevated above the lowland, is still comparatively intact. Therefore, of the three first settlements in New York State—Albany (Fort Orange), New York (New Amsterdam), and Kingston—it is only Kingston that the authentic elements of an original fortification remain. Documents indicate that this log palisade was in existence until the early eighteenth century, having been kept in repair as protection against later Indian raids. While this area at present is surrounded by commercial development, aerial photography has recently indicated the existence of outlines suggesting that the angle itself may as yet be relatively undisturbed. This area forms a sharp bluff and this may account for its preservation.”
Taken together—demolition, new construction, and changes to topography—this project may impact the area’s community character or sense of place. The potentially large impacts on the Stockade Historic District and nearby landmark buildings described above weigh toward a positive declaration of environmental significance, we believe. As an involved agency, the HLPC asks that the Planning Board keep these historic preservation issues and concerns in mind as you review and classify the significance of the Kingstonian.
This project will be subject to an Article 14.09 environmental review under the New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Law. A draft EIS can serve as the review procedure for complying with subdivisions (b) and (c) of Section 428, Part 8 of this law. Thank you for your time and consideration. We value your service to our community.
Chair, Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission
Cc: Mayor Steve Noble
New York State Historic Preservation Office
James Noble, Kingston Common Council Alderman-at-Large
Andrea Shaut, Common Council Member, Ward 9
Patrick O’Reilly, Common Council Member, Ward 7, and HLPC liaison
Hayes Clement, Heritage Area Commission, Chair”