“Education is Key”. Kingston Common Council Takes Up Charter Revision Discussion

By Rebecca Martin

At last evening’s Kingston Common Council Laws and Rules Committee meeting, Andrea Shaut (Chair of Laws and Rules and Ward 9 Alderwoman) introduced a discussion on Charter Reform for Kingston.

“Education is key, but every person has a different learning technique that works for them. What I would like to discuss today are some ideas on the best approach to educate not only ourselves, but the public, as we move forward with this discussion. This document is important; therefore, it is crucial we take our time and do it right.”

You can review the video that we captured thanks to Clark Richters of The Kingston News.  Brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org

 

How Did This Come About? 

Charter revision and reform has been a topic of conversation for many years.   Recently, Ward 9 Alderwoman Andrea Shaut, concerned about matters of good government, chose to bring a Charter Revision discussion forward.

In the Department of State local government technical series “Revising City Charters in New York State”,  it says on page one of the document, “Why should cities undertake charter revision? There are several reasons, generally stemming from the fact that a charter affects everything the city government does. It provides the basis for most municipal regulatory functions and for the delivery of municipal services. An obsolete charter can be responsible for many municipal problems. If it contains provisions which are unworkable under current conditions, municipal officials may have to make a difficult choice between being responsible for inferior service delivery or inviting legal challenge for deliberate, albeit well-meaning, deviation from the law. Until such provisions are eliminated, the most competent officials will be unable to carry out their responsibilities both efficiently and legally.”

In May, Andrea submitted a letter to Council President James Noble, requesting that Charter Reform be placed on the council’s Laws and Rules Committee for June:

Dear President Noble,

I would like to request that the item “Kingston Charter Revision Task Force” be placed on the agenda for the next Laws and Rules Committee agenda in June.

According to the NY Department of State document,”Revising City Charters in New York State’ ‘it gives an excellent explanation on revising city charters: “What is a city charter? tt is the basic document that defines the organizøtion, powers, functions and essential procedures of the city government. lt is comparable to the State Constitution and the Constitution of the United States. The charter is, therefore, the most important single law of ony city.

Why should cities undertake charter revision? There are several reasons, generally stemming from the fact thot o chørter affects everything the city government does. tt provides the basis for most municipal regulatory functions and for the delivery of municipal services. An obsolete charter can be responsible for many municipal problems. lf it contains provisions which are unworkable under current conditions, municipal officials may have to make a difficult choice between being responsible for inferior service delivery or inviting legal chøllenge for deliberate, albeit well-meaning, deviation from the law. Until such provisions are eliminated, the most competent officiøls will be unable to carry out their responsibilities both eÍficiently and legally. Even though a chorter moy not be so obsolete as to present dilemmas of conscience, revision may well løy the basis for improved governmental operøtions. A good charter should provide a clear distribution of the powers of city government and clear descriptions of the duties and powers of municipøl officials.”

I look forward to introducing this important initiative to my council colleagues.

A Charter Discussion with Council Members. 

What would help you understand the charter, and charter revision better?” said Andrea, followed by a list of ideas for council members to consider: 

  • Reading the charter.
  • Discussing as a committee.
  • Hearing from an expert as a guest speaker
    • Who would this be? The Benjamin Center?
  • Hosting workshops that we break down  into different segments. For example, charter vs. code, the history of our current charter, looking at flaws, etc. This would involve gathering speakers.
  • Reaching out to the Department of State to find out what their resources for us would be (the Department of State is a principal resource for New York local governments seeking training and technical assistance on matters such as charter reform READ)
  • Start a work group with citizens for them to gather research and present to the Council. This would not be a Charter Revision Commission.
    • To start a Charter Revision Commission, there are three approaches.
      • A referendum on the general election to propose such commission to the public.
      • The Mayor can appoint 9-15 members to serve on this commission.
      • A petition by the public requesting the Council to propose a Local Law creating such commission.

 

KingstonCitizens.org educational panel on Charter Reform in 2017.

Back in July of 2017, KingstonCitizens.org brought Dr. Gerald Benjamin of The Benjamin Center to Kingston to discuss charter revision and the City of Kingston.  Dr. Benjamin has consulted communities in the region with their charter efforts, including being involved in developing Ulster County’s first charter (adopted in 2006).  Jennifer Schwartz Berky, who moderated the discussion for KingstonCitizens.org and is the former Deputy Planner for the Ulster County Planning Department, was also instrumental in crafting the county’s first charter.

Dr. Benjamin did a general overview of Kingston’s charter, going page by page to illustrate the changes that could be made to improve our “law of the land”.

Going further back,  in 2013, we discovered commentary from Tom Benton, one of the involved citizens in reforming Kingston’s charter in 1993/1994.  Reading that, and meeting with him, too – helped to understand its origin (and the mysterious lack of good checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches of government):

READ  “How Kingston Got Its Strong Mayor Form of Government”

It’s terrific for Kingston that our council wants to address this important document through education and good public outreach.  To do it properly will take some time. It makes sense that the council – as our policy and lawmakers – make certain that the charter that govern us is properly written and up-to-date.

VIDEO: Special Kingstonian Meeting 6/3/19

“The purpose of tonight’s meeting is for the planning board to determine specific areas/studies which we believe will be critical for the decision making process with regard to the Kingstonian” – Wayne Platt, Chair of the Kingston Planning Board

At last night’s special Kingstonian meeting, the mood was oddly calm.  In about 1 1/2 hours, the planning board and applicant moved through their plans of what studies would be required in order for the board to make a determination of significance (pos or neg dec).  Outside of the planning board chair, only two members of the board posed any questions to the applicant, though they voted unanimously to pass a resolution for studies.  The applicant will provide its studies to the planning board for distribution in early July. A meeting will be scheduled for September for the planning board to make a determination or, to request more information from the applicant.

Here’s a quick summation of the key points from the meeting:

  1. The planning board as lead agency presented potential impacts to the applicant submitted by New York State (State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Department of Transportation (DOT)) as the key potential impacts for the applicant to study.  The Kingston’s Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC), also attached, we learned was being ‘deliberated’ and therefore, any recommendations that they made (outside of any similarities to SHPO) were not included in the planning board’s resolution.
  2. The pedestrian bridge that connects two buildings on Fair Street (not to Herzog’s Plaza) was voluntarily removed from the project design.
  3. Of the 420 parking spots, 290 of them will be designated to the city and 130 will be for the project specifically. An allocation of some spaces within the Kingston Plaza will be made available for employees and/or residents that want a second car.  Additional parking discussions are being had regarding a multi-use building near Dutch Village.  Once SEQR is complete, the applicant will ask to waive the 1 1/2 car per apartment clause in Kingston’s zoning because there’s a municipal lot and two nearby properties controlled by the applicant nearby.
  4. The applicant will be responsible to build and operate the parking garage and to charge rates that are compatible with other public parking in the area.
  5. It is unclear how the planning board will implement the relevant public  concerns including affordable housing requirements and Kingston’s comprehensive plan, the overlay zoning confusion and community character (outside of visual impacts as it pertains to community character) as they were not raised last evening.

It appears as though the applicant and planning board as lead agency are doing their own version of scoping (as predicted in earlier months) to bring the project to a neg dec come September.  As a coordinated review, the planning board’s decision on the environment will apply to all of the involved agency’s discretionary decision making once SEQR concludes (a neg dec) going forward.

Tune into Radio Kingston today at 4:30pm. KingstonCitizens.org Radio will discuss what happened at last night’s meeting.

 

 

6:39    Concerns raised by NYSHPO.  Visual Impacts, facade, etc.

24:45  Concerns raised by the NYSDEC.  Protections of waters, wetlands, cultural resources, endangered species, sewer/water.

38:21   Traffic demand and impact analysis (NYS DOT)

51:10   Regarding the Kingston Common Council as an Involved Agency “….we can’t do anything with the Common Council taking action until a determination of significance is made under SEQR so any discussions have been preliminary at they point, but this is a coordinated review for SEQR so though that documentation has been sent to the Common Council, they’re free to comment during the pendency of SEQR…”

This is precisely what the Kingston HLPC provided, also an involved agency, in their letter submitted to the planning board back in March. Their concerns were mostly disregarded last evening due to recent ‘deliberation’.

 

0:00  The planning board states that they would rather not comment on the Kingston Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission letter at this time.

“Is this the official comment of the HLPC or are they still debating?”  (Jacobson)

“I believe that there’s still some debate going on with that.” (Platt)

“There’s a question about deliberation on that.” (Cahill)

“Are we going to get more input from them regarding these comments?”  (Jacobson)

“Correct.”  (Cahill)

“This is the preliminary letter that is part of the public record right now. It’s available for folks to see on our website, but there is some further deliberation going on by the HLPC and we’re waiting for further comment from them at this time.” (Platt)

“Is it time to make comments on architectural aspects of the project?” (Jacobson)

“I think it’s ok that we comment on architectural comments outside of what the HLPC recommends.” (Platt)

9:56:  Timeline for studies to be done for a determination to be made. 

“What do you believe would be an appropriate timeline to get all of these studies together?” (Platt)

“Early July.” (Larios)

“Joint meeting in September?” (Jacobson)

19:30:  Resolution read into the record VIEW

“The City of Kingston Planning Board in review of the Kingstonian Development LLC….along with a portion of fair street extension determining specific areas/studies which the planning board believes to be critical for their decision making process….one, a visual impact study with points as defined below the recommendations followed in the SHPO letter that was provided an archeological report and geotechnical report which includes plants and animals identified potential endangered species, a water supply report, sewer report, wastewater report, traffic impact analysis with parking demand and delivery applications for demolition HLPC notice for preservation and green technologies / energy efficiency and a timeline anticipated section – that the following location points will be examined for a visual impact analysis of the project…the appropriate agencies will be notified and materials will be posted on the city website that this meeting will be reconvened…” (Platt)

“The resolution doesn’t just limit us to these items, correct? I mean, if we get these materials and want further study we have the ability?” (Jacobson)

“….the following studies/reports to be submitted for further review and final determination on any environmental significance and or supplemental information that this board deems necessary…” (Platt)