Kingstonian Zoning Amendment and the Kingston Common Council

By Rebecca Martin

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

What is the Mixed Use Overlay in the Stockade District? 

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

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

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

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

What happened?

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

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

Where are we now? 

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

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

(click on image for video)

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

VIEW  the Facebook event.

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

What can you do?

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

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

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


RESOURCES

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

2 thoughts on “Kingstonian Zoning Amendment and the Kingston Common Council

    • Great. Thank you. Please consider including in your public comments to ask that the Kingston Common Council Laws and Rules Committee collect the official record from city staff (zoning officer, city planner and/or corporation council) showing the city’s interpretation and application of the Stockade Mixed Use Overlay District (a zoning law created for adaptive reuse projects and affordable housing) to the Kingstonian Project (a new construction with market rate housing). As law makers, they must first understand whether or not the law pertains to the project before they contemplate changing it.

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