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.
What is Segmentation? “Segmentation means the division of the environmental review of an action such that various activities or stages are addressed under this Part as though they were independent, unrelated activities, needing individual determinations of significance.”
(SEQR Handbook, page 59)
As there is only one action, or project, outlined in the Kingstonian’s Environmental Assessment Form (EAF), neither the zoning amendment nor the Common Council’s role in the matter is listed in the EAF.
IF A ZONING CHANGE IS REQUIRED THEN A NEW ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT FORM (EAF) WOULD BE TOO. 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 would need 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.
JUSTIFYING A SEGMENTED REVIEW AT THE TIME OF ITS DETERMINATION OF SIGNIFICANCE BY LEAD AGENCY. According to SEQR law 617.3 (g) (1), if the EAF is not amended, then the Planning Board as lead agency will effectively be conducting a “segmented review” of the project. If they do that, the Planning Board “ must clearly state in its determination of significance, and any subsequent EIS, the supporting reasons and must demonstrate that such review is clearly no less protective of the environment. Related actions should be identified and discussed to the fullest extent possible.”