Form Based Code is what Kingston needs

Click on image to watch the recent Strong Towns webinar about the City of Kingston’s zoning and Form-based code.

On Tuesday, April 6 at 7:30pm, the Kingston Common Council will vote on whether or not to invest in a critical form-based zoning code proposal.  Community members are encouraged to sign-up to speak in favor.

By Tanya Garment

You may have heard that the Common Council is considering approving a significant investment for the development of a new city wide zoning code.  It is wise as keeping with our current zoning and relying on spot zoning, which has been our band-aid approach for decades, would move us further down the inequitable road we are on.

What has been proposed by the Kingston zoning task force, a group of volunteers appointed by the mayor of Kingston, is a completely different kind of land use regulation than we have now. “Form-based code” that would cover the entire City and drafted by a firm of leaders in the field of planning and form-based codes. One of the leads grew up in the area, and members of the sub-consultant team are based in New York. The bulk of the work that the firm will perform is through public engagement, and that community input will lead to a code that is responsive to the needs of the whole community.

Here is a timeline of some of the events that led to where we are now:

  • The City of Kingston adopted a new comprehensive plan on April 5, 2016 that would finally replace our old 1961 Comprehensive Plan. This new plan is called Kingston 2025. Active members of the community made sure to get the public’s input into the Kingston 2025 plan, as unfortunately, the consultants did very little to facilitate this. Public input should be the primary focus of developing a document about the goals of the City, but with such a small budget ($50,000 for the Comprehensive Plan and $50,000 for the zoning work to follow, both by Shuster-Turner Associates), the amount to do such a big job was inadequate. (Shockingly, Daniel Shuster was the primary consultant for both of Kingston’s comprehensive plans in 1961 and then in 2016. The 1961 Comprehensive plan was created to secure funding for and ushered in Urban Renewal to Kingston).
  • After Kingston 2025 was adopted, a committee to produce a new zoning code, the rules that support the goals of the plan, was formed. The committee (also facilitated Dan Shuster) met sporadically over the course of approximately a year. They held some informational sessions and public forums (though public input was not reflected in any changes), and submitted Proposed Comprehensive Amendments to the City before Shuster-Turner’s contract concluded on December 31, 2017. That proposed zoning document was incomplete and only covered a fraction of what the comprehensive plan called for. What’s worse, it was still the same problematic type of zoning code that we already have. Use-based code separates the city into areas with “uses” with many restrictions as to what can be done or built in each.  Sprawl and cars are prioritized over housing. Accessibility, inclusion, and efficiency suffer without any sort of predictable result.
  • Around the same time, Mayor Noble stated that there was much rezoning work still to be done, and announced that a new group would be assembled to continue the job. In February 2019, a newly appointed Zoning Task Force began to meet and within nearly a years time, developed a request for proposals (RFP) to find planners to rewrite Kingston’s zoning code as a form-based code. Four proposals were submitted in reply to the RFP, and the task force chose Dover Kohl and PartnersDover, Kohl and Partners’ proposal for crafting new code for Kingston is available for review
  • In February of 2020, the Kingston Common Council’s Finance and Audit Committee voted unanimously in favor of funding the work of Dover, Kohl and Partners. However, before the resolution could be voted on at the April 2020 Common Council meeting, the COVID pandemic took hold and with all the unknowns then, the item was sent back to committee. Since that time, bidding wars on homes in Kingston have become the norm, the Planning Board has seen multiple lot line adjustment requests, and the Common Council has been asked to consider many band-aid style, site specific zoning code changes.
  • I belong to a group called Kingston Code Reform Advocates. We formed in late 2020, to encourage people to think about planning, and the importance of a clear, fair, and responsible code. We hosted a Strong Towns event in February which is now available on YOUTUBE.  Strong Towns wrote a great ARTICLE about the benefits of adopting a form-based code.  We’ve also been working with Ward 1 Alderman Jeffrey Ventura Morell and Common Council President Andrea Shaut. Our group’s email address is KingstonCodeReformAdvocates (at) gmail.com
  • The Common Council ‘s Finance and Audit Committee met with Dover Kohl for the first time this March, to pose some questions, and get a better sense of what their proposal would include. At a second Finance and Audit meeting, the committee confirmed that the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process would be assisted by the firm as well – a big benefit – and voted 3-1 in favor of funding the creation of a new zoning code for Kingston. 

If we want to have a city built by many hands and that can result in a resilient and equitable community, then we must replace our current overly complicated and divisive zoning code with something that allows neighborhoods to grow incrementally from the ground up. Form-based code can do that.

On Tuesday, April 6 at 7:30pm, the Kingston Common Council will vote on whether or not to approve the form-based code proposal.  Community members are encouraged to sign-up to speak in favor.  To get the call-in number and directions on public speaking, please visit the City of Kingston’s FACEBOOK PAGE

Additional Resources

1. Form-based codes definition  
2. How Form-based codes designate zones  

4 thoughts on “Form Based Code is what Kingston needs

  1. This seems like too much money.

    The KPD needs more staff.

    The Mayor requests and gets $450,000 to buy Planet Wings, requests another $450,000 for traffic work around Planet wings, $800,000 for Scenic Hudson for another bike trail…all during the pandemic…

    Priorities seem distorted in Kingston.

    • The community should see it as an investment in planning, and it’s truly a good one in our opinion. Please watch the video that is attached in the blog to learn more of the recent presentation from Strong Towns.

  2. All good, but do we need to spend $500k to regurgitate basic, easily locally-implemented changes to our zoning code & districts? I say emphatically not. FBC is essentially a good and reasonable planning methodology, but what Kingston lawmakers are endorsing is grossly disproportionate to our city’s land area AND population. Think about it: how can we justify spending an equal amount on FBC as the City of Buffalo, which has 10X of each as compared with Kingston? Talk about inequity! Kingston would be much better served with taking a phased approach like Amsterdam NY did — spend $50,000 of GRANT money on their commercial district, evaluate the results, and take next steps based on the resulting projects, proposals, and uses that ensue?

    Please tell me how this doesn’t make more sense than plowing $0.5m into Kingston — I will listen and respond.

    • I will have more to say this evening, but for now, let’s consider these comments:

      1. Amsterdam has a TINY commercial district compared to Kingston and I pray we never get to that city’s level of disastrous destruction because of bad planning.  

      2. I bid on the comp plan zoning proposal for Kingston with another highly qualified team that included the Buffalo Form-based code group, and bid as a sub-consultant with another firm that is one of the FBC founders.  Although we did not succeed, I respect Dover Kohl’s strong bid. They work in large metro areas and this is what their work costs.  It is impossible to do this work in Kingston for $50k, given the variety of neighborhoods and neighborhood types, as well as the many needs that were expressed in the RFP, including the historic districts — we have far more and of different character than the small city of Amsterdam. The RFP also asked for sensitivity to the issues of affordability, inclusion, and extensive public participation, among many other things. It is not reasonable to assume that a thoughtful, well-crafted code that works closely with the public doesn’t deserve a highly qualified firm. FBC is not a simple thing, although it may seem so. It isn’t a cookie cutter.  If done well, it would:

      – Closely examine all the areas where there is potential for better development, and reshape it;

      – Protect the historic qualities while allowing for new construction, as so many cities have been able to do with FBC, preventing the eyesores our current code allows to cause significant economic harm to our most valuable districts; 

      – Allow for a much healthier housing mix that would be more varied so we would not have to resort to stuffing people into trailers; and 

      – Put Kingston on the path toward healing the wounds wrought by a terribly outdated code that induces destruction of the urban fabric. 

      Thanks.

      Jennifer O’Donnell, Principal
      Hone Strategic 

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