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 Partners. Dover, 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.
- In the meantime, the Open Space Plan has been adopted by the Common Council as part of the Comprehensive Plan. Dover Kohl will now have a road map, regarding preservation of nature and open space access to work with.
- 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