Without any significant changes proposed by the developers, the New York State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) has chosen to unsee the adverse impacts that it had identified in September 2019 in the course of its review of the Kingstonian. The only rational explanation for this unexpected and illogical about-face is that this is the result of political pressure exerted by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and by extension, Governor Andrew Cuomo.
According to a February 14 letter to the ESDC from John Bonafide, Director of the Technical Division Bureau at SHPO, “After considering the material presented at our meeting and the subsequently submitted information, we have found that the evolution of the proposal has addressed many of the open preservation issues raised by this office.” However, the only change that has been made since his office last reviewed the project in September is that the Schwenk Drive portion of the development grew another story. Impacts that were identified in the agency’s September19 letter, such as the project’s size, its monolithic scale, and its eradication of Fair Street Extension, have not been mitigated in the least.
SHPO’s comments on the Kingstonian are part of a consultation mandated by Section 14.09 of the New York Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Law. It is required for projects that are funded, licensed or approved by state or federal agencies. The Kingstonian is set to receive $3 million in funding from the ESDC. The majority of the project site lies within the National Register-listed Stockade Historic District.
We do not know yet how this will impact the active Article 78 suit filed by a consortium of Uptown business entities against the City of Kingston and the developers. SHPO’s latest findings do not detract from the main premise of the lawsuit—that the Kingston Planning Board failed to take a “hard look” at the facts of the project during the State Environmental Quality Review.
SHPO’s findings also do not negate the project’s pending review by the local Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission, whose responsibility it will be to scrutinize the design details big and small, something that SHPO does not do in its review.
As KingstonCitizens.org has reported in the past, the developers of the Kingstonian are the beneficiaries of substantial taxpayer-funded state grants. In addition to the $3 million from the ESDC, they have been awarded $3.8 million from Cuomo’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative Grant. They are also likely to seek an unknown sum of municipal tax breaks through the Ulster County IDA. In addition to all of that and perhaps of most value, they have a political leader like Mayor Steve Noble for a partner, who over the course of the past year, has seemingly gone out of his way to use the powers of his office to influence the outcome of the project’s regulatory review, whether by having his corporation counsels mislead and bully individuals, removing members of the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission, or by seeing to it that the zoning law is disregarded.
From the recent effort to merge departments and provide his spouse a new position with increased pay to creating positions for housing initiatives, this mayor’s determination to muscle through his agenda with or without the Common Council’s consent—and sometimes at the expense of others—is infuriating. The pressure on the Council to unquestionably support the Kingstonian is great. We hope they hold the line for our community.
Note: For an excellent in-depth background on the developers of the Kingstonian and the origins of the project, listen to the August 16, 2019 episode of “The Source with Hillary Harvey” on RadioKingston.
On September 26th, a joint meeting was held between the Kingston Planning Board, Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC) and the Heritage Area Commission (HAC) to review a new design presented by the Kingstonian project’s architect Mackenzie Architects from Burlington, Vermont. The new design was triggered by a letter submitted by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) on September 19th stating that their current project design would indeed have “adverse effects to the Kingston Stockade Historic District.” It’s what historic preservation advocates had been saying from the start and why, in part, they had advocated for a positive declaration in SEQR. As you may recall, all that is required for a positive declaration (Pos Dec) for a Type 1 action in the State Environmental Quality Review process (SEQR) is for there to be a single potentialadverse environmental impact. SHPO’s letter is confirmation of at least that.
In what typically takes months to address, the architect created a new design in a week’s time (between SHPO’s letter on 9/19 and the special joint meeting on the 9/26), comparing his ongoing process to Beethovan (video #1 starts at 16:46).
The Kingston Planning Board ultimately tabled the discussion. The HLPC also moved to table further consideration. The HAC did not have a quorum so did not vote.
I presume that the architects new design will be submitted to SHPO with comments from the meeting for further comment. The planning board agreed to set a special meeting in October.
The next planning board meeting is scheduled to occur on Monday, October 21 at 6:00pm. Currently, their agenda lists no detail.
The following video is a document of their discussion. Public comment takes place at the top of Video #1.
The meeting was filmed by The Kingston News brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org.
Last week the Kingstonian project team made a formal presentation to the City of Kingston Planning Board, the lead agency in the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process for the proposal. They have made similar presentations over the past couple of weeks to both the Heritage Area and Historic Landmarks Preservation Commissions’.
In closing, the applicant’s attorney volunteered to fill out the EAF Part Two of the SEQR process for the Planning Department and Assistant Corporation Counsel’s review. He will proceed once the outstanding comments from the remaining boards and agencies were collected and the joint meeting described above occurs.
We will be interested in reviewing this document, particularly Sections 17 (c) and 18 (c).
The next full Kingston Planning Board meeting will occur on Monday, September 16th at 6:00pm. Currently, there is nothing on the Agenda for the Kingstonian project. Visit the City of Kingston’s website and scroll down to ‘meeting events’ to review agendas to check throughout the day on the 16th to see whether or not any new Kingstonian items have been added to the planning board agenda (or visit us on Facebook for updates). We don’t anticipate any major decisions to be made this month.
VIEW the Transcription of the Planning Board’s Special Kingstonian Project meeting.
Video #1(Filmed by the Kingston News and brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org)
Public Comment 3:25 – 6:10: Gai Galitzine, Resident of Kingston 6:22 – 9:00: Ilona Ross, Resident of Kingston 9:24 – 11:06: Jane Eisenberg, Resident of Town of Ulster
11:17 – End: Kingstonian project team presentation
Video #2(Filmed by the Kingston News and brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org)
00:00 – End: Kingstonian project team presentation (continued)
On Tuesday, May 21, KingstonCitizens.org in partnership with the Kingston Tenants Union hosted a public educational forum on SEQR 101. Video from our event was created by The Kingston News brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org.
The event’s AGENDA is available with valuable links to resources on page two.
Thanks to Jennifer O’Donnell for bringing her knowledge and experience on the subject to our community.
A recent Kingston Times article reported a claim by a member of the Kingstonian development team: “Dennis Larios is a civil engineer with long experience in Kingston. He’s currently working with JM Development Group on the Kingstonian project. Earlier this month, in a Facebook post, Larios suggested that his clients would likely walk away from the project if the planning board issues a “positive declaration of environmental significance.”
A day later, the Daily Freeman reported that a second member of the Kingstonian development team suggested that a determination of significance (and likely a negative declaration) would not be made for a very long time, as they had not yet provided the lead agency with all of the necessary information.
Attorney Michael Moriello said in a statement, “It is beyond presumptuous for these opponents to attempt to subvert the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) review process by insisting upon a positive declaration of environmental significance before any potentially large impacts have had an opportunity to be identified and mitigated….Because we intend to follow all environmental review requirements and as we have not yet provided all of the necessary information and studies, we do not anticipate a determination of significance under SEQRA for (a) fairly lengthy period of time….we are confident that we will ultimately obtain a negative declaration of environmental significance so that the vast majority of city residents, visitors and business owners will ultimately benefit from the environmental review and the Kingstonian’s attendant economic, cultural and employment benefits.”
When SEQR begins, a series of specific actions are to take place starting with a 30-day window for the involved agencies to approve or deny the request for lead agency. An involved agency may also “state their interests and concerns regarding selection of lead agency and potential impacts of the overall action” (SEQR handbook, page 66, item #5). That’s exactly what the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission has done as a responsible involved agency along with three interested State agencies which submitted comments to the Kingston Planning Board within the 30-day window for lead agency selection or the 20-day window for determination of significance which I describe next.
Leslie Melvin reads her public comment, the letter submitted by the HLPC to the Kingston Planning Board on March 11th recommending a positive declaration in the SEQR process, at last evening’s public hearing on the proposed Kingstonian Project
After providing public comment for the proposed Kingstonian Project during its public hearing last evening, Leslie Melvin, a citizen volunteer who was serving on the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC), resigned.
Melvin submitted her letter of resignation following her public speaking.
Dear Mayor Noble,
Merging the HAC and the HLPC has been a publicly-stated goal of yours for the last few years despite failing to convince either commission, or the Common Council, of the plan’s merits.
With your recent decision to not renew Marissa Marvelli and Alan Baer’s appointments—and by appointing HAC commissioners to fill those newly created vacancies — you have effected your own de facto merging of the HAC and HLPC.
To be clear, these efforts appear to only serve one administration’s own short-term interests – they are not in the best interest of the residents of the city of Kingston, and they are certainly not in the interest of preserving what we know to be irreplaceable in the city we love.
This is no way to treat dedicated and knowledgeable professionals, this is no way to treat volunteers, and this is no way to treat constituents. In such a troubling political climate, we expect our leaders to honor an obligation to guarantee transparent, fair processes, and to encourage the exchange of information, free from undue influence. You’ve sent a clear signal that volunteers, working on behalf of the city and its residents, can only expect conditional support.
I am saddened to submit my resignation from the HLPC, effective immediately.
Co-sponsors include: Kingston Tenants Union, Midtown Rising, Rise Up Kingston, Citizen Action of New York Mid-Hudson Valley Chapter, Nobody Leaves Mid Hudson and KingstonCitizens.org
MORE It is not expected that the planning board will make any decisions on the 10th.
A regular planning board meeting will occur on Monday, 4/15 where the planning board may decide on the items listed in the 4/10 AGENDA (lot line deletion, site plan / special permit and SEQR determination (pos or neg dec))
WATCH Marissa Marvelli address the HLPC
2:10 – 6:47
On Wednesday, April 4th, Marissa Marvelli and Alan Baer were invited into the Mayor’s office and abruptly learned that they would not be reappointed to the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission, even though both wished to continue to serve. Under the charter, the Mayor has sole authority to appoint or remove members of all boards, committees and commissions. There is no oversight of those decisions by the Common Council.
Marissa Marvelli is a historic preservation specialist with a master’s degree in the discipline from Columbia University. Alan Baer is an architect educated at the University of Cincinnati with continuing education at Xavier, Pratt, RPI, and Harvard. He had served on the HLPC for 17 years. Both are Kingston residents.
The decision is believed to be part of the Mayor’s plan to merge the Historic Landmarks Preservation (HLPC) and Heritage Area Commissions (HAC). “Streamlining,” as it’s known, has been a contentious concept in the City of Kingston for years. It was included as a goal in the City of Kingston’s draft Comprehensive Plan by the consultant Shuster-Turner Associates (who were also involved in our 1961 Comp Plan that some experts say ushered in Urban Renewal in Kingston) and later removed after preservationists from around the city and the State Historic Preservation Office warned of its implications for Kingston’s standing in the state.
To everyone’s surprise, the goal to streamline reappeared in the City’s Comprehensive Plan Zoning Recommendations that were released to the public in January of 2018. As Comp Plan Zoning is meant to reflect the goals of an adopted Comp Plan, many felt it had no business being there. Before a new Comp Plan Zoning group had been established, the executive branch delivered legislation to streamline commission to be reviewed by the Common Council. At that time, we had no idea what the motivation was for the City.
At last evening’s meeting of the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC), the Commission as an involved agency in the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) for the proposed Kingstonian Project put forward a motion to amend the agenda to include a discussion of the Kingstonian Project and its “potential significant environmental impacts” pertaining to historic preservation. With the clock ticking on a 20-day window for the Planning Board, as lead agency, to make a Positive or Negative Declaration in SEQR (the deadline being March 20th), the HLPC’s March meeting would have effectively been their last opportunity to discuss their concerns as a collective body. Apparently it was the desire of the entire Commission to have this discussion placed on its March agenda beforehand, but their request was not honored by the Commission’s administrative staff in the Planning Department.
VIDEO ONE: 4:00 – 20:00
KingstonCitizens.org found it deeply troubling that the City of Kingston’s Planning Director — who is both affiliated with the Planning Board as Lead Agency (meant to be an impartial body responsible for administering the environmental review process) and as staff of the executive branch that wrote the successful Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) application to secure the $10 million dollar grant to be used in part to fund the Kingstonian Project — spent nearly 15 minutes trying to dissuade the Commission from amending their agenda to include a discussion of the project and its potential impacts as it pertained to the historical, archeological and community character of the project. The Commissioners had also requested that the item be placed on the agenda, but Suzanne Cahill, who now is responsible for the HLPC’s administrative duties, would not agree to do so.
The HLPC is one of 10 involved agencies that will have a discretionary decision to make for the Kingstonian Project. Although anyone can point out potential significant environmental impacts, it is required in the SEQR regulations for the Commission in their capacity to “state their concerns (of the)…potential (environmental) impacts of the overall action”.
In the SEQR Handbook, Page 66, “How is the lead agency chosen?” it says about all Involved Agencies:
“The agency undertaking a direct action or the first agency to receive a request for funding or approval should circulate a letter, Part I of the EAF, and a copy of the application, including a site map, to other potentially involved agencies. That agency may choose to indicate its desire to serve as lead or may point out that its jurisdiction may be minimal compared to other agencies. If it has indicated a desire to become lead agency, it may also note its intended determination of significance. The letter should request all other involved agencies to state their interests and concerns regarding selection of lead agency and potential impacts of the overall action. The letter should also note that an agency’s failure to respond within 30 days of the date of the letter will be interpreted as having no interest in the choice of lead agency and having no comments on the action at this time.”
“Dan,” said Kingston Planning Director Suzanne Cahill, as a seemingly last resort for support of her efforts to squash the item from the agenda. “I’m with you,” replied Dan Gartenstein, the City of Kingston’s Assistant Corporation Counsel, who serves at the pleasure of the Mayor. “I don’t think this item should be discussed if it was not on a publicly distributed agenda…based on open meetings law.” However, there is no reference to agendas in the NYS Open Meetings Law.
Public notice of the time and place of a meeting scheduled at least one week prior thereto shall be given or electronically transmitted to the news media and shall be conspicuously posted in one or more designated public locations at least seventy-two hours before such meeting.
Public notice of the time and place of every other meeting shall be given or electronically transmitted, to the extent practicable, to the news media and shall be conspicuously posted in one or more designated public locations at a reasonable time prior thereto.
The public notice provided for by this section shall not be construed to require publication as a legal notice.
If video conferencing is used to conduct a meeting, the public notice for the meeting shall inform the public that video conferencing will be used, identify the locations for the meeting, and state that the public has the right to attend the meeting at any of the locations.
If a meeting will be streamed live over the internet, the public notice for the meeting shall inform the public of the internet address of the website streaming such meeting.
When a public body has the ability to do so, notice of the time and place of a meeting given in accordance with subdivision one or two of this section shall also be conspicuously posted on the public body’s internet website.
KingstonCitizens.org is all for good policy, but the City of Kingston’s elected and appointed officials have a responsibility to not mislead the public or its citizen volunteer commissioners at any time. In the case of the Kingstonian Project, the meeting filmed last night raises the question of whether it is even possible for any municipal body to be lead agency and remain impartial in SEQR given what it stands to gain in a public/private partnership. Maybe, but the perceived errors in the actions of city staff last night ought to be enough to inspire the Planning Board to follow the rules to the letter to insure a transparent process.
VIDEO TWO: 5:34 – 18:08
The HLPC discusses the potential significant environmental impacts as it pertains to historic preservation for the proposed Kingstonian Project.
The project site has the potential to yield information important in history or prehistory, such as evidence of the former presence of the stockade which crossed on or near to this site and/or other previously unknown archaeological resources. Such evidence was unearthed nearby on Clinton Avenue in 1970. This site has been identified as archaeologically sensitive by the NY State Historic Preservation Office.
This project involves the demolition of an existing architectural resource in the Stockade Historic District and may seek to replicate this resource, which has the potential to create a false historical record.
This project involves new construction in the Stockade Historic District. Potential impacts include those that are construction-related, such as falling objects, vibration (from blasting or pile-driving), dewatering, flooding, subsidence, or collapse. The project’s close proximity to two architectural resources—the Senate House and grounds and the John Tremper House at 1 North Front Street—may negatively impact them if adequate precautions are not taken.
New construction may impact the visual context of the district, including the architectural components of the district’s buildings in this area (e.g. height, scale, proportion, massing, fenestration, ground-floor configuration, style), streetscapes, skyline, landforms, and openness to the sky. The project may also impact the visual context of the Senate House, a significant state landmark.
This project proposes changes to a significant historic landscape feature of this historic district: the bluff, an important element to interpreting the district’s history. The National Register nomination for the Stockade Historic District recognizes the following:
“To this day, the boundary lines of this stockade are formed by Green Street, Main Street, Clinton Avenue, and North Front Street and are still intact. Also, amazingly enough, almost the entire bluff promontory forming the perimeter of this area, elevated above the lowland, is still comparatively intact. Therefore, of the three first settlements in New York State—Albany (Fort Orange, New York (New Amsterdam), and Kingston—it is only Kingston that the authentic elements of an original fortification remain. Documents indicate that this log palisade was in existence until the early eighteenth century, having been kept in repair as protection against later Indian raids. While this area at present is surrounded by commercial development, aerial photography has recently indicated the existence of outlines suggesting that the angle itself may as yet be relatively undisturbed. This area forms a sharp bluff and this may account for its preservation.”
This post was updated December 21, 2018, to clarify two details. Firstly, the assistant corporation counsel, who provides legal counsel to the city’s commissions and boards, insisted to the Commission that the transcript of the final hearing would be sufficient for explaining the rationale of the Commission’s decision in lieu of a thorough written decision. Secondly, frequent intrusions in the commission’s final deliberations were made by the applicant and their lawyer and not other members of the public.
“The purpose...is to provide for the promotion of the educational, cultural, economic and general welfare of the public through the protection, enhancement, perpetuation and preservation of landmarks and Landmark Districts. The legislative body declares that it is in the public interest to ensure that the distinctive landmarks and Landmark District shall not be injuriously affected, that the value to the community of those buildings having architectural and historical worth shall not be impaired and that said districts be maintained and preserved to promote their use of the education, pleasure and welfare of the citizens of the City of Kingston and others.” Legislative Intent of the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission, City of Kingston Administrative Code §405-63
The HLPC failed in its review of the ICC—not on principle but on procedure. The final written decision of the HLPC is inadequate in describing the Commission’s reasons for its denying approval for the ICC.No member of the Commission was directly involved in the composition of the written decision, a concern that was raised by members in the weeks following the final hearing. In response, the assistant corporation counsel for the City of Kingston, who provides legal counsel to the city’s boards and commissions, insisted that the transcript would be sufficient for conveying the commission’s rationale. That transcript, which by default became the primary record of the hearing, documents a circuitous deliberation by Commissioners with frequent intrusions by the applicant and their lawyer. The record further reveals the difficulty that Commissioners had in interpreting the criteria for review as outlined in the code, because the language is too vague and weighted towards the consideration of changes to individual buildings rather than new construction in historic districts. In this light, it is not difficult to see why the ZBA and this judge concluded that the HLPC’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious.”
One of the fundamental duties of the HLPC when reviewing proposed changes in a historic district is to ensure that the character of the historic district is maintained, and “prevent construction, reconstruction, alteration or demolition out of harmony with existing buildings insofar as character, material, color, line and detail are concerned, and thus to prevent degeneration of property, to safeguard public health, promote safety and preserve the beauty of the character of the landmark or Landmark District.” (City of Kingston Administrative Code §405-64 D)
No single detail defines a historic district’s character. It is the multitude of details taken together that creates a distinctive environment and sense of place. Such character-defining qualities include the relationships of buildings to each other and to the street. Do the buildings form a continuous streetwall or are they spaced apart? Are they situated directly at the street or are they set back from it? What was the historical development trend that led to their existence? Is there a discernible rhythm or pattern of details, be it building sizes, roof massing, cornices, or windows? Many districts have multiple rhythms. Character is also defined by the type of buildings, their construction, and scale—the architecture of a single-family dwelling is different than that of a store-and-loft building in terms of massing, façade proportion, materiality, fenestration, and building features like porches and storefronts.
The qualities described above are aesthetic ones. It is incumbent on members of the HLPC to consider all of them when considering the appropriateness of new construction in a historic district, be it an addition to an existing structure or a wholly new building on a vacant site.
In what was a ‘coordinated review’ of sorts, project spokesman Joseph Bonura and members of JM Development Group LLC gave an informational meeting at the City of Kingston’s Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC). It’s smart, because by meeting with our HLPC early – they will benefit by getting feedback on the proposal before their review process begins. This not only saves time in the long run, but it puts their best foot forward by starting off with a more realistic project in one of our historic districts. Already the project has improved by doing so – and we would expect that it will continue to go in the right direction with the input and guidance of our historic professionals.
October 17 was a great day for historic preservation in Kingston for three reasons:
1) Mayor Noble, in presenting his proposed budget for 2019, announced that he is creating a permanent part-time preservation administrator position in the Planning Department. Members of the community have been advocating for such a position for years. If the Common Council approves the Mayor’s budget, The City of Kingston will soon have a knowledgeable person on staff to answer questions about district boundaries, help applicants with projects needing commission approval, promote historic tax credit opportunities, advance municipal preservation goals, and more. (Click on image to review Mayor Steve Noble’s 2019 Budget Announcement starting at 15:50 – 16:36)
2) Following the Mayor’s budget presentation, the Common Council’s Laws & Rules Committee convened for its monthly meeting. Chair Bill Carey announced that the committee is no longer considering the Corporation Counsel’s draft legislation to merge the Heritage Area and Historic Landmarks Preservation Commissions (HLPC). Instead, other solutions are being studied to improve the efficiency of the two commissions, such as eliminating overlapping application reviews.
At last evening’s Kingston’s Historic Preservation Landmarks Commission (HLPC), the group introduced a draft of an updated preservation ordinance, modeled after the 2014 preservation ordinance, in accordance with the Certified Local Government guidelines (SHPO) and with preservation ordinances from Saratoga Springs, Syracuse, Buffalo, and Rochester.
Kingston having the rich history that it does, and seemingly everyone’s support to preserve it, requires clear guidelines, policies and laws which we simply haven’t had in place for a long time. Additionally, and for decades, the City of Kingston’s HLPC has been siloed from everything else. Today, we are on a clear path for a complete and proper reset of what is old and fragmented preservation guidelines. We encourage everyone to view this 50-minute discussion. It’s illuminating and exciting to see a process like this being handled so professionally.
You can follow along with the video (starting at 2:00) and the powerpoint presentation (click on image below for the entire PowerPoint) created by HLPC’s Vice Chair Marissa Marvelli.
On September 19th, the Kingston Common Council’s Laws & Rules Committee may discuss whether or not to throw out or to table the Corporation Counsel office’s draft legislation to merge the Heritage Area and Historic Landmarks Preservation Commissions. It will be nearly the fourth consecutive meeting for which this matter has been a topic, and it’s our opinion that the Council should not hesitate to throw out the legislation and instead, continue on the promising path that they are on now.
The council members who serve on the committee deserve praise for their careful study of the Corporation Counsel’s draft legislation and the reasons why it is being proposed. After a lot of information-gathering—particularly at their meeting in July where they heard directly from program administrators—it appears the broad consensus of the committee is that merging the commissions will not meaningfully address issues concerning the regulatory review process, and in fact, may create new problems.
And what are the issues exactly? What problems is “streamlining” meant to solve? Were other solutions considered before the legislation was put forward? No one could say for sure. The reasons repeated by city administration is that merging the commissions is a recommendation of the now disbanded Comp Plan Re-zoning Subcommittee without sharing any notes that show how that conclusion was reached. At face value, the idea to eliminate one step in the public review process by combining two related volunteer commissions would seem like a rational change. Why make an applicant appear before two separate commissions for a new business sign? No one is arguing in favor of such redundancy, but is there another way to solve this?
CITIZEN REQUEST. Please request that the Kingston Common Council Laws and Rules Committee throw out streamlining legislation and continue to collaborate with all relevant Kingston departments, boards and commissions to clarify the development process scenarios comprehensively in the City of Kingston.
Contact: Laws and Rules Committee Liaison to Streamlining Commissions: Ward 9 Alderwoman Andrea Shaut at: firstname.lastname@example.org
By Rebecca Martin
In April of this year, draft legislation to “streamline” the Historic Landmarks Preservation and Heritage Area Commissions was introduced by the City of Kingston’s executive branch to the common council with support from both the Planning and Building Departments. Streamlining Historic Commissions, they argued, would eliminate any redundancies and create a more efficient process for project sponsors who came forward with development concepts for the city.
It’s been a rocky road since, with Kingston’s assistant Corporation Council misleading the council and the public by providing false time requirements and pending litigation that was never understood as reasons to get the streamlining legislation as a local law passed by September.
To help to better understand the process, we jumped in to provide an important educational forum so that we had good information for debate. With more questions than answers, the majority of the council (7-2) with the public’s support, brought the proposed ‘streamlining’ legislation back to committee from the floor for further review.
How did the City of Kingston’s Planning and Building Department come to the conclusion that streamlining commissions was the best way forward? Was there a flowchart of all development processes? Had all parties involved been gathered to discuss the process to collectively agree that streamlining was the solution?
We got our answer during July’s Common Council Laws and Rules Committee meeting. Led by Ward 9 Alderwoman Andrea Shaut, who serves as the liaison to the Laws and Rules Committee on the streamlining matter, a roundtable discussion was called that included invitations to all decision makers – whether regulatory or advisory. Turns out that this was the first time that everyone had been brought together to discuss. The planning department didn’t have flowcharts and Kingston’s Planning Director Suzanne Cahill insisted that the development process was not ‘one size fits all’ so it wasn’t possible to create them.
Really? Even SEQR has a flowchart. When you are talking about processes that if not available, up-to-date or followed correctly will impact the public in profound ways, you better get that information out of your head and onto the page.