The Kingstonian PILOT: There is more at stake than just parking

Editorial

CLICK, SIGN AND SEND!  Demand that the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (UCIDA) require the Kingstonian applicant release financial data for independent assessment and to place a value on their PILOT request prior to any scheduled public hearing:   CLICK ON THIS LINK, SIGN AND SEND TO ALL DECISION MAKERS.  Please include your name, where you live and any additional message you’d like to include. 


What the Kingston community needs to know up front

The Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (UCIDA) this week considered a $30.6 million tax subsidy to real estate developers in exchange for 277 parking spaces. In the midst of a financial crisis, the substantial loss of $30.6 million in tax receipts will have a profound effect on the community. A subsidy to the Kingstonian real estate developers for parking spaces means less money to invest in City schools, streets, public housing, and infrastructure. It increases the likelihood that already overburdened taxpayers will cover any fiscal gap with increased school and property taxes. 

What happened at the July 8th Ulster County IDA Meeting Regarding the $57.8 million Kingstonian Project?

The specific agenda item on the Ulster County IDA docket involved the question of a deviated payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) request for the Kingstonian proposal, a $57.8 million dollar luxury apartment project in Uptown, Kingston. If granted, the Kingstonian investors pay for the value of what’s already there and not what they improve for the next 25 years. The estimated amount of the PILOT subsidy under consideration for a portion of a parking garage is roughly $30.6 million in addition to $6.8 million in tax-payer funded grants.  We have not seen a parking assessment (an estimate of how many parking spaces the project will actually need) nor do we know the true value of the PILOT request.

After the developer’s joint presentation with the Mayor of Kingston, the IDA expressed significant concerns, and sent the proposal back to the pre screening process.  The deviation and the delay will allow the developers to go back and discuss the PILOT agreement with the involved agencies (City of Kingston, Ulster County Legislature and Board of Education) to confirm their commitment before returning to the IDA board in August. If the IDA is satisfied with the progress at that point, they will schedule a public hearing.  In the meantime, without the release of vital financial information, the public is unable to assess the true value of the PILOT.  To date, neither the developers, the IDA nor the City of Kingston has agreed to release that financial information.

What’s the IDA and a deviated PILOT? How does it affect the Kingston Community?

Read more…

The State Preservation Office does about-face for Kingstonian project amid political pressure

By Editorial Board

Rendering by Mackenzie Architects

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 September 19 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.

Kingstonian Zoning Petition Back at Ulster County Planning Board

By Rebecca Martin

“When you read the negative declaration by the planning board (for the Kingstonian Project), they almost don’t seem to get the gist of that letter from the Office of Parks Recreation & Historic Preservation (OPRHP) relative to why there is an impact on the stockade district.”
Dennis Doyle, UCPB

On February 5, the Ulster County Planning Board reviewed the Kingstonian Group Development LLC zoning map amendment for a second time. According to Ulster County Planning Director Dennis Doyle, the letter was referred back because the city’s request had been submitted to the county during the project’s State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR). With a determination made, the Ulster County Planning Board (UCPB) would take another look including at the new affordable housing provision.

The following is video from the meeting filmed by The Kingston News and brought to you by KingstonCitizenes.org. The blog image captures the required modifications and UCPB advisory comments.

RESOURCES

VIEW: Adverse Impact Letter from Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP)
VIEW: City of Kingston Comprehensive Plan (CP)

2:26 (loosely transcribed) Kingston’s Comprehensive Plan and its affordable housing requirement is for any new or expanding building or development. It wants to abandon the Mixed Use Overlay District (MUOD) in favor of a citywide standard. The UCPB recommends it should be simplified and “a standard set of rules regarding the provision for all multifamily residential applications in the city should be promulgated regardless of location.

5:54 (loosely transcribed) Kingston’s City Zoning Enforcement Officer (CZO) rendered a ruling about whether or not the MUOD permitted new construction and if so, required affordable housing. The statutory language of adaptive reuse would require 20%. ZEO determined that it doesn’t apply. That if new construction is permitted, it does not require affordable housing. Really the city can’t rely on MUOD to provide affordable housing anywhere in the city because of that ruling. That’s a real problematic way to move forward if we are going to let the MUOD continue. The applicant has involuntary offered affordable housing in the project and if you do the math, it’s about 10% of the project.

7:41 (loosely transcribed) County recommendations. Overarching recommendations rest on the City of Kingston’s own planning documents. We find the map amendment to be inconsistent with the purposes of the MUOD and the CP. and therefore, it should not be implemented without clarification of the ability of the District to be used to issue special permits for new construction. Additionally, if such new construction is allowed by special permit, a provision of affordable housing shall also apply.

8:35 (loosely transcribed) Doyle outlines the county’s original recommendations: Option 1, To follow the recommendations of the CP and abandon the MUOD in favor of establishing City-wide affordable housing regulations for all multi-family development, etc. Option 2, To modify the existing MUOD by specifically allowing new construction under the special use section and add the applicability of the affordable housing provision to this use. This is more of a band-aid approach to achieving the goals of the CP for the more limited area of the MUOD. If you are going to amend the map, then you must amend the language in the statute.

9:53 (loosely transcribed) The negative declaration issued by the Kingston Planning Board addresses the issues of whether or not there is a material conflict with adopted plans or goals. The Kingston Planning Board said that they found no conflict. But they do specifically note the 14 affordable housing units is a welcome inclusion. The lead agency determination regarding the zoning petition and its lack of conflict with community plans and goals as officially approved is the critical question before the Common Council and before the County Planning Board. The Common Council is somewhat bound by the lead agency’s determination. But that bounding is in response to the voluntary inclusion of affordable housing as part of the project.

11:15 (loosely transcribed) The neg dec addresses something called community character and historic resources. OPRHP has issued an adverse effect for the project. “The lead agency determination regarding Community Character the zoning petition and its lack of conflict with community plans and goals as officially approved is the critical question before the common council.” When you read the negative declaration by the planning board, they almost don’t seem to get the gist of the letter from the OPRHP relative to why there is an impact on the stockade district….but they never succintinly address the tie in between moving the project elements down slope or cross slope to tie into the schwenk drive commercial area as compared with the traditional ending of that at the Montgomery Ward building or at the top of the hill.

13:16 (loosely transcribed) Required modifications: the place where we are as pertains to affordable housing. ZEO provision says affordable housing is not needed with new construction yet the applicant voluntarily provides it. If that’s the case, then the voluntary provision by the applicant should be enshrined in the city’s planning approvals – as it could be voluntary today and during planning approvals, disappear tomorrow. The UCPB all agreed.

16:47 (loosely transcribed) Advisory comments. As stated previously, the UCPB’s overarching goal was to provide for inclusion of affordable housing. The voluntary provision offered by the developer is offset by the ruling of the ZEO that none is needed. While the board will not require a specific change, the required modification is to ensure that the affordable housing element as offered is not voluntary and is enshrined in the City’s planning approvals in a manner that defines affordability. The UCPB’s advisory comments are to strongly urge the city to abandon the MUOD district and adopt a city-wide solution to affordable housing and its design; Address more fully the adverse effects letter from OPRHP regarding their concerns about district impacts associated with the project tying the historic stockade area to the commercial area along Schwenk Drive as part of any map amendment; Note the need to clarify or include lower Fair Street in the rezoning depending on its ownership/interpretation; Note: the inclusion of a deviated PILOT by the Ulster County IDA in a Neg Dec. No discussion of a PILOT appears in the economic data released to date; Appreciation for the referral by the city to the amendment and inclusion of the affordable housing.

The UCPB said that the rezoning offers the city a clearer recommendation or response to the adverse effect letter. As part of the re-zoning they should look at this, understand and reexamine and clarify the negative declaration in terms of why it’s not an adverse effect in regards to zoning….there are state monies involved here. The state monies will require that they clear up that adverse effect letter otherwise, they’ll run into issues with the state funding. Discussion regarding Fair Street ensued. SHPO calls Fair street historic in some instances.

24:33 (loosely transcribed) On the project being a public/private partnership. We’ve seen a lot of positive economic data put out by the applicant. The negative declaration indicates a deviated PILOT by the UCIDA, meaning that it’s not a standard PILOT under the unified tax exemption policy and we don’t know what it will be. No discussion of the PILOT appears as the economic data released to date. We want transparency here – what the applicant is asking the public to participate in as the project goes forward. The IDA has a matrix, and they are going to propose that the IDA goes outside of the Matrix. In a public/private partnership, you should put everything on the table to fund your garage. The board agreed that it should be included in their comments as it’s in the Neg Dec determination and therefore a part of the SEQR process after discussion.

30:54 (loosely transcribed) Why was this matter sent back to us? Because they completed the SEQR process and we asked that they do so once the SEQR process was done. We asked to resubmit with the affordable housing provision. One of the UCPB members felt the language needed to be stronger. Dennis was concerned about changing the language from before. Public/Private partnerships should be much more up front about what they are asking the public to participate in. So far, we have seen no indication of what the public is being asked to participate in. It’s like traffic or anything else. There should be more transparency as a recommendation.

The UCPB approved the items.

Laws and Rules Committee Public Hearing on January 15 at 6:00pm Regarding a Rezoning Request for the Kingstonian Project.

In June of 2019, after months of the Kingston Planning Board reviewing the Kingstonian project application and well into the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process, the project developers submitted a zoning petition to the Kingston Common Council to request an extension to the current Mixed Used Overlay District (MUOD) and zoning map to include 0.313 acres (approximately 12%) of the Kingstonian project site that lie outside of the MUOD. But as it turned out, the council would need to postpone any discussion or decision-making for this request (and all of its discretionary decision making for the project) until after the SEQR process concluded.

With the SEQR process behind us (in December of 2019, the Kingston Planning Board as Lead Agency issued a negative declaration determination), the Kingston Common Council Laws and Rules Committee will hold a public hearing on Wednesday, January 15 at 6:00pm at Kingston City Hall (council chambers) located at 420 Broadway for a request to rezone a portion of the Uptown property where the Kingstonian mixed-use development is proposed to be built

KingstonCitizens.org will deliver its petition requesting that the common council provide a full accounting of Kingstonian public funds before it proceeds and that Ward 5 Alderman Don Tallerman recuse himself of any decision-making given his early public support and conflicts of interest (see our testimony below for more details).

The public is invited to provide testimony that evening of approximately 2-3 minutes in length (the time allotted will be set by the Laws and Rules Committee chairman Jeffrey Ventura-Morell). It is uncertain whether there will be an open public comment period following the public hearing. If you are unable to attend, we recommend that you submit your comments to the council members (listed below) as soon as possible.

If you have any questions about the public hearing, please contact Jeffrey Ventura-Morell directly.

Kingston Common Council Laws and Rules Committee

Jeffrey Ventura-Morell, Chair
ward1@kingston-ny.gov

Rita Worthington
ward4@kingston-ny.gov

Don Tallerman
ward5@kingston-ny.gov

Rennie Scott-Childress
ward3@kingston-ny.gov

Patrick O’Reilly
ward7@kingston-ny.gov

Andrea Shaut, Council President
commoncouncil@kingston-ny.gov

To the members of the Kingston Common Council Laws and Rules Committee from KingstonCitizens.org:

In the summer of 2019, KingstonCitizens.org organized a petition drive that requests that the Common Council uphold the affordable housing mandate of the Mixed Use Overlay (MUOD) and request a full accounting of Kingstonian public funds as was required by the City for earlier development proposals. While the developers have finally incorporated some affordable housing units into their project (but only by expanding an already overscaled development), the total amount of taxpayer dollars that the Kingstonian developers say is required to make the project happen has yet been disclosed.

Beyond the $6.8 million in New York State grants that have been publicly awarded (Downtown Revitalization Initiative, Restore NY, and a separate Empire State Development Corporation grant), the public remains in the dark about the following: 

  1. The value of tax breaks to be sought from the Ulster County Industrial Development Association through what is known as a PILOT;  
  2. The value of all municipal real estate to be given over to the project, including Fair Street Extension and the city parking lot parcel on North Front Street; 
  3. The municipal parking revenue that will be lost once the lot is sold; 
  4. The total cost of infrastructure upgrades the City will have to undertake to accommodate a project of this magnitude; and, 
  5. Any other public grants, tax credits, or subsidies the developers may be seeking but have not disclosed.  

Given the long-term profits that the development team stands to gain with this project, the total public investment to be made to realize this project must be outlined. It is the Common Council’s fiduciary responsibility to determine whether the public benefit is worth the public cost. As the Ulster County Planning Board wrote in its September 4, 2019 letter to the City of Kingstons’ former Common Council President James Noble, “It would be appropriate as part of the public/private partnership that this project represents that the public understand how much of a role they are being asked to play.”

On behalf of KingstonCitizens.org, we present a hard copy of the petition with 240 signatures respectfully requesting that you obtain and disclose the full accounting of all public subsidies to be used for this project as well as a copy of the developers’ pro forma before you consider amending the Mixed Use Overlay District boundaries and any other discretionary approvals for the Kingstonian project. 

Additionally, we request that Ward 5 Alderman Don Tallerman, who is a member of the Council’s Laws and Rules Committee, recuse himself from any decision-making pertaining to the Kingstonian project. Not only does he appear in a promotional video on the developer’s website he has also delivered public testimony in favor of the zoning change (while opposing the call for affordable housing for the project and supporting the PILOT its parking garage). His testimonies occurred months after he had already declared his candidacy for the council (Daily Freeman 2/20/19: Kingston Democrats Choose Slate of Candidates for November Election). Because he operates an event venue, the Senate Garage, that is directly across from the project site, he stands to significantly benefit directly financially from the development which represents a conflict of interest.

Thank you.

Ward 5 Alderman Don Tallerman, who currently serves as a member of the council Laws and Rules Committee, speaks in support of the Kingstonian Project months after he was tapped as the Kingston Common Council Democratic Ward 5 Alderman candidate.
Ward 5 Alderman Don Tallerman, who currently serves as a member of the council Laws and Rules Committee, delivered public testimony in favor of the zoning change (while opposing the call for affordable housing for the project and supporting the PILOT for its parking garage). His testimonies occurred months after he had already declared his candidacy for the council

(UPDATE: Following our post, the Kingstonian Project removed Don and Judy Tallerman’s video of support from their website, as seen above. But we still have it)


Additional Reading:

READ: Kingstonian Zoning Amendment and the Kingston Common Council

READ: Take Action and Written Comments Accepted for Kingstonian Zoning Amendment Through Friday, August 16 (from 2019)

Do you remember? 2007: Kingston Historic Stockade District placed on ‘Seven to Save’ list. What KingstonCitizens.org will be following in 2020

By Rebecca Martin

“We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.”
George Bernard Shaw

With the Kingstonian project’s State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR)  behind us, KingstonCitizens.org is in the midst of creating a detailed timeline of the process  to be part of the public record. Doing so has taken us back nearly 20 years to the early 2000s when the Mixed Use Overlay District (MUOD) was created. While digging through the archives, we have come across items like the one below from 2007 when the Kingston Historic Stockade was nominated for and selected by the Preservation League of NYS as one of its “seven to save” preservation campaign.  

That successful effort was largely thanks to the late Avery Smith, then the chair of the Friends of Historic Kingston (FOHK) board, and others including Ed Ford, who led a coalition of partners who advocated for new construction “designed in a manner that would not detract from the unique aspects of the Stockade Historic District.”  The 12-story mixed-use building with a parking garage, proposed by the NJ-based Teicher Organization, has a lot of similarities to today’s Kingstonian project in size, location, and uses. Smith was also strongly opposed to the Kingstonian design as he believed the scale and architecture is incompatible with the Stockade. 

In addition to mapping the Kingstonian SEQR process, we are creating timelines for ten (10) other controversial campaigns that we were also deeply engaged on, including Niagara Bottling, Water Sales Referendum, Shooting Range/Gun Shop, GlidePath/Lincoln Park Grid Support Center. Each one will be collaborative so that members of the public can include  things we may have missed. 

LANDMARK STATUS:  LOCATED IN A NATIONAL REGISTER HISTORIC DISTRICT. 

THREAT: INAPPROPRIATE DEVELOPMENT

“A 12-story condominium project including parking garage and retail spaces is proposed for a site on the boundary of a National Register and local landmark district. The project is completely out of scale with the historic district which includes the Senate House State Historic Site, the first capital of New York State. Advocates are seeking a full environmental impact review, denial of height variances, and formal review role for the project by the local historic district commission. Friends of Historic Kingston, a Preservation Colleague group, joined other nominators to form the Citizens Concerned for Planning Kingston’s Future. The nominators are not opposed to development on the site and are advocating for a building designed in a manner that will not detract from the unique aspects of the Stockade Historic District.

Objectives: Advocates hope to implement the established review process to guide alteration of design for a more appropriately-scaled project.”

What KingstonCitizens.org will be following in 2020

These are our top three items to follow in the new year.

1. Kingstonian project’s discretionary decisions.  A project (or action) like the Kingstonian is subject to SEQR when any state or local agency has authority to issue a permit, license, or other type of approval for that action.  SEQR also applies if an agency funds or directly undertakes a project, or adopts a resource management plan, rule or policy that affects the environment. It’s only after the SEQR process is complete that involved agencies can move forward with their decision-making. On December 16, the Kingston Planning Board as Lead Agency of the Kingstonian SEQR process made a negative declaration. The developer will likely not waste any time seeking agency approvals.   

Key decisions include (please check the agendas attached from the City of Kingston for updates on discussion items or contact Elisa Tinti, City Clerk at (845) 334-3915 or email cityclerk@kingston-ny.gov):

Kingston City School Board of Education
Approvals:  Deviated PILOT review (rumored to be 25 years)
Next meeting: Wednesday, January 8 & 22 (details remain unclear)
Contact: James Shaugnessy, President at jshaughnessy@kingstoncityschools.org

Kingston Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC) 
Approval: Preservation notice of action
Next meeting: Thursday, January 9 at 6:30pm  AGENDA
Note:  Currently, the date on the city’s HLPC agenda says January 2, but the meeting is confirmed to be January 9. 
Contact: Mark Grunblatt, Chair at grunblattesq@aol.com

Kingston Zoning Board of Appeals
Appeal: Mixed Use Overlay District (MUOD) Interpretation
Next meeting: The next meeting is not yet listed on the City of Kingston’s website, though it is typically meet on the second Thursday of the month at 6:00pm. Please contact the board chair for more details.
Contact: Tony Argulewicz, Chair at aaargulewicz@aol.com

Kingston Planning Board
Approvals: Site plan, special use permit, lot line revision
Next meeting: The meeting is not listed on the City of Kingston’s website yet, though they typically meet on the third Monday of the month at 6:00pm.
Contact: Kyla DeDea, City of Kingston Planning Office at (845) 334-3955 or email kdedea@kingston-ny.gov

Kingston Common Council Laws and Rules Committee
Approvals: Closing of a city street (Fair St); sale of land or easement conveyance (parking garage): a deviated PILOT agreement (rumored to be 25 years); and zoning amendment (MUOD)
Next meeting: Wednesday, January 15 at 6:30pm
Contact: Ward 1 Alderman Jeffrey Ventura-Morell, Chair at ward1@kingston-ny.gov
Read:  Rezoning Request for Kingstonian Project Slated for January 15.

Ulster County Industrial Development Corporation (UCIDA)
Approval: Deviated PILOT agreement (rumored to be 25 years).
Next meeting: TBA
Contact: Rose Woodworth, Executive Director at 845/943-4600

2. City of Kingston Charter Reform In June of this year, Alderwoman Andrea Shaut who chaired the council’s Laws and Rules Committee in 2019, introduced city charter reform. According to the Department of State’s Division of Local Government Services ‘Revising City Charters in New York State’ it explains, “Why should cities undertake charter revision? There are several reasons, generally stemming from the fact that a charter affects everything the city government does. It provides the basis for most municipal regulatory functions and for the delivery of municipal services. An obsolete charter can be responsible for many municipal problems. lf it contains provisions which are unworkable under current conditions, municipal officials may have to make a difficult choice between being responsible for inferior service delivery or inviting legal challenge for deliberate, albeit well-meaning, deviation from the law. Until such provisions are eliminated, the most competent officials will be unable to carry out their responsibilities both efficiently and legally. Even though a charter may not be so obsolete as to present dilemmas of conscience, revision may well lay the basis for improved governmental operations. A good charter should provide a clear distribution of the powers of city government and clear descriptions of the duties and powers of municipal officials.”

Now, as president of the Common Council, Shaut will be in charge of appointing leadership and membership of all council committees, which includes Laws and Rules. We hope that she, and our council as a whole, will place this matter as a top item to set forth in the coming year (s).

3. City of Kingston Comprehensive Plan Zoning. In his 2018  “State of the City” speech, Mayor Steve Noble said that his “…administration will be focusing on overhauling our Zoning Code. …I will be launching the second stage of the zoning update and will be recruiting local volunteers to delve into such complex subjects as affordable housing, urban agriculture, parking and parking waivers, form-based codes and much more. This work is necessary in order to ensure that our zoning is consistent with our Comprehensive Plan, spurs responsible economic development and preserves our community’s high quality of life.” 

Later, in early 2019, he created a Comprehensive Plan Task Force. Over the summer months, the group drafted a “Request for Proposals” (RFP) for a professional planning consultant. The selection committee of the task force is now reviewing the handful of proposals that were submitted. They will make a recommendation to take to the Common Council in early 2020.

###

2020 promises to be an intense year with a presidential election.  But it is at the local level where key decisions are made.  Going forward into the new year, we wish for you to remain engaged, inquisitive and fearless.

Negative Declaration Made in Environmental Review Process for The Kingstonian; Planning Board Chair Cherrypicks SHPO Letter

Stockade Historic District Building Footprints Comparison

Attached Image:  The proposed Kingstonian in relation to existing building footprints. From Marissa Marvelli’s illustrated guide for understanding architectural appropriateness in the Stockade Historic District. 

By Rebecca Martin

Last night the City of Kingston Planning Board voted  5-0 in favor of a negative declaration of significance for the massive Kingstonian project in the Stockade Historic District. 

Watch the meeting on Youtube filmed by The Kingston News and brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org

A negative declaration in the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) means that the Planning Board, as the lead agency for the review, sees “no substantial evidence that the project may have a significant effect on the environment.” 

As we have reported in the past, there is a prevalent misconception that the “environment” in SEQR pertains only to natural resources when in fact, according to the SEQR Handbook, “The terms ‘archeological’ and ‘historic’ are specifically included in the definition of the ‘environment’ at Part 617.2(l) as physical conditions potentially affected by a project.” The Handbook explains that such resources are: “… also often referred to as cultural resources. These resources may be located above ground, underground or underwater, and have significance in the history, pre-history, architecture or culture of the nation, the state, or local or tribal communities. 

Examples include:

  • Buildings (houses, barns, factories, churches, hotels, etc.), 
  • Structures (dams, bridges, canals, aqueducts, lighthouses, etc.), 
  • Districts (group of buildings or structures that have a common basis in history or architecture), 
  • Sites (battlefields, historic forts, prehistoric encampments, shipwrecks, etc.), 
  • Objects (ships, etc.), and 
  • Areas (gorges, parks, etc.).

The Kingstonian project site features more than one of these resource examples. The site is in an archaeologically-sensitive area; it contains a historic building—the late 19th-century hotel building today the Herzog’s Warehouse; and most of the site lies within the National Register Stockade Historic District. It is also in close proximity to the Senate House State Historic Site.

In his opening statement, Planning Board Chair Wayne Platte—who also serves as the City of Kingston Deputy Fire Chief—cherrypicked from the State Historic Preservation Office’s (SHPO) project feedback submitted in a letter dated September 19, 2019. Specifically, in reference to the visual impacts of the Kingstonian’s “monolithic” structure, he used the letter to reach a bogus determination: 

“The applicant has addressed all of those studies to my satisfaction… What rose to the top was the visual and how this project fits in uptown. A reference from the letter from SHPO from September of 2019 says that the new infill garage is generally appropriate. Herzog’s warehouse is a non-contributing structure within the National Register District and new construction appears to be an approximate reconstruction of the historic hotel structure and they recommended that the color scheme be more compatible.”  

What was conveniently left out of his remarks is the following, quoted directly from the aforementioned letter from SHPO:

“North Front Street is the traditional district boundary marked by a distinct natural drop-off down toward the Esopus Creek. This natural contour clearly marks the northern boundary of the historic 1658 stockade. The lower portion to the north of the district now contains modern buildings and the shopping plaza further to the north, but the historic boundary remains readily apparent and continues to characterize the district. The new construction would significantly alter the northern district boundary and would be clearly visible from within the historic district. The Montgomery Ward building, now demolished, was the only structure that extended significantly beyond that traditional northern border. The proposed new development is much larger and would extend well beyond the old Montgomery Ward footprint.”

“By the mid-19th century, when the commercial street front was developed, the section of Fair Street extending north from North Front Street was established to access railroad facilities and the lumber yards. This historic street, which allows pedestrian and vehicular access to the district, would be virtually eliminated as part of the proposed development.”

“The historic commercial and residential buildings of the Kingston Stockade are characterized by a variety of materials, styles, and colors. The new construction is monolithic compared with the surrounding district. Though the currently proposed design attempts to reference the historic setting and surrounding architecture, we believe that a much greater effort is warranted for a construction of this scale.

“In accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, and based on our comments above, we believe that the proposed development will have adverse effects on the Kingston Stockade Historic District. Through our continued consultation, we request that you develop and evaluate modifications to this project that could avoid, minimize, or mitigate the adverse effects.”

Now that the environmental review process is complete, agencies listed in the applicant’s Environmental Assessment Form as having discretionary authority in this project can proceed with their reviews. This includes the Kingston Common Council (sale or lease of land/closing of Fair Street/amending the Mixed Use Overlay District boundaries); Kingston Planning Board (site plan approval and special use permit); Zoning Board of Appeals (area variance); Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (design approval); Ulster County Industrial Development Corporation (a PILOT agreement); and others. Typically speaking, the Planning Board’s negative declaration determination will be factored into these future decisions.  Any of the potential environmental factors already reviewed during SEQR may not be reconsidered. Additionally, with a negative declaration, all public funds awarded to this project may now start to flow. 

Additional Reading/Viewing

READ:  “Planning Board Sees No Potential Impact on Character of Stockade District by Kingstonian Project (with video)”

PETITION:  Common Council Must Uphold Affordable Housing, Full Accounting of Kingstonian Public Funds

Kingstonian Review Update: SEQR Determination of Significance Tabled, Citizens Surveilled During Meeting

At last night’s Kingston Planning Board meeting, following a cursory review of  updated project renderings that were presented by the Kingstonian development team to presumably satisfy concerns about the visual impact, participants sat mostly in silence while the Board read over a draft of Part 3 of the Environmental Assessment Form (EAF) that had been prepared by Suzanne Cahill, the City’s Planning Director. Part 3 is a process meant to discuss and mitigate actions that were identified in Part 2 as having potential a  “moderate to large impact.” It is the last step before the Planning Board, as lead agency in the State Environmental Quality Review process (SEQR), makes a determination of significance for the project—a positive or negative declaration. 

At the end of the meeting, the attorney for the developers encouraged the Board to discuss the new visuals that were presented that evening: “…we should probably discuss the Board’s reaction to the visuals that were shown tonight….you can see that there’s no significant visual effect in my opinion, but I’m not the Board and I think we should probably discuss that and Dennis [Larios] can answer any questions that the board may have.” Chuck Polacco, the Board’s Vice Chair, presided over the meeting, filling in for chair Wayne Platt who was absent. After no substantial comments were made, Polacco made a motion to table the decision until Monday, December 16th during their final meeting of the year.  He is heard saying to members at the end “by law, you have to wait a week…” to make a determination after completing Part 3.

Following the meeting, it was brought to KingstonCitizens.org’s attention that a man who had arrived late and left early was surveilling a small group of citizens who were observing the proceedings. Video footage provided by The Kingston News indeed captures three separate instances of this individual photographing one section of the mostly empty Council Chambers where the citizens were seated, without their knowing or engaging them. He has since been identified as the local communications specialist for the Kingstonian project.  

Such creepy behavior begs the question: Why? Why does this development team, with all the political and financial advantages that they enjoy, feel the need to surveil private citizens who have simply raised questions about the project and process to their representatives in local government? Is this the new norm at City Hall? 

Watch the video attached above at 30:11, 43:30 and 46:20 to view each of the incidents.

Video by Clark Richters and brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org.

Additional Reading:  

DAILY FREEMAN  “Kingston Planning Board yet to determine whether The Kingstonian will have notable environmental impact”

(In the attached image of the Daily Freeman article by Ariel Zangla, you are able to get a good look at the corner of the room where citizens sat and were photographed)

Planning Board sees no potential impact on character of Stockade District by Kingstonian Project (with video)

Rendering by Mackenzie Architects.

By Marissa Marvelli

Since the first renderings of the proposed Kingstonian project were released in late 2017, many citizens have expressed strong concerns about how the unprecedentedly large mixed-use development would impact the character and integrity of the Stockade Historic District. At over 218,000 gross square feet spread across two buildings containing 143 units of housing, a 32-room hotel, 8,000 square feet of retail space and a new pedestrian plaza, all of which is piled on top of a parking garage, the development will dwarf all other buildings in the small district. Numerous of you spoke at hearings and submitted comments requesting that the Kingston Planning Board take a “hard look” at this potential impact with the hope that its adverse effects could be mitigated through the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process. Historic resources and “community character” are included in the definition of “environment” in SEQR. 

“Is the proposed action inconsistent with the predominant architectural scale and character?” Without hesitation, the Planning Board unanimously agreed that the development will have little or no impact on the character of the Stockade District. 

This question was among the dozens of questions that the Board answered in the course of reviewing Part 2 of the Environmental Assessment Form (EAF) for the SEQR process at their special meeting on November 6. Oddly, the form was completed by the applicant instead of by the lead agency, the Planning Board, as SEQR rules require. By having the applicant do the agency’s homework for them, the Planning Board effectively unburdened themselves of applying critical thought to the questions at hand. Instead, they simply affirmed or tweaked the applicant’s assumptions about their project’s impact—whether the individual impacts will be small or moderate to large.

The aforementioned question regarding character is one of seven raised in section 18 of the Part 2 form which evaluates impacts to community character. The EAF Workbook defines community character as “all the man-made and natural features of the area. It includes the visual character of a town, village, or city, and its visual landscape; but also includes the buildings and structures and their uses, the natural environment, activities, town services, and local policies that are in place. These combine to create a sense of place or character that defines the area. Changes to the type and intensity of land use, housing, public services, aesthetic quality, and to the balance between residential and commercial uses can all change community character. Most proposed actions will result in some change in community character.”

In the Planning Board’s unanimous opinion, none of the resources mentioned above will be impacted by the Kingstonian. How they reached this conclusion without at least defining the existing community character is perplexing. It is like a jury rendering a not guilty verdict without discussing the evidence. 

Continued below

EAF PART 2, QUESTION 18: CONSISTENCY WITH COMMUNITY CHARACTER
From the Full Environmental Assessment Form Workbook

a. The proposed action may replace or eliminate existing facilities, structures, or areas of historic importance to the community.
Community character is, in part, influenced by the buildings and structures that exist in a community. Historic structures are especially influential on the character of the built environment. Whenever existing buildings and structures are replaced or removed, the character of the street, neighborhood, district or entire community can change. For example, replacing a traditional three-story main street structure having parking in the rear with a modern concrete block structure having parking the front could significantly change the character of the street. In some communities the character is also influenced by entire blocks, streets, or neighborhoods that may be altered by a project. Removal or replacement can significantly change the function, look, and economics of an area.

Analysis
— What specific buildings or structures are to be replaced or eliminated? If so, what is proposed in its place?
— Is the new structure of similar scale, siting, design, and function?
— Is there a designated historic district impacted? How will that change?
— Will the proposed project change the ratio of street width to building height? For example, are narrow streets having buildings set close to the road being replaced by wider streets with buildings having deep front setbacks?

Will there be an impact?
If no facilities, structures or areas of historic importance to the community are being replaced or eliminated, then there will be no related impacts. However, many proposed actions will result in some change in community character. There are probably few that will result in no change at all. Examples of actions that may not affect community character include passage of a local law that is not related to land use, or other discretionary actions that require SEQR but that do not result in building or development. Another example may be infill development that is consistent with the style and character of the neighborhood. Check ‘No, or small impact may occur.

Small Impact:
A small impact could occur under one or more of these circumstances:
— The visual character of the area is changed in a minor way but is generally consistent in the design, placement, size, streetscape, intensity and architecture of the neighborhood or community.
— The balance between retail commercial uses and residential uses does not change in a significant way.
— The proposed project is a land use that is similar to others that can be found in the neighborhood or area.

Moderate to Large Impact:
A moderate to large impact could occur under one or more of these circumstances:
— The proposed project moderately or significantly changes the visual character of the area.
— The proposed project is of a larger scale than currently exists in the area.
— New building design, lot layout, streetscapes, or intensity of use is in sharp contrast to that which exists.
— The project introduces a land use that is inconsistent or in sharp contrast with surrounding land uses.
— The project introduces odors, lights, noise, or traffic to an area in a way that is different than currently exists.

It was not as if the Planning Board was trying to avoid identifying moderate to large impacts altogether. With relation to construction grading and demolition, stormwater runoff, visual impact on aesthetic resources, and impact on archaeological resources, they appeared comfortable stating that the project may have moderate to large impacts.

By concluding that the Kingstonian will have little or no impact on the character of the district, the Planning Board is essentially saying that buildings of the size, scale, type, density, and architectural style as the Kingstonian already exist in the district. They are also essentially stating that there will be no change to the historic development pattern; that closing a street and altering the natural topography of the the 362-year-old settlement—a key feature of the historic district’s significance—to accommodate a parking garage entrance on Fair Street Extension are inconsequential impacts. It also sets a precedent for future development of this scale in the Stockade Historic District.

Such conclusions are denialist. 

They ignore the concerns that were expressed by two preservation agencies: the New York State Historic Preservation Office and Kingston Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC) before it was gutted. (Soon after raising their concerns in March, two members of the HLPC—a licensed architect and myself, a professional preservationist—were removed by Mayor Steve Noble and replaced with less experienced individuals. Two other HLPC members resigned in protest of his action.) They also ignore the many of you who have expressed similar concerns in testimony at meetings and written comments.

By concluding that this development poses little or no impact on the character of the district, the Planning Board has shut down the opportunity to assess, debate, and potentially mitigate it beyond the tiny tweaks to the architecture that the now weakened HLPC may request in its routine review.

After going through the EAF Part 2 form, the Planning Board discussed their calendar of meetings. Board member Robert Jacobsen suggested that they schedule another public hearing on this project at their regularly scheduled meeting on Monday November 18 so that they can show that there are “no backroom deals” as if another hearing is supposed to convince citizens that this has been a transparent and inclusive process. Apparently the developers of the Kingstonian also desire this hearing. 

They tentatively scheduled a discussion of the EAF Part 3 on Monday December 2 in which they will decide if the moderate-to-large impacts identified are significant, whether impacts will be avoided or substantially mitigated, and whether or not to require an environmental impact statement. 

What can you do? While the Planning Board’s final decision has seemed predetermined from the very beginning of this review process, residents can attend the public hearing on the Kingstonian project at the upcoming Planning Board meeting on November 18 at 6:00pm at Kingston City Hall (Council Chambers). The Planning Board is requesting input as it pertains to the 14 affordable units and the potential environmental impacts, however, according to the agenda, public comment made that evening will not be included in the official record of the review process for this project.  

Therefore we suggest that you use this opportunity to let the Planning Board know what you think about their “transparent and inclusive” environmental review process, as this will probably be the final public hearing for the Kingstonian project before the board makes a determination, most likely in December.

Marissa Marvelli is a historic preservation specialist.

Part one of two – Kingstonian Special Meeting 11/6/19

2:35  Public comment by Sarah Wenk (Kingston resident), who expressed concerns about the EAF not having been amended to reflect all of the changes.

7:25  Kingstonian development team representative Joe Bonura, Jr. outlines the changes to the Kingstonian project. “We’ve been trying to find ways to include affordable housing from the beginning.”

8:20   Bonura: “We added a story to the building that has only seven units…the other seven units were made out of converting existing units inside.”

12:45  Frank A. Filiciotto, PE, of Creighton Manning discusses traffic studies and impacts.  

DOCUMENT:  Creighton Manning response to traffic comments for The Kingstonian.

DOCUMENT: Creighton Manning Updated Trip Generation Evaluation for The Kingstonian.

16:49  Kingstonian engineer consultant Dennis Larios on water and sewer impacts. 

20:39  Bonura explains that they are making the project sustainable by including efficient toilets, showers and sinks.

21:09  Larios discusses drinking water, water use, visual impact and stormwater. 

22:47  Planning Board chair Wayne Platt asks if the board received results from their  independent traffic studies consultant.

23:40   Platt: “Even though it’s not a requirement under zoning, how/why did you arrive to include affordable housing into your project?”

Bonura:  
“…when we were originally asked to look at this project…affordable housing, while important, wasn’t as important as it is now.”
“…as we got the architecture to the point where we thought, ‘we’re there’, we came to the epiphany where we realized affordable housing was really important.”
“…we are reaching into our pockets to make the affordable units possible.”

30:20  Platt: “Explain the impact of the additional units to the parking garage.”

Bonura:
“We are not reserving any more spaces for the new units. There will be 129 parking spots for the project. We foresee the need for people moving into this building not needing as many cars (due to proximity to services)…”

32:30  Bonura provides a unit count: (9) studios, (65) 1-bedrooms, (60) 2-bedrooms, and (10) 3-bedrooms.   

33:00  Planning Board member Jacobson asks about the closing of Fair Street.

34:15  Michael Moriello, the attorney for the applicant, argues that the EAF Part 1 does not need to be amended to reflect changes to the project scope.

35:50  Moriello presents a “submittal” to the Planning Board that addresses the site plan and special use permit impacts as per Kingston’s zoning. “Meld themselves with the SEQR issue.”

37:30  Bonura: “Our target market for this building are seniors… Seniors often drive less, use fewer vehicles or don’t have a vehicle at all. …Parking rates will match the City’s.”

42:06  City Planning Director Suzanne Cahill begins reading the EAF Part 2 form line by line to review the applicant’s opinion on individual impacts, whether they will be small or moderate/large.

EAF Part 2 for Kingstonian Project:

1.  Impact on Land

a. The proposed action may involve construction on land where depth to water table is less than 3 feet.
No/Small impact

b. The proposed action may involve construction on slopes of 15% or greater.
Moderate / Large

c. The proposed action may involve construction on land where bedrock is exposed, or generally within 5 feet of existing ground surface.
No / Small Impact

d. The proposed action may involve the excavation and removal of more than 1,000 tons of natural material.
No / Small impact

e. The proposed action may involve construction that continues for more than one year or in multiple phases.
Moderate / Large Impact   

f. The proposed action may result in increased erosion, whether from physical disturbance or vegetation removal (including from treatment by herbicides).
Small / Moderate

g. The proposed action is, or may be, located within a Coastal Erosion hazard area.
No / Small

h. Other impacts: Construction, grading and demolition.
The applicant marked: No / Small. The Planning Department disagreed: Moderate / Large

2. Impact on Geological Features

The proposed action may result in the modification or destruction of, or inhibit  access to, any unique or unusual land forms on the site.
 No / Small (Skip) 

3. Impacts on Surface Water

 a. The proposed action may create a new water body.
No / Small

 b. The proposed action may result in an increase or decrease of over 10% or more than a 10 acre increase or decrease in the surface area of any body of water.
No / Small

c. The proposed action may involve dredging more than 100 cubic yards of material from a wetland or water body.
No / Small

d. The proposed action may involve construction within or adjoining a freshwater or tidal wetland, or in the bed or banks of any other water body.
No / Small

e. The proposed action may create turbidity in a waterbody, either from upland erosion, runoff or by disturbing bottom sediments.
No / Small

 f. The proposed action may include construction of one or more intake(s) for withdrawal of water from surface water.    
No / Small

g. The proposed action may include construction of one or more outfall(s) for discharge of wastewater to surface water(s).
No / Small  

h. The proposed action may cause soil erosion, or otherwise create a source of stormwater discharge that may lead to siltation or other degradation of receiving water bodies. (Esopus Creek)
Applicant: No / Small. Planning Board: Moderate / Large. The applicant’s stormwater study will be appended to the form to allow it to go back to ‘No/Small’ impact.

i. The proposed action may affect the water quality of any water bodies within or downstream of the site of the proposed action.
No / Small Impact

 j. The proposed action may involve the application of pesticides or herbicides in or around any water body.
No / Small Impact

k. The proposed action may require the construction of new, or expansion of existing, wastewater treatment facilities.
No / Small

4. Impact on Groundwater

a. The proposed action may require new water supply wells, or create additional demand on supplies from existing water supply wells.
Skip

b. Water supply demand from the proposed action may exceed safe and sustainable withdrawal capacity rate of the local supply or aquifer.
No / Small

c. The proposed action may allow or result in residential uses in areas without water and sewer services.
Skip

d. The proposed action may include or require wastewater discharged to groundwater.
Skip

e. The proposed action may result in the construction of water supply wells in locations where groundwater is, or is suspected to be contaminated.
Skip

f. The proposed action may require the bulk storage of petroleum or chemical products over ground water or an aquifer.
Skip

g. The proposed action may involve the commercial application of pesticides within 100 feet of potable drinking water or irrigation sources.
Skip

h. Other impacts
Skip

5. Impact on Flooding

a. The proposed action may result in development in a designated floodway.
No / Small

b. The proposed action may result in development within a 100 year floodplain.
No / Small

c. The proposed action may result in development within a 500 year floodplain.
Moderate / Large.  

Part two of two – Kingstonian Special Meeting 11/6/19

(Continued from above)

d. The proposed action may result in, or require, modification of existing drainage patterns.
Applicant: No / Small. Planning Department: Moderate / Large. Project engineer Dennis Larios thinks it’s small. After a vote, Planning Board: No / Small

e. The proposed action may change flood water flows that contribute to flooding.
No / Small

f. If there is a dam located on the site of the proposed action, is the dam in need of repair, or upgrade?
No / Small

6. Impacts on Air

No / Small (Skip)

7. Impact on Plants and Animals

a. The proposed action may cause reduction in population or loss of individuals of any threatened or endangered species, as listed by New York State or the Federal government, that use the site, or are found on, over, or near the site.
No / Small. Attach survey provided to us for flora/fauna. 

b. The proposed action may result in a reduction or degradation of any habitat used by any rare, threatened or endangered species, as listed by New York State or the federal government.
No / Small

c. The proposed action may cause reduction in population, or loss of individuals, of any species of special concern or conservation need, as listed by New York State or the Federal government, that use the site, or are found on, over, or near the site.
No / Small

d. The proposed action may result in a reduction or degradation of any habitat used by any species of special concern and conservation need, as listed by New York State or the Federal government.
No / Small

e. The proposed action may diminish the capacity of a registered National Natural Landmark.
No / Small

f. The proposed action may result in the removal of, or ground disturbance in, any portion of a designated significant natural community.
No / Small

g. The proposed action may substantially interfere with nesting/breeding, foraging, or over-wintering habitat for the predominant species that occupy or use the project site.
No / Small

h. The proposed action requires the conversion of more than 10 acres of forest, grassland or any other regionally or locally important habitat.
No / Small

i. Proposed action (commercial, industrial or recreational projects, only) involves use of herbicides or pesticides.
No / Small

j. Other impacts: wildlife displacement and street trees.
Applicant: No / Small. Planning Department says their reports will address it.

8. Impact on Agricultural Resources

No / Small (Skip)

9. Impact on Aesthetic Resources

The land use of the proposed action are obviously different from, or are in sharp contrast to, current land use patterns between the proposed project and a scenic or aesthetic resource. 

a. Proposed action may be visible from any officially designated federal, state, or local scenic or aesthetic resource. (Senate House and the Stockade Historic District)
Moderate / Large

b. The proposed action may result in the obstruction, elimination or significant screening of one or more officially designated scenic views.
Applicant: No / Small. Planning Department: Moderate / large. Larios: “What is an officially designated view? We are obstructing the view coming down Wall Street to the foothills, but nothing designated. ” Planning Board: No / Small

c. The proposed action may be visible from publicly accessible vantage points: i. Seasonally (e.g., screened by summer foliage, but visible during other seasons) ii. Year round
Moderate / Large

d. The situation or activity in which viewers are engaged while viewing the proposed action is: i. Routine travel by residents, including travel to and from work ii. Recreational or tourism based activities.
No / Small

e. The proposed action may cause a diminishment of the public enjoyment and appreciation of the designated aesthetic resource.
No / Small

f. There are similar projects visible within the following distance of the proposed project: 0-1/2 mile 1⁄2 -3 mile 3-5 mile 5+ mile.
No / Small

g. Other impacts:  Visual context of the  historic district
Moderate / Large

10. Impact on Historic and Archeological Resources

The proposed action may occur in or adjacent to a historic or archaeological resource. (Part 1. E.3.e, f. and g.)

a. The proposed action may occur wholly or partially within, or substantially contiguous to, any buildings, archaeological site or district which is listed on the National or State Register of Historical Places, or that has been determined by the Commissioner of the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to be eligible for listing on the State Register of Historic Places.
Moderate / Large

b. The proposed action may occur wholly or partially within, or substantially contiguous to, an area designated as sensitive for archaeological sites on the NY State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) archaeological site inventory.
Moderate / Large

c. The proposed action may occur wholly or partially within, or substantially contiguous to, an archaeological site not included on the NY SHPO inventory.
Applicant: No / Small. Planning Department: Moderate / Large with archaeologist Joe Diamond’s report attached. “He will be on site during excavation. There’s been some Native American activity.”  Larios: “But that’s all of Ulster County.” Planning Board: No / Small

e. If any of the above (a-d) are answered “Moderate to large impact may occur”, continue with the following questions to help support conclusions in Part 3:

  1. The proposed action may result in the destruction or alteration of all or part of the site or property.
    Moderate / Large
  2. The proposed action may result in the alteration of the property’s setting or integrity.
    Moderate / Large
  3. The proposed action may result in the introduction of visual elements which are out of character with the site or property, or may alter its setting.
    Moderate / Large

11. Impact on Open Space and Recreation

No / Small (Skip)

12. Impact on Critical Environmental Areas

The proposed action may be located within or adjacent to a critical NO YES environmental area (CEA). (See Part 1. E.3.d)

No / Small (Skip)

13. Impact on Transportation

The proposed action may result in a change to existing transportation systems. (See Part 1. D.2.j)

a. Projected traffic increase may exceed capacity of existing road network.
No / Small

b. The proposed action may result in the construction of paved parking area for 500 or more vehicles.
No / Small

d. The proposed action will degrade existing pedestrian or bicycle accommodations.
No / Small

e. The proposed action may alter the present pattern of movement of people or goods.
Moderate / Large

f. Other impacts:  Closing off Fair Street Extension
Moderate / Large. The Planning Department states that they will attach the Creighton Manning and HVAA reports. 

14. Impact on Energy

The proposed action may cause an increase in the use of any form of energy. (See Part 1. D.2.k)

a. The proposed action will require a new, or an upgrade to an existing, substation.
No / Small

b. The proposed action will require the creation or extension of an energy transmission or supply system to serve more than 50 single or two-family residences or to serve a commercial or industrial use.
No / Small

c. The proposed action may utilize more than 2,500 MW hrs per year of electricity.
No / Small

d. The proposed action may involve heating and/or cooling of more than 100,000 square feet of building area when completed.
No / Small.

15. Impact on Noise, Odor, and Light

The proposed action may result in an increase in noise, odors, or outdoor lighting. 

a. The proposed action may produce sound above noise levels established by local regulation.
Applicant: No / Small. Planning Department: Moderate/Large, though temporary due to construction. “They’ll need a noise permit from the city as a routine measure.” Planning Board: No / Small. 

b. The proposed action may result in blasting within 1,500 feet of any residence, hospital, school, licensed day care center, or nursing home.
No / Small

c. The proposed action may result in routine odors for more than one hour per day.
No / Small

d. The proposed action may result in light shining onto adjoining properties.
No / Small

e. The proposed action may result in lighting creating sky-glow brighter than existing area conditions.
No / Small

16. Impact on Human Health

The proposed action may have an impact on human health from exposure.

No / Small. “Attach asbestos work report that it has been removed from the Herzog Building.” Moriello asked about digging up solid or hazardous waste. Larios: “Only old footings from Montgomery Ward, old Parking Garage and Herzog building.”

17. Consistency with Community Plans

The proposed action is not consistent with adopted land use plans. 

a. The proposed action’s land use components may be different from, or in sharp contrast to, current surrounding land use pattern(s).
No / Small. 

b. The proposed action will cause the permanent population of the city, town or village in which the project is located to grow by more than 5%.
No / Small

c. The proposed action is inconsistent with local land use plans or zoning regulations.
No / Small

d. The proposed action is inconsistent with any County plans, or other regional land use plans.
No / Small

e. The proposed action may cause a change in the density of development that is not supported by existing infrastructure or is distant from existing infrastructure.
No / Small

f. The proposed action is located in an area characterized by low density development that will require new or expanded public infrastructure.
No / Small

g. The proposed action may induce secondary development impacts (e.g., residential or commercial development not included in the proposed action).
No / Small

h. Other: The proposed action requires a zoning change for this site
No / Small

18. Consistency with Community Character

No / Small (Skip)

37:18  The Planning Board discusses a public hearing on the proposed changes to the application. “I think we’ve been open with all of our meetings with the community, we haven’t hid or had any back room meetings. I think in transparency, one more meeting, I’m fine with…and the record is what it is”  Board Member Jacobson.

42:20  The Planning Board tables both Kingstonian items. Sets a public hearing for November 18th. Another special meeting is discussed for December 2nd.

The Kingston Planning Board Must Require the Kingstonian Applicant to Amend its Environmental Assessment Form to Reflect the Current Project

On Wednesday, November 6th at 6:00pm the Kingston Planning Board will hold a special planning board meeting on the Kingstonian project at City Hall in the Council Chambers.  

There will be an opportunity for the public to speak at the top of the meeting for any planning related topic. In the Planning Board’s agenda, the public is reminded that the Kingstonian is not listed as a public hearing.

This event will be filmed by The Kingston News and is brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org.  

It is incumbent upon the Planning Board to conduct a thorough State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) on the Kingstonian application. The review must encompass the actual size and scope of the project as currently proposed. 

The Environmental Assessment Form (EAF) Part 1, prepared nearly a year ago in November 2018 by the applicant, describes a project that differs considerably from the project now before the Planning Board. Because the project has grown in scope and scale, the impacts are not accurately calculated in the EAF Part 1. The Planning Board must require the applicant to amend the EAF to reflect the project in its current iteration.

An EAF is “a form used by an agency to assist in determining the environmental significance or nonsignificance of actions. A properly completed EAF must contain enough information to describe the proposed action, its location, its purpose and its potential impacts on the environment.” 6 NYCRR 617.2(m) 

The applicant’s 2018 EAF states that the project will include 129 residential units. The latest announcement by the City touted 143 units. The EAF lists water use, energy use, wastewater output and solid waste output, which were presumably calculated based on the number of residential units. All of those figures must be revised to reflect the impacts of the current project proposal.

Further, the EAF does not accurately account for the new bulk of the project, which is essential to assessing its impacts on the visual environment, historic resources, and community character. The old EAF states that the largest building in the project will be 48 feet tall. The elevations submitted in August 2019 show the project to be six storiesor at least 60 feet tall. The changes announced in October would add an additional story, bringing the total to at least 70 feet (see the image above). 

Accurate statistics about the size and bulk of the building are essential for the Planning Board to determine whether it has the potential to create a significant adverse impact within its architectural context. SEQR regulations specifically call for an assessment of these types of impacts, including: “(iv) the creation of a material conflict with a community’s current plans or goals as officially approved or adopted; (v) the impairment of the character or quality of important historical, archeological, architectural, or aesthetic resources or of existing community or neighborhood character;” 6 NYCRR 617.7(c)(1)(iv-v) (emphasis added).

It has also come to light that the project will require one or more approvals that were not originally projected. In particular, the applicant has applied to the Common Council for a zoning amendment to extend the Mixed Use Overlay District to cover part of the project area. The zoning amendment is not listed among the necessary agency actions on the EAF. 

Failure to account for all components of the project can lead to illegal segmentation of the SEQR review. Failure to account for all impacts of the project risks producing a determination of significance that disables the relevant boards and commissions from addressing certain concerns in their subsequent reviews.

In sum, the lead agency must determine the significance of the proposed action based on a full and properly completed EAF. Given changes in the project and the failure to address the zoning change in the current EAF, the Planning Board does not currently have a full and complete EAF for the project as currently proposed.

KingstonCitizens.org appreciates the developer’s recent inclusion of affordable housing. However, the increased building height in the revised plan only exacerbates the project’s adverse effects on what is an extraordinarily important historic district—for its history, its architecture, and as an economic driver. The State Historic Preservation Office has articulated strong concerns about these impacts. 

It is therefore even more important to complete a thorough and proper SEQR review. Once the EAF is revised to reflect the project in its current iteration, the Board must issue a Positive Declaration so that they can study—along with the community—potential mitigation of the significant adverse environmental impacts.

Additional Reading

READ: “Sign the Petition: Kingston Common Council must uphold its affordable housing mandate and provide constituents with a full accounting of Kingstonian public funds”

READ: “The Kingstonian to be Jointly Reviewed Tonight; State Preservation Office Finds ‘Adverse Effects’ in its Evaluation of the Project; Confusion about Historic District Boundaries”

READ: “SEQR Process for Kingstonian Project Possibly to be ‘Segmented’”

SIGN THE PETITION: Kingston Common Council must uphold its affordable housing mandate and provide constituents with a full accounting of Kingstonian public funds

Kingstonian
View of the Kingstonian and its private swimming pool. Rendering by Mackenzie Architects.


Dear Members of the Kingston Common Council, 

We write regarding the zoning amendment request for the Kingstonian project. The Ulster County Planning Board has reviewed the proposed amendment and has determined that, as presented, it is inconsistent with the City’s zoning and Comprehensive Plan. If the amendment is to be adopted, the County has required changes, particularly the inclusion of affordable housing. We urge the Council to make the changes the County requires. Affordable housing is a critical need in Kingston, and there is no reason that a project receiving substantial public subsidies should escape the responsibility to supply affordable units.

Ulster County and the City of Kingston have an affordable housing crisis, with 55% of residents county-wide spending over 30% of their income on rent. When the City adopted the Mixed Use Overlay District in 2005, it called for 20% affordable units per project. Kingston’s 2025 Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2016, took the mission city-wide, calling for affordable units in all new residential developments throughout the city. Kingston is the only city in the Mid-Hudson region currently pursuing coverage under New York State’s new rent control laws to rein in its spiraling housing costs.

Applying the City’s affordable housing requirements to the proposed 131-unit Kingstonian project would bring much needed affordable units to Kingston families. In contrast, allowing construction of a luxury housing development with no affordable units would only worsen the housing crisis by further gentrifying Uptown and Kingston overall.

If the Common Council has determined that every developer in the city should provide affordable units at their own expense, then the heavily-subsidized Kingstonian project cannot be excused from providing the same.  

The Ulster County Planning Board warned in its letter that “it is disquieting that there is little disclosure of the public investment needed to bring the project to fruition.”  

The community is aware of at least $6.8 million in taxpayer-funded grants:

* $3.8 million from Governor Cuomo’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI);

* $2 million has been granted by the Empire State Development Corp; 

* A $1 million Restore NY Grant.

Here’s what our community remains in the dark about:

* The value of tax breaks through the Ulster County IDA, which may excuse the developer from paying sales and mortgage taxes, as well as portions of its city, county and school taxes;

* The value of all municipal real estate that will be contributed to the project, including Fair Street Extension, which will be eliminated, and the city parking lot parcel on North Front Street;

* The municipal parking revenue that will be lost once the public lot is sold. 

* The cost of any infrastructure upgrades the City will undertake to accommodate the project. 

* Any other public grants, tax credits, or subsidies the Kingstonian is seeking.

Therefore, we make two requests of the Common Council:

1. Do not amend the zoning map without also making the changes to the text of the zoning that the County requires. In particular, clarify that new multi-family housing must include affordable units.

2. Step up to your fiduciary responsibilities and provide the community with a full accounting of the public subsidies expected by the Kingstonian project. Ensure that all decisions requiring Common Council approval, including discretionary approvals and funding awards, have been identified and included in the SEQRA review. 

We look forward to your response.

SIGN THE PETITION: Kingston Common Council must uphold its affordable housing mandate and provide constituents with a full accounting of Kingstonian public funds (via change.org)

VIDEO: Special Joint Meeting on the Kingstonian Project (9/26/19)

By Rebecca Martin

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 potential adverse 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.

The Kingstonian to be Jointly Reviewed Tonight; State Preservation Office Finds ‘Adverse Effects’ in its Evaluation of the Project; Confusion about Historic District Boundaries

By Rebecca Martin and Marissa Marvelli

Stockade Historic District Building Footprints Comparison
This comparison comes from Marissa Marvelli’s illustrated guide for understanding architectural appropriateness in the Stockade Historic District.


This evening members of the City of Kingston Planning Board, Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC), and the Heritage Area Commission (HAC) will convene for a joint meeting to discuss the visual impact analysis and other architectural drawings that were prepared for the proposed Kingstonian development by the applicant’s architect. It is one of nine consultant reports submitted in July as part of the project’s State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR). These reports are meant to help inform the Planning Board, the lead agency, as it completes Parts 2 and 3 of the Environmental Assessment Form (EAF), which assesses a project’s potential impacts, including those on historic, archaeological, architectural, or aesthetic resources. Although the applicant’s attorney volunteered to fill out the forms during the last Planning Board meeting on September 11th, completing these forms is the responsibility of the lead agency; the applicant cannot be its own critic.

Marissa Marvelli, a historic preservation consultant and a former member of the HLPC, has prepared an illustrated guide for evaluating new construction in the Stockade Historic District. It is meant to complement the questions asked in the EAF Part 2. While her guide does not attempt to prescribe design solutions as that is the responsibility of the project’s architect, it does call attention to the special qualities, features, and significance of the district. The guide is viewable at the bottom of this post.


Understanding Impacts on Historic, Archaeological, Architectural, and Aesthetic Resources

The following questions come directly from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation’s SEQR Workbook, which is meant to assist the lead agency in completing a Part 2 EAF. They pertain specifically to impacts on historic, archaeological, architectural, and/or aesthetic resources:

  • Does the proposed project contain, or does it adjoin a structure listed on the national or state register of historic places, or a structure that has been determined by the Commissioner of OPRHP to be eligible for listing on the State Register of Historic Places? (The Kingstonian project site does not contain such a structure.)
  • Is the proposed project located in a national, state, or local historic district, or one that has been determined by the Commissioner of OPRHP to be eligible for listing on the State Register of Historic Places? (The Stockade Historic District is a designated local district. It is also listed on the National and State Registers.)
  • Does the community have a local survey, inventory, or list of important historic, architectural, or aesthetic resources, and are there any resources recorded on or near the project site? (Yes, the Senate House & Grounds to name one important one.)
  • Is the proposed project located in an archaeologically sensitive area? (Yes.)
  • If the project site is located in such an area, additional information may need to be collected to see if there are any resources in or near the specific location that may be impacted.
  • Are there historic or archaeological resources on the property or nearby?
  • Has an archeological survey been done to confirm if the project site has any such resources? (Only a Phase 1a survey has been completed so far. Consulting archaeologist Joseph Diamond has recommended a Phase 1b.)
  • Will the proposed project directly or indirectly affect them? How? (A Phase 1b survey would reveal potential impacts.)
  • Is the proposed project located in a scenic overlay district, scenic byway, or scenic area of state significance? (No.)
  • Is there a specific architectural style that identifies the community or neighborhood?  For example, most buildings may be predominantly of colonial architecture, or perhaps all the buildings in the neighborhood are constructed of red brick. (Yes, the immediate blocks are predominantly 19th-century brick commercial buildings. The district boasts the largest assemblage of 18th and early 19th century stone buildings in New York.)
  • Will the project block important scenic views, or change the aesthetic character of an area? (Yes, the project’s scale and massing break drastically with the pattern of the district and the development would close a historic street to create an open plaza, which has no precedent in the district. It also proposes to drastically alter the topography, which is important to the district’s history and significance.)
West elevation
West elevation from Fair Street of the proposed Kingstonian. Drawing by Mackenzie Architects.


Measuring Impacts

According to the EAF Part 2 Workbook, in considering impacts, the agency must decide if that impact will be small or moderate to large. This decision should be based on the magnitude of the potential impact. Magnitude is not just the physical size of the project in feet or acres. Magnitude also considers the scale and context of a proposed project, and severity of that project’s impact. The Workbook gives guidance on assessing impact according to each environmental topic, including historic and archaeological resources.

A small impact could occur if:

  • There is no historic or archaeological resource on the site, but there may be a small impact to community character because of concerns over consistency with existing architectural and aesthetic resources.
  • There are historic or archaeological resources on the site, but the project design is such that no disturbances or major changes to historic structures will occur. For example, the location where archaeological resources exist will be avoided, or the historic structure on the property will be maintained and restored.
  • Minor disturbances to the resources will occur or minor changes to the aesthetic or scenic quality of the area but these do not destroy the historic resource or drastically change the character of the area.
  • Work at a location that is locally designated and historic preservation permits are issued that indicate identified work as being in compliance with relevant local historic preservation code.

Moderate to large impacts may occur if:

  • Historic structures are planned to be demolished or relocated as part of the development plan.
  • Historic structures are to be remodeled in a way that destroys or damages its historic value.
  • The project introduces an architectural design that is not consistent with a designated historic district, or a district that has been determined eligible for listing on the State Register, and that is not consistent with the long-term vision the community has for its aesthetic character as identified in an adopted comprehensive plan.
  • The project changes the character or view of important aesthetic resources.


SHPO Believes Project Will Have ‘Adverse Effects’ on the Historic District

In a September 19th letter to the Kingstonian applicant, the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) provided its comments on the project after its review of the materials. The comments 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 letter describes the agency’s concerns:

  • North Front Street is the traditional district boundary marked by a distinct natural drop-off down toward the Esopus Creek. This natural contour clearly marks the northern boundary of the historic 1658 stockade. The lower portion to the north of the district now contains modern buildings and the shopping plaza further to the north, but the historic boundary remains readily apparent and continues to characterize the district. The new construction would significantly alter the northern district boundary and would be clearly visible from within the historic district. The Montgomery Ward building, now demolished, was the only structure that extended significantly beyond that traditional northern border. The proposed new development is much larger and would extend well beyond the old Montgomery Ward footprint.
  • By the mid-19th century, when the commercial street front was developed, the section of Fair Street extending north from North Front Street was established to access railroad facilities and the lumber yards. This historic street, which allows pedestrian and vehicular access to the district, would be virtually eliminated as part of the proposed development.
  • The historic commercial and residential buildings of the Kingston Stockade are characterized by a variety of materials, styles, and colors. The new construction is monolithic compared with the surrounding district. Though the currently proposed design attempts to reference the historic setting and surrounding architecture, we believe that a much greater effort is warranted for a construction of this scale.

SHPO’s comments provided under Section 14.09 are not advisory. The applicant must consult with agency staff to find acceptable solutions for avoiding, mitigating, or minimizing any adverse effects identified.


Confusion About the Boundaries of the Stockade Historic District

According to citizens who were present, during a presentation of the Kingstonian to the HLPC at its September 5th meeting, questions were raised about the location of the northern boundary of the Stockade Historic District as it pertains to their project site. The Kingstonian project team has apparently been operating under the assumption that the boundary bisects the northern part of the City-owned parcel because that is what is shown on SHPO’s Cultural Resource Information System, which maps of State and National Register properties and districts throughout the state. Because the HLPC’s review of a project ends at the boundary line, it would be to the applicant’s advantage to have the boundaries more constricted.

The boundaries of the State and National Register historic district are not relevant to the HLPC because the HLPC reviews only locally-designated districts and landmarks. The boundaries of local districts are approved by the Common Council and are included in the zoning chapter of the City’s Administrative Code. It is clear that the local historic district boundaries avoid bisecting any parcels. Curiously, the applicant is not questioning the boundaries of the Stockade Mixed-Use Overlay District, which mirror those of the local historic district and is of great worth to this project.


The City of Kingston’s Zoning Interpretation Process Leads to Attempt to Infringe Citizens’ First Amendment Rights

Group Editorial by Lynn Eckert, Tanya Garment, Ted Griese, Laura Hartmann, Rebecca Martin, Marissa Marvelli, Melinda McKnight, JoAnne Myers, Giovanna Righini, Rebecca Rojer, Rashida Tyler, Sarah Wenk, Theresa Lyn Widmann

“…in a democracy if it’s going to work, people have to feel comfortable standing up and speaking their mind and speaking truth to power. If you are intimidated in the process…you become increasingly thoughtful and hesitant in the way you enter into public debate and that’s not good for anyone.” – Lynn M. Eckert, Ulster County Legislator and Professor of Political Science at Marist College.

In recent months, not only have City of Kingston officials been misleading the public in the review process for the proposed Kingstonian but the Mayor’s lawyers have singled out select individual citizens in an attempt to silence their advocacy for a transparent and inclusive planning process. 

At an August public hearing two citizens – Ted Griese and Sarah Wenk – delivered verbal testimony simply urging the Common Council to have a crystal clear understanding of the zoning law before amending it, which would allow the Kingstonian project to move forward. They, along with Rebecca Martin (lead organizer of KingstonCitizens.org), were the three citizens singled out in the Corporation Counsel’s letter regarding the City’s zoning interpretation, despite the fact that others in the community had also raised the question in written comments to their Council representative. 

It was shortly after that hearing that the Corporation Counsel’s office sent the troubling letter as an email attachment to the three private citizens identified above stating that the City was initiating a zoning interpretation process centered on the “Mixed Use Overlay District (MUOD) provisions regarding affordable housing.”  The letter stated that the City was in receipt of their comments from the public hearing and that they had been sent to the City’s zoning officer for the issuance of a “formal interpretation of the relevant sections of the Code.” The letter never explained why only these citizens had been singled out among all of the other commentators. 

The attorney representing the Kingstonian applicant submitted his written interpretation of the zoning as it pertains to the affordable housing requirement, concluding that “…there has been no waiver or violation of any zoning law 20% affordable housing requirement with respect to issuance of a Special Use Permit, as affordable housing guidelines do not apply to new construction within the Mixed Use Overlay District under the City of Kingston Zoning Law.”    

Given the disorganized and opaque Planning Board process and the singling out of individual citizens by the Mayor’s lawyer, KingstonCitizens.org felt compelled on behalf of the public to reach out to an attorney to clarify the question before the zoning enforcement officer – even if it meant participating in a process that they and the citizens had never sought. The applicant argued that no affordable housing was required because it is not adaptively reusing buildings. However, the MUOD is premised on adaptive reuse (which must include affordable housing) and does not authorize new construction of residential apartments. Environmental and land use attorney Emily Svenson asked that the City expand its interpretation “to determine whether the zoning code authorizes new construction of residential uses at the proposed Kingstonian location,” reiterating the question asked by members of the community.

In response to Svenson’s letter, chief Corporation Counsel, Kevin Bryant, who is appointed by the Mayor, sent a reply on September 12th, requesting that, since KingstonCitizens.org was “represented” by counsel, all communications from certain named citizens regarding the project go through counsel only. It also stated that members of city boards and commissions had been instructed to no longer speak to advisers of KingstonCitizens.org. Specifically, it read:

As you are likely aware, the Kingstonian project is currently before numerous City Boards and Commissions and the Kingston Common Council. Your client has continued to assert an interest and a public position regarding each of the pending applications.

We are hereby requesting that in order to comply with the Code of Professional Responsibility, henceforth, all communications regarding the Kingstonian with officers of Kingstoncitizens.org, including but not limited to Rebecca Martin, Tanya Garment, Marissa Marvelli, Jennifer Schwartz Berky and Lynn Eckert, shall be through counsel.

Please be further advised that City Officials and Board and Commission members involved in the review of the Kingstonian project have also been advised that they are not to speak directly to these individuals as they are represented by counsel.

Svenson swiftly responded that the City’s request was an infringement on individuals’ First Amendment rights and pointed out the Counsel’s misunderstandings: 

“…Please be aware that KingstonCitizens.org is a grassroots, volunteer organization and not a corporation. The individuals named in your letter are simply volunteers acting as organizers or advisors; they are not staff or officers. There is no justification for limiting their ability to communicate as individuals with their government.”   

Furthermore, Svenson noted that:

 “The Rules of Professional Conduct applicable to attorneys do not limit the rights of represented parties to communicate with one another. Particularly in the context of government, it is essential for citizens to be able to speak freely on matters of public interest pursuant to their rights under the First Amendment.”

If the City’s Corporation Counsel had reached out to Svenson prior to sending his letter, he would have understood that her representation in this case was limited solely to commenting on the City’s zoning interpretation for the Kingstonian project. Unfortunately, he went beyond the understandable need to protect the City and seized on the opportunity to cut off public discourse by advising elected and appointed officials that they should not speak to the citizens, directly undermining public dialog. The City took the approach that it was managing an adverse litigation-type situation rather than a participatory public process. It’s not the first time they have done so. The City has on many occasions tried to steer  the process in a certain direction rather than allowing the process to guide its review. 

From the beginning of the Kingstonian SEQR process, residents – and particularly those outspoken women who are civically engaged – have been intimidated, bullied, and mistreated by both members of the applicant’s team and city staff. They have been accused of having political agendas; punished for being professionals in their trades; shamed for asking tough questions; and called enemies of progress for demanding an inclusive process.  

All the while, our Mayor, with the power to hire and fire city staff and appoint all members of boards, committees, and commissions, remains silent about this undemocratic and bullying behavior. We live in a democracy not an authoritative regime, where citizens have First Amendment rights to play an active role in their government.

We are daylighting these antidemocratic actions today because they erode the public trust and confidence in our local government. Politicizing processes and institutions is the most effective means for discouraging citizen engagement, the evidence of which we are already seeing. No one should have to hire a lawyer to ask questions that government officials may dislike. 

We are in the midst of another election season and as usual, elected officials are again boasting about how well they make citizens feel “heard.” To us, it rings particularly hollow. In this instance, the Mayor’s lawyer used the Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers as a pretext to chill the speech of citizens with whom the administration disagreed. If the Mayor is truly committed to “hearing” citizens, he should address the silencing tactics within his own administration. 

While reasonable people may disagree about how to interpret and apply the zoning law to the Kingstonian project, we can all agree that actions taken on the part of the Mayor’s lawyer to intimidate, single out, and silence citizens – particularly female citizens – engaging in their right to free speech is simply unacceptable. With officials committed to a fair, open, inclusive, and transparent process such undemocratic tactics would be unnecessary. 

VIDEO: Kingston Planning Board Special Kingstonian Project Meeting 9/11/19

By Rebecca Martin

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’.

It was determined that the Planning Board would request more information regarding the traffic and visual impact studies. A joint meeting between the Kingston Planning Board, Heritage Area and Historic Landmarks Preservation Commissions’ will occur sometime in October. In the meantime the Kingston Planning Board is still waiting for comments regarding the studies acquired by the applicant from the Ulster County Planning Board, Department of Transportation and the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).

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).

Click on image to review a blank “Full Environmental Assessment Form (EAF) Part 2 – Identification of Potential Project Impacts

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)

KingstonCitizens.org Challenges Kingstonian Applicant’s Zoning Interpretation and Citizen Action of New York Submits FOIL Request to City of Kingston

City of Kingston Zoning Map. The boundaries of the Uptown MUOD mirror those of the Stockade Historic District shown in gray.

By Rebecca Martin

For months, many concerned citizens have asked the City of Kingston to provide its interpretation of the Mixed Use Overlay District—an overlay that adds a 20% affordable housing requirement to any adaptive reuse project with five or more residential units—as it relates to the Kingstonian project, a new construction that does not include affordable housing. This interpretation should have been provided to the applicant in writing prior to the start of the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process.

Presumably, it should be easy enough for the City to upload this existing document to the Planning Office’s project page for the Kingstonian. If not, then the public can FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) it. If such a document does not exist, then the City ought to provide an explanation about how it assists applicants with complicated zoning interpretations.

On August 16th, in a letter oddly addressed to just three private citizens, the City of Kingston Corporation Counsel’s office outlined its process for the current Zoning Officer to issue a formal interpretation of the “relevant sections of the Code.” The letter states that any additional submissions or written arguments regarding the proper interpretation may be sent to the Zoning Enforcement Officer on or before the close of business on August 30th. 



Click on image to read the Corporation Council’s formal zoning interpretation process letter for the MUOD and the Kingstonian Project.

On August 28th, the attorney representing the Kingstonian applicant, Michael Moriello, submitted his written interpretation of the MUOD, concluding that “…there has been no waiver or violation of any zoning law 20% affordable housing requirement with respect to issuance of a Special Use Permit, as affordable housing guidelines do not apply to new construction within the Mixed Use Overlay District under the City of Kingston Zoning Law.”      


Click on image to read the Kingstonian applicant’s interpretation of the MUOD as it pertains to the Kingstonian Project.

On August 30th, the City forwarded that interpretation via email to the same three citizens with the instruction that “…written responses to the arguments submitted will be accepted for a period of one additional week.” That deadline is today, September 9th. 

So today, KingstonCitizens.org, assisted by attorney and counselor at law Emily B. Svenson, submitted a letter to the City of Kingston’s Zoning Officer rebutting the applicant’s attorney’s interpretation.  


Click on image to read KingstonCitizens.org and attorney Emily B. Svenson’s letter to the City of Kingston’s Zoning Officer rebutting the applicant’s attorney’s interpretation

What follows is a condensed version of our letter:

“KingstonCitizens.org is a non-partisan, grassroots, volunteer organization. Its purpose in commenting is to advocate for fair and proper application of the City’s zoning code, in accordance with the group’s ongoing advocacy for equitable housing, historic preservation, and environmental protection to benefit the Kingston community. Particularly for a project that is receiving significant public funding, it is vital to ensure that the project truly benefits the community.”

“In response to the applicant’s recent submittal, we respectfully ask that you expand your interpretation to determine whether the code authorizes new construction of residential uses at the proposed Kingstonian location. As this letter will show, it does not.”

“The applicant’s strenuous argument that the provisions of the MUOD do not apply to the Kingstonian raises an important question: Does the MUOD support the project at all?”

“The only authorization within the MUOD to establish a residential use is by converting an existing structure into apartments or live/work spaces. As the applicant agrees, that type of adaptive reuse would be subject to affordable housing requirements.”

“If the City of Kingston Common Council had intended for the MUOD to allow construction of new housing complexes, it would have written that into the overlay district. It did not. The Council was clearly attempting to facilitate the adaptive reuse of outdated buildings, while ensuring the resulting apartments would include affordable units. It defies logic to posit that the Council intended to simultaneously allow new construction of apartments without affordable units. Indeed, nothing in the code authorizes that use.”

“Because there is no authorization within the zoning code for new construction of housing at this location, we ask that you issue a determination that the project does not conform to the zoning code. The applicant would have multiple options to proceed, including pursuing a use variance or zoning change, or modifying the project to conform to the code.”

Citizen Action of New York submits FOIL to City of Kingston 

Meanwhile, on September 6th, Citizen Action of New York submitted a FOIL request to the City of Kingston for all communications between  the applicable City staff identified in the Kingstonian applicant’s Environmental Assessment Form and Addendum letter: 

“…copies of all records and documented communications, including written correspondence and emails between former City of Kingston Building and Safety Division Deputy Chief Tom Tiano, City of Kingston Fire Department Fire Chief Mark Brown, Kingston Planning Director Suzanne Cahill, City of Kingston assistant planner Kyla Haber and the Kingstonian applicant and development team from January 1, 2018 – May 1, 2019.”

Citizen Action also requested a 45-day extension of the review process for the Kingstonian applicant’s zoning amendment application in order to give the organization time to review the forthcoming information provided by the City. These communications may shed light on any discussions that the City had with the applicant regarding the interpretation of the zoning for the Kingstonian project site prior to the commencement of the project’s SEQR process.

Click on image to read Citizen Action of New York’s FOIL request to the City of Kingston and 45-day process extension.

What’s next?

On Wednesday September 11th, the Planning Board will convene for a special meeting to discuss the studies and comments it has received in relation to the Kingstonian project’s potential environmental impact. While it is unlikely that the Board will issue its SEQR determination at this meeting, the discussion should shed some light on the viewpoints of the individual members.  

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