Zoning, the Mixed Use Overlay District, Comprehensive Plans and the Kingstonian Project

A comprehensive plan is a powerful document in New York State that creates a framework for making important decisions while guiding growth and development. Kingston’s own plan, adopted by the Common Council in April 2016, quite forcefully calls for an affordable housing requirement in new developments:

“Strategy 1.1.2: Require affordable housing for any new or expanded residential building or development project.  The City should consider expanding the number of projects that must provide a ‘fair share’ of affordable housing. Currently, affordable housing is only required for projects taking advantage of the mixed-use overlay district provisions.” (p. 21, Kingston 2025)

The City of Kingston continued to promote that goal in its 2017 Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) application in which the Kingstonian Project was proposed:

“Housing development in the Stockade Business District (SBD) has been limited, and a significant percentage of renters in the SBD and surrounding area are cost burdened, spending more than 30% of their incomes on housing costs.”  (Executive Summary of the City of Kingston’s 2017 DRI application).

However, in February of 2019, the developers of the Kingstonian Project submitted an application that includes 129 market-rate residential units in the Stockade District. The mandate for affordable housing that is outlined in Kingston’s Comprehensive Plan seems to be ignored with this substantial project.

At its first hearing on April 10th, the Kingston Planning Board began accepting public comments for the proposed Kingstonian. To date, the Board has not provided a timeline for review, a date for when the public comment period will close, or indicated when the Planning Board as lead agency will likely make a positive or negative declaration (pos or neg dec) in the project’s State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR), a decision that is meant to be made within 20-days following the acceptance of lead agency.

Since February, KingstonCitizens.org has spoken with many stakeholders about potential significant environmental impacts as it pertains to the Kingstonian Project. We have also fielded questions about the applicant’s zoning listed in its  Environmental Assessment Form (EAF).

 

 

What is a C-2 Zone in the City of Kingston?

The mixed residential and commercial Kingstonian Project is located in a C-2 zone where residential use is not a permitted as-of-right use. The City of Kingston Zoning Code for a C-2, short for Central Commercial District (§ 405.17), outlines uses that are permitted as-of-right:

A building may be erected, altered, arranged, designed or used, and a lot of premises may be used, for any of the following purposes by right and for no other: Retail stores; banks, including drive-in windows; service businesses, such as, but not limited to, barbershops, beauty parlors, tailors and dry-cleaning stores, custom dressmakers, jewelry repair, shoe repair, travel agents, auto rental offices, appliance repair and duplicating businesses and job printing establishments having not more than 10 persons engaged therein; business, professional and governmental offices; theaters and assembly halls; restaurants, art or craft studios or studios for teaching the performing arts; libraries, museums and art galleries; manufacturing, assembling, converting, altering, finishing, cleaning or any other processing of products where goods so produced or processed are to be sold at retail, exclusively on the premises, in accordance with the requirements of § 405-16B(13); public and private off-street parking lots and parking garages unless accessory to and on the same lot with a use otherwise permitted, such garages and parking lots shall be limited to use by passenger automobiles exclusively.”

Wouldn’t the Kingstonian Project be required to gain a variance for residential use by the City of Kingston Zoning Board of Appeals? It doesn’t appear to due to it being within a Mixed Use Overlay District.

What is the Mixed Use Overlay in the Stockade District?

The Mixed Use Overlay District (MUOD) was adopted in 2005 as an amendment to the City’s Zoning Code following three years of debate. (See “Kingston council OKs Uptown/Midtown loft law,Daily Freeman, 5 January 2005. ) The primary purpose of it was to ease the regulatory burden of converting upper floors in existing commercial buildings to residential use. Instead of applying for a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals, building owners could apply for a less onerous Special Use Permit from the Planning Board.

There are two MUODs in the city: the Stockade and Midtown. The thinking of council members at the time was that by making the adaptive reuse of commercial buildings in these districts for residential lofts easier, it would incentivize the creation of affordable housing units. Much of the text of the amendment (which was created with assistance by Greenplan, a planning consultant out of Rhinebeck) focuses on affordable housing, which is “intended” to be based on guidelines outlined therein. It is intended to apply to adaptive reuse projects containing five or more residential units wherein 20% of those units must be maintained as affordable (defined as 80% of the Ulster County median income.) Such units are to be dispersed throughout the proposed housing project, be indistinguishable from market-rate units, and the affordable unit rents are not to exceed 30% of a household’s income.  

But there are few (if any) buildings in the Stockade that could accommodate five units or more. An analysis of these properties is likely to show that no affordable units have been created in the Stockade District with this regulation. (See  Upstairs Apartments Fail to Materialize in Stockade, Midtown Kingston,” Daily Freeman, 11 February 2007.)

In addition to promoting the creation of affordable housing, the MUOD text describes a second underlying purpose: “to encourage mixed-use, mixed-income, pedestrian-based neighborhoods.” (§ 405-27.1, subparagraph B-2) It seems that the Kingstonian Project, which neither proposes any affordable housing nor seeks to adaptively reuse any buildings, is narrowly interpreting this second clause as the basis for its qualifying for the more expeditious Special Use Permit application process. (In its Environmental Assessment Form, the applicant flags the MUOD as an applicable zoning measure.) To achieve this second purpose, the amendment allows “site and building enhancements that promote a mixed-use, mixed-income, pedestrian-based neighborhood” to qualify for a Special Use Permit. Apparently, “site enhancements” can be interpreted to mean new construction.

More on Market-Rate and Affordable Housing.

At this time, all of the residential units planned for the Kingstonian Project will be market rate, which has no rent restrictions. A landlord who owns marketrate housing is free to attempt to rent the space at whatever price the local market may tolerate. In other words, the term applies to conventional rentals that are not restricted by affordable housing laws. So while the project entirely skips over the affordable housing purpose of MUOD, it is availing itself of the special use permit perk that comes with being in a MUOD.

A decade ago, the Teicher organization proposed a similar mixed-use project— though shaped differently and without a street closure—on a portion of the Kingstonian site. It received a positive declaration in SEQR with the attendant public scoping process. In its final scoping document, the Teicher team outlined an affordable housing plan where they would “…present a program and procedures that will result in at least 10% of the proposed housing units being set aside as affordable/workforce housing units as defined in the City Zoning Law.” It also stated that “…the plan may identify any appropriate options for promoting or creating such affordable housing units in off-site locations in lieu of within the proposed development.”

It is important to note that the City of Kingston’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) application touts the goals of the MUOD and places them in context of Kingston’s 2025 Comprehensive Plan as it pertains to affordable housing in commercial districts:

“…the overlay was mapped in 2005 to allow for the adaptive reuse of industrial and commercial buildings for rental and affordable housing and to promote the development of a mixed-use, mixed-income, pedestrian- based neighborhood. Properties within the overlay district have certain affordable housing requirements and pedestrian-friendly design standards. In addition, the City has a goal to simplify the district’s affordability standards while allowing for the adaptive reuse of former industrial and commercial buildings throughout the city, not just in the overlay district… . Kingston 2025 identifies the Stockade Business District (SBD) as the “Uptown Mixed-Use Core” neighborhood and specifies goals and strategies specifically pertaining to this area. The vision for the SBD as articulated in Kingston 2025 is to be a center ‘for local life providing nutritious fresh food, necessary personal services, transportation and mass transit options, employment opportunities at a range of incomes, a diversity of housing options, and nearby public and private recreational facilities…’. Kingston 2025 outlines several strategies for residential development in the SBD, including allowing mixed- uses in the C-2 zoning district, and moving toward city-wide standards for adaptive reuse and affordable housing. Therefore, it is likely development guided by the Comprehensive Plan will include more housing opportunities in the SBD.”

If not now, when?

Why are only some of the goals of the City’s Zoning Code being followed? Over the past generation, public officials and members of the community have repeatedly identified a clear need to keep housing affordable in Kingston. It is why the MUOD was created. As has been stated earlier, our 2025 Comprehensive Plan also recognizes the need for affordability throughout the city, which is also in keeping with the Courts’ recognition of the requirement for inclusionary zoning. Now that we have an adopted plan that states this, it has the full force of law, as noted by the NY State Department of State in Zoning and the Comprehensive Plan: “New York’s zoning enabling statutes (the state statutes which give cities, towns and villages the power to enact local zoning laws) require that zoning laws be adopted in accordance with a comprehensive plan. The comprehensive plan should provide the backbone for the local zoning law.”

It goes on to note that public spending at any level of government must be in accordance with that plan: “Once a comprehensive plan is adopted using the State zoning enabling statutes, all land use regulations of the community must be consistent with the comprehensive plan. In the future, the plan must be consulted prior to adoption or amendment of any land use regulation. In addition, other governmental agencies that are considering capital projects on lands covered by the adopted comprehensive plan must take the plan into consideration.

At what point will Kingston do more than aspire for 20% affordable housing in all new development projects, reuse or otherwise? With each passing year that we lack good planning, we lose precious time in balancing the new opportunities coming to Kingston and the pressing needs of our existing community.

WHAT TO EXPECT. Public Hearing on Proposed Kingstonian Project on April 10

WHAT
City of Kingston Planning Board
Public Hearing on the Kingstonian

WHEN
Wednesday, April 10, 2019
6:00pm

WHERE
City of Kingston City Hall
Council Chambers (Top Floor)
420 Broadway
Kingston, NY

“LISTEN TO THE COMMUNITY” Rally
Before the public hearing
5:00pm
Front Lawn
Kingston City Hall

Co-sponsors include:  Kingston Tenants Union, Midtown Rising, Rise Up Kingston, Citizen Action of New York Mid-Hudson Valley Chapter, Nobody Leaves Mid Hudson and KingstonCitizens.org

MORE
It is not expected that the planning board will make any decisions on the 10th.

A regular planning board meeting will occur on Monday, 4/15 where the planning board may decide on the items listed in the 4/10 AGENDA  (lot line deletion, site plan / special permit and SEQR determination (pos or neg dec)).

 

 

By Rebecca Martin

On April 10th, the Kingston Planning Board will hold a public hearing on the proposed Kingstonian project regarding the following approvals (in bold) and a SEQR Determination:

AGENDA

#9-17 & 21 North Front Street and 51 Schwenk Drive and a portion of Fair Street Extension LOT LINE DELETION of the Lands of Herzog’s Supply Company and the City of Kingston. SBL 48.80-1-25, 26 & 24.120. SEQR Determination. Zone C-2, Mixed Use Overlay District, Stockade Historic District. Kingstonian Development, LLC/ applicant; Herzog’s Supply Co. Inc. & City of Kingston/owner.

#9-17 & 21 North Front Street and 51 Schwenk Drive and a portion of Fair Street Extension SITE PLAN/SPECIAL PERMIT to construct a Mixed Use building with a 420 car garage, 129 apartments, 32 hotel rooms, and 8000sf of retail space. SBL 48.80-1-25, 26 & 24.120. SEQR Determination. Zone C-2, Mixed Use Overlay District, Stockade Historic District. Kingstonian Development, LLC/ applicant; Herzog’s Supply Co. Inc. & City of Kingston/owner.

The Significance of State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) Determinations. 

What is SEQR?

The State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) “establishes a process to systematically consider environmental factors early in the planning stages of actions that are directly undertaken, funded or approved by local, regional and state agencies. By incorporating environmental review early in the planning stages, projects can be modified as needed to avoid adverse impacts on the environment.”

What step are we at in the process?

On April 10th, the City of Kingston Planning Board will collect public comment on its next step in making a “determination of significance.” This is the most critical step in the SEQR process. This is the step in which the lead agency must decide whether or not a proposed action is likely to have a significant adverse impact upon the environment. If the lead agency finds one or more significant adverse environmental impacts, it must prepare a positive declaration identifying the significant adverse impact(s) and requiring the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

At this time, environmental impacts must be cited before the social or economic concerns are included in an Environmental Impact “Scope” (p. 93, SEQR Handbook), and a pos dec would be required in order for a public scoping process to occur.

FOR YOUR REFERENCE: SEQR Handbook

The project would seem to be justifiably determined as a pos dec, as only one potential adverse environmental impact is required in order for a pos dec to be triggered (p. 85, #5).   Uptown Kingston’s significance as a National Historic District is a reason for a pos dec. Traffic (the traffic for this project appears to be over the threshold for peak hour outlined in the law) would be a trigger. Visual and Aesthetic and Neighborhood Character are all legitimate environmental impacts (p. 90 of the SEQR Handbook).

As the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commissions (HLPC) has already weighed in as an “involved agency” to indicate the potential significant adverse environmental impact on the character of the Stockade National Historic District, the Planning Board, as the “lead agency” is obligated to take a “hard look” according to important case law precedents that have invalidated findings by lead agencies that have failed to do so.

VIEW:
Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC) Identifies Potential Significant Environmental Impacts of the Kingstonian Project.

Other important questions that the public should ask on Wednesday include:

1. Where is the planning board currently in the SEQR determination process?

2. When will the planning board make that determination?

3. Is the project being modified and will it be modified by the applicant and developer to try to address or mitigate potential impacts?

4. Will the public be notified of those modifications and have an additional opportunity to comment on the modified project before the Board makes a SEQR determination?

Below are excerpts from the SEQR Handbook to help you to identify good information to shape your public comment for Wednesday evening.

From pages 90 of the SEQR Handbook onward:

34. May determinations of significance be based on economic costs and social impacts?  No. A determination of significance is based on the regulatory criteria relating to environmental significance. If an EIS is required, its primary purpose is to analyze environmental impacts and to identify alternatives and mitigation measures to avoid or lessen those impacts. Since the definition of “environment” includes community character, these impacts are considered environmental. However, potential impacts relating to lowered real estate values, or net jobs created, would be considered economic, not environmental. Social and economic benefits of, and need for, an action must be included in an EIS. Further, in the findings which must be issued after a final EIS is completed, environmental impacts or benefits may be balanced with social and economic considerations.”

23. Are there impacts on non-physical resources that should be considered when determining significance?  Yes. There may be environmental impacts related to various community or regional values not necessarily associated with physical resources. Examples would include aesthetic impacts, impairment of community character, growth inducement and social and economic conditions, which are discussed below.

24. Why should the significance of visual and aesthetic impacts be considered under SEQR?The courts have upheld inclusion of effects on scenic views as an element of the SEQR review process; for example, in the case of a new radio transmission tower proposed to be constructed near the F.D. Roosevelt estate on the Hudson River (see WEOKBroadcasting Corp. V. Planning Board of Town of Lloyd 1992).

25. What methods or resources may a lead agency use in assessing potential visual and aesthetic impacts?  Because the quality of an aesthetic resource cannot be determined by a precise formula and because opinions may vary concerning the evaluation of visual impacts, there exists a widespread, but erroneous, notion that aesthetics analysis is hopelessly subjective. Instead, research has clearly established that landscape preference and perception are not arbitrary or random, so that along with some variability there is substantial regularity in the perceptions of significant adverse and beneficial visual impacts. It is upon this regularity of human judgement concerning aesthetics that objective decision making depends.  Developing an objective process for considering visual impacts is most effective if undertaken before controversial projects appear. To establish or clarify values, policies and priorities related to existing visual resources, agencies or municipalities should conduct an inventory of visual resources within their jurisdictions. Such surveys need not be elaborate, but are a recommended feature of any comprehensive planning process that the agencies or municipalities may undertake. The prime objective is to be proactive and identify visual resources that are significant within that jurisdiction and could be adversely affected by potential development.

To evaluate potential visual impacts likely to result from individual proposed projects, the Visual EAF Addendum [(Appendix B of 617.20) (pdf, 936 kb)] may be used by the lead agency to supplement the EAF. The Visual EAF Addendum form highlights the following objective components of visual impact analysis are generally considered:

• Whether the value of the aesthetic resource has been established by designation; for example: state park, designated scenic vista, designated open space, etc.

• The number of people who could observe the potential impacts.

• The circumstances or contexts under which impacts would be visible.

• The distance the viewer is from the aesthetic resource.

When the responses to these and other pertinent questions about potential impacts to aesthetic resources are compiled, the lead agency will know, for example, whether the resource is designated as important, is viewed by thousands of people annually when they use the resource (e.g. park), or if the potential impact is adjacent to that resource. Based on this systematic assessment, the lead agency will then be able to consider visual and aesthetic impacts in developing its determination of significance.

26. Has the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) developed any additional resources for assessing aesthetic and visual impacts?  The DEC guidance policy “Assessing and Mitigating Visual Impacts” was developed to provide direction to DEC staff for evaluating visual and aesthetic impacts generated from proposed facilities. The policy and guidance defines what visual and aesthetic impacts are; describes when a visual assessment is necessary; provides guidelines on how to review a visual impact assessment; differentiates State from local concerns; and defines avoidance, mitigation and offset measures that eliminate, reduce, or compensate for negative visual effects.

The cornerstone of the DEC guidance document is its inventory of aesthetic resources of statewide or national significance. The scenic and aesthetic resources identified in the guidance have all been protected by law or regulation, and are therefore special places that the public has deemed worthy of protection due to the inherent aesthetic value associated with the resource. For example, one category is state and national parks which havebeen established by government to protect unique resources, and are accessible for use and appreciation by the public.

The DEC guidance defines State regulatory concerns, and separates them from local concerns. However, the DEC guidance may be used as a model by other agencies or municipalities. Once local authorities have officially identified locally important visual resources, the guidance may be used to assist a lead agency in systematically evaluating potential visual and aesthetic impacts from a proposed development.

27. How do aesthetic and visual impacts differ from community character impacts? Visual impact assessment considers a single class of resource. While visual resources may contribute to a community’s perception of its character, a number of other resources should also be assessed or evaluated to enable a more thorough description of a community’s character.

28. Why is “community character an environmental issue?  The Legislature has defined “environment” to include, among other things, “…existing patterns of population concentration, distribution or growth, and existing community or neighborhood character” (see ECL 8-0105.6). Court decisions have held that impacts upon community character must be considered in making determinations of significance even if there are no other impacts on the physical environment.

29.  How can you determine whether an impact upon community character may be significant? Community character relates not only to the built and natural environments of a community, but also to how people function within, and perceive, that community. Evaluation of potential impacts upon community or neighborhood character is often difficult to define by quantitative measures. Courts have supported reliance upon a municipality’s comprehensive plan and zoning as expressions of the community’s desired future state or character. (See Village of Chestnut Ridge v. Town of Ramapo, 2007.) In addition, if other resource-focused plans such as Local Waterfront Revitalization Plans (LWRP), Greenway plans or Heritage Area plans have been adopted, those plans may further articulate desired future uses within the planning area.

In the absence of a current, adopted comprehensive plan, a lead agency has little formal basis for determining whether a significant impact upon community character may occur.

  • Examples of actions affecting community character that have been found to be significant include the introduction of luxury housing into a working-class ethnic community and construction of a prison in a rural community.

• Examples of actions found not to be significant include low-income housing and shelters for the homeless proposed to be located within existing residential areas.

The City of Kingston’s Community Forums on Parking

By Hillary Harvey
hillary@kingstoncitizens.org

In conversations around the City of Kingston, parking is a hot topic.

Uptown, there was a debate around Mayor Steve Noble’s plan to increase parking costs and add meters to municipal lots where there previously had been none, with business owners countering the plan by advocating for free parking. Meter increases went into effect just recently, and parking kiosks are already showing up near their intended municipal lot.  In an effort to compromise, the city is also offering parking permits for frequent users of the City of Kingston’s municipal lots. Purchase a parking permit in advance of the installation and activation of new payment stations in six of the City’s municipal lots costs $10, and the permit is valid through December 31, 2017.    VIEW

In Midtown, there’s ample parking, according to the city’s consultant for the Comprehensive Plan Zoning subcommittee.  And the conversation has pretty much ended there.

Read more…