Wednesday, June 6, 2018

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Kingston Landmark-Heritage merger delayed

Ninth Ward Alderwoman Andrea Shaut, standing, proposed that the council send the commission
merger measure to committee

KINGSTON – A proposal to merge two Kingston planning commissions was sent back to committee Tuesday night, at the monthly Common Council meeting.

The decision was noteworthy for being the first time the current aldermen asserted their independence from the administration, and tabled a mayoral initiative.

Kingston is the only municipality in New York State which has both an Historic Landmark Preservation Commission (HLPC), and also a Heritage Area Commission.

The mayor's office suggested merging the two bodies in order to consolidate government, and streamline the bureaucratic process.

Certain developments, particularly the Irish Cultural Center, have been bogged down for years by objections of the Heritage Area Commission. The future Uptown Stockade parking garage and hotel project is also potentially subject to an historical review process.

Public comments against the pending resolution continued for roughly 45 minutes, with members of both affected commissions criticizing the plan as half-baked.

Repeated complaints alleged that commissioners weren't consulted for the draft; also that corporation counsel rushed the process through the Law and Rules Committee with a false sense of urgency.

"I have never seen such a significant decision that could affect land use in one of the state's most valuable resources, move so quickly to public hearing,” said former Ulster County Legislator Jennifer Schwartz-Berky.  “What you do will have implications for the next generation, one that I hope Kingston will survive as a leader in New York for all things environmental and historic and emerge intact. If I have questions, and I do, and if there are many aspects of this law that have not yet been sorted out, it seems logical that the public will not be able to comment on the substance of this proposal, which is what you are looking for in a public hearing.”

Other speakers included Rebecca Martin, of Kingston Citizens; ZBA member Owen Harvey; Heritage Area Commissioner Giovanna Righini; HLPC Vice-chairwoman Marissa Marvelli; HLPC Commissioner Lesley Melvin; and Lost Rondout film producer Lynn Woods. All opposed the measure.

"This is a very important issue for the future of our great city,” said 5th Ward Alderman William Carey.  “This is generational legislation; I believe we have to get it right, rather than get it right now."

All nine aldermen weighed in on the discussion, with 2nd Ward Douglas Koop and 3rd Ward Rennie Scott-Childress dissenting from the prevailing vote.

The HLPC was originally created to protect local historic resources from destruction by overzealous real estate developers; case-in-point, the landmark Post Office on Broadway and Grand Street, which was demolished to build a Jack-in-the-Box chain restaurant.

The Heritage Area Commission was established in the 1980s as the Urban Cultural Park Commission, to manage New York State tourism grants, such as the I Love New York advertising campaign. Kingston was one of 14 communities designated at the time by the New York Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation.


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