Jim Noble has a style for dealing with a group of people who talk a lot and have a lot of good ideas. He lets them talk.
It usually works.
For the past four years, the veteran Kingston politician has been chairing Kingston’s steering committee revising the city’s comprehensive plan. On the evening of June 3, the committee met at city hall to discuss community comments the city government had received about the plan, titled Kingston 2025. “The purpose of tonight’s meeting,” a two-and-a-half-page handout circulated to the members prior to the session, “is to consider those comments and decide which recommendations have merit and how the comprehensive plan should be revised to address them.”
There was a lot to discuss. Some 30 persons had submitted written comments. Additional comments on the 95-page draft plan had been offered at a March 30 public hearing. The consultants, Shuster/Turner, had described the high quality and quantity of the comments they had received as “quite impressive.”
The consultants had been tasked with preparing “a listing of decisions to be made regarding the comments.” The agenda, boiled down to ten concentrated pages of summary comments, was organized into categories. Other issues, the consultants reassured the committee, could be added during the meeting.
The Common Council president and alderman-at-large said very little himself during the discussion, which was conducted among the ten lay members and six city and consulting staff around a long rectangular table. As they went through the ten-page list item by item and comment by comment, Noble patiently recognized others to do the talking. When on this occasion everyone seemed just about talked out on an item, he would ask whether they were agreed on what they’d discussed. He then called for a vote among those seated at the table.
Noble rarely provided a recapitulation before the vote of what had been said, perhaps in part because he wasn’t eager to hear discussion resume. After each committee vote, he went straight back to business: the next item on the agenda.
At its maximum, the audience, which was allowed to participate in the discussion, consisted of six persons widely dispersed around the grand and cavernous chambers of the Common Council.
If there was any motif that survived several repetitions, it was return on the committee’s part to the focus of the comprehensive plan being policy, not detail. Most people like the look and feel of their city. They wanted change to be “similar to what’s there,” in Jim Noble’s words, “matching the patterns” rather than a more prescriptive “one-size-fits-all.”
There was a discussion of form-based zoning, described as a technique which promotes specific urban-design objectives rather than land-use controls. There ought to be a balance between specific rules and common sense. The community’s master plan in particular ought not be too prescriptive. There was a lot of variety in Kingston, and that was a good thing.
Housing was one of the area of discussion. Kingston has more than its fair share of total affordable housing in the county, but could do with greater resources to help finance affordable home ownership. More mechanisms were needed for promoting housing affordability.
“There’s no shortage of housing styles in Kingston,” said committee member Kristen Wilson, “there’s a shortage of housing supply.”
Almost three and a half hours into the process, when the strong stream of daylight from the large windows in the room had given way to artificial illumination from the iconic ornate multi-bulbed central chandelier suspended from the high ceiling, Noble reached the last question on the last page. The committee had completed the arduous review in this one long session.
The consultants, led by Dan Shuster, who was a junior planner for the original 1961 comprehensive plan, were tasked with incorporating the changes the committee had approved during the session. The amended plan will come back for discussion and approval by the Kingston 2025 committee. When finally adopted by that committee, the plan will go before the Common Council. According to city planner Suzanne Cahill, the city must go through a SEQR determination process prior to final legislative adoption.
Noble, who handily withstood a challenge from Jeanette Provenzano at the recent Kingston city Democratic convention, is a candidate for re-election as alderman-at-large.