Two members of Kingston’s Historic Preservation Landmarks Commission have resigned in protest after Mayor Steve Noble decided to replace two fellow commissioners on the volunteer board that oversees preservation efforts in the city.
The resignations of Leslie Melvin and Jane Birmingham bring to four the number of volunteers who’ve stepped down from city boards and commissions over the shakeup on the HLPC.
Earlier this month, Noble opted to replace architect Alan Baer and professional preservationist Marissa Marvelli on the HLPC. Both commissioners’ terms ended last year, but they had continued to serve. In their place, Noble has appointed realtor Hayes Clement and architect Robin Andrade. Both new appointees also serve on the city’s Heritage Area Commission, which oversees visitors’ centers and promotes tourism and economic development.
Critics of the appointments accused Noble of a backdoor attempt to merge the two commissions. Noble has previously advocated such a merger, but failed to win Common Council approval last year.
“These efforts appear only to serve one administration’s own short-term interests,” wrote Melvin in her April 11 letter of resignation. “They’re not in the best interests of the residents of the City of Kingston, and they are certainly not in the interest of preserving what we know to be irreplaceable in the city we love.”
Noble has defended the shake-up at the HLPC as a routine matter and chance to get new voices on the commission. Noble added that it made sense to have some overlap between the two commissions since both bodies work touches on some of the same projects and initiatives. Noble added that he had taken steps to strengthen the commission including adding a part-time clerk to assist members and shifting oversight from the city’s Building and Safety Division to the Planning Department.
“There are some conspiracy theories out there,” said Noble last week. “But the fact is I make new appointments to different boards and commissions all the time.”
Melvin and Birmingham are the latest volunteers to step down over the changes at the HLPC. Earlier this month, Giovanna Righini resigned her post on the Heritage Area Commission and Rebecca Martin quit a task force studying new zoning regulations to protest Noble’s replacement of Marvelli and Baer. Both said that they were troubled by the timing of the shake-up, just one week after the HLPC sought input on an upcoming environmental review of the proposed Kingstonian project in the city’s Stockade District. The city’s planning board is currently weighing whether or not to issue a “positive declaration of environmental significance” which would require the developers to undergo a more extensive review process.
At a March 7 meeting of the HLPC — the first under the auspices of the Planning Department — Marvelli pressed City Planner Suzanne Cahill to allow the commission to discuss placing on the record a recommendation that the planning board issue a positive declaration based on the project’s potential impact on the Stockade District’s historic character. Cahill argued that the move was premature, since the planning board had yet to assume “lead agency” status in the review. Assistant Corporation Counsel Dan Gartenstein, meanwhile, told commissioners that the discussion could violate state Open Meetings Law since it was not included on a previously published agenda for the meeting.
In a statement to the Kingston Times Melvin echoed Marvelli’s concerns. “A city commission attempted to do what it is expected of it by state law [submit preservation-related concerns about a project to a municipal lead agency] and is met by interference at each turn?” wrote Melvin in an email. “This makes being a volunteer and being conscientious more difficult than it really should be.”