Kingston’s common council voted 8-1 on Tuesday, April 6 to pay a Florida-based consultant $500,000 to update its zoning code. The city’s zoning has not been updated in more than 50 years. The new code would follow a “form-based” approach, which emphasizes factors like aesthetics, walkability, and how the built environment can reflect a community’s overall vision. This relatively new philosophy of zoning is contrasted with traditional zoning, which is mostly based on segregating different parts of the city by permissible use and defining requirements (like building height or setback from the road) in numerical terms.
It appears to be the new trend in urban planning, with many cities across the country considering it or in various states of implementation. A document posted to the website of Marshall, NJ offers another set of definitions. It says “Traditional or Euclidean Zoning-Focuses on the type of use allowed on the land. Based on the notion that each space should have one, singular use.”
In comparison: “Form-Based Zoning- Focuses on building form as it relates to streetscape and adjacent uses. Encourages mixed use. Relies on design concepts and patterns intended to preserve the assets and character of a community.”
Kingston will hire the consulting firm Dover, Kohl & Partners, which describes its mission as, “revitalizing traditional towns, building great new places, growing neighborhoods, and fixing sprawl — by design.”
The decision follows the recommendation of the city’s seven-member zoning task force made in March.
Further, the city also plans to partner with Hudson Valley Pattern for Progres, which would cost $25,000 and would “support the zoning process in the City of Kingston over the course of the rezoning project,” according to a letter from Mayor Steve Noble.
“Our citizen review team felt that Dover, Kohl & Partners would bring a robust citizen involvement process along with exciting visualization tools that will allow us to better plan for our future,” wrote Noble in his letter. “Our zoning code has not been updated in over 50 years, and I believe this investment will help guide all future growth in our community.”
“We have a chance to make a historic positive change for the City of Kingston,” said Aldermen Rennie Scott-Childress. “The resolution with Dover, Kohl gives us a change for a bright, new future as we shift to a new kind of zoning code that will improve the lives of all our residents for generations to come.”
Scott-Childress said there are several advantages to form-based code, including “increased flexibility, an emphasis on all aspects of the neighborhood rather than just buildings, significant community involvement in developing the code, greater housing choice for all members of the community, and simplicity.”
Alderwoman Rita Worthington said the conventional zoning has, intentionally or not, “often been used as a tool for social separation.
“Not only in uses like residential, or commercial and industrial, but also according to wealth, class, and race,” continued Worthington. “And so I think updating our code and having community, not just their input but also engagement, is going to address ingrained inequities especially when paired with other equity-driven initiatives for developing in our city.”
Alderwoman Michele Hirsch, the lone no vote, felt the price was too high and explained that while a consultant may be hired, it doesn’t necessarily mean the changes will be made.
“I agree with all of the ideals of updating our zoning and having equity and inclusion within our community,” said Hirsch. “My concern has been about the price tag. My concern is that we go through the process with this consultant, which is supposed to be community involvement – we’re not even in City Hall yet. We’re all on Zoom meeting. My second concern is that we tried to do something else for housing recently that had a consultant and study for the Emergency Tenant Protection Act for the rent stabilization law and that didn’t come to fruition.”
Hirsch said she hopes she is proven wrong.