The Regulating Map designates the development form by applying a Transect Zone to each city parcel, calibrated to fit the unique context areas found in Kingston. Source: Dover, Kohl & Partners

Legalizing the city and visualizing its potential

Kingston Forward takes the art and communication of a form-based code to a new level in a historic New York State city. Dover, Kohl & Partners won a 2024 CNU Charter Award in The Region: Metropolis, City, and Town category.

New land-use codes may transform communities but are notoriously difficult to communicate. They involve abstract concepts that nevertheless impact local health, economy, sustainability, and the built form over decades—in ways that are not always obvious to citizens or political representatives.

Kingston Forward is a state-of-the-art form-based code (FBC) adopted in August 2023 in a small Hudson Valley city that uniquely communicates the value of this regulatory reform. On a substantive level, Kingston Forward removes barriers to new housing—particularly missing middle types—and enables the reuse of historic structures. Like most traditional cities, Kingston, New York, was the victim of urban renewal that destroyed substantial historic urban fabric—while 20th-Century zoning codes made that fabric illegal to build anew. The new code legalizes the city’s traditional form while addressing important, current, housing needs.

“This new code is truly the vision of our community—it will encourage incremental growth and smart development across the City, while preserving our open spaces,” says Kingston Mayor Steve Noble. “Crucially, this code reform will reduce barriers to the creation of new housing at every level and will help us combat the housing crisis.”

Sketches show the potential of the new code on residential and commercial lots, helping residents to imagine what is possible. Source: Dover, Kohl & Partners.

According to the design team, the Kingston FBC supports best practices in housing, development, preservation, and environmental policy in the following ways:

  • It legalizes multifamily development citywide, including “missing middle” housing types, to encourage economic diversity and incremental development;
  • Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are legalized citywide;
  • Corner stores are allowed within walking distance of most (89%) of homes;
  • It removes citywide minimum parking requirements (maximum requirements are included);
  • Form-based standards ensure that new development contributes to the city’s historic form;
  • Adaptive reuse of existing buildings is encouraged by removing common barriers such as limited permitted uses and minimum parking requirements;
  • Code metrics are improved: minimum lot sizes are removed and contextual setbacks are introduced;
  • A permitted uses table and reduced number of districts simplify the use of the code;
  • Mandates and incentives for affordable housing are introduced;
  • The 500-year floodplain is adopted as local design flood elevation (DFE);
  • Context-based complete street standards are included;
  • Approvals are streamlined with a new Minor Site Plan process.
The team produced images during the charrette to visualize potential future infill. This study looked at rebuilding a vacant lot left behind by urban renewal. Specific ideas include: (1) Active buildings replace vacant parcels, creating a two‐sided streetscape. (2) Row houses, live-work provide opportunities for needed housing. (3) A new standard could allow buildings to be taller than others nearby (such as this 6‐story building) in return for additional affordable units. Source: Dover, Kohl & Partners.

Each of these aspects requires an explanation strategy. “Zoning reform can be a technical subject; the City team made extra effort to make issues real and understandable to an average community member, so they could have informed opinions and provide input,” notes the design team. An enthusiastic endorsement by citizens and leaders can be attributed to an engagement process that elicited strong and genuine input through in-person and virtual workshops, walking tours, open houses, and on-site planning studios. 

Zoning reforms can get stalled by a number of specialized issues, but Kingston’s leaders and community enthusiastically endorsed the new code, leading to unanimous approval by Common Council. That outcome is due to the messaging and engagement that allowed genuine input and opportunities for interaction with the City staff and planners, the team notes.

Located 90 miles north of New York City on the Hudson River, Kingston was the first capital of New York; dating from 1652, it has rich history and architecture. The city covers 8.77 square miles and has a population of 24,100. Mixed‐use centers have multi‐story buildings that line the sidewalks. Surrounding neighborhoods are characterized by a range of building types including rowhomes, duplexes, cottages, detached houses, and corner stores. Source: Dover, Kohl & Partners

“Community ideas shaped the content of the code, creating advocates that later spoke in support of adoption,” the design team explained. “Kingston is the most socioeconomically and racially diverse community in the County. The City and reform advocates were able to show how the new code could benefit everyone. Presentations explained what code provisions for parking, setbacks, ADUs and greater mix of housing types and uses could mean for residents, homeowners, small business owners, and developers. Further, many of the code’s standards legalize historic development patterns and mix of uses; presentations focused on explaining why these code changes were important to preserving and enhancing Kingston’s traditional neighborhood form.”

The code provides an example for other cities to follow, argues to Jolie Milstein, President and CEO of New York State Association for Affordable Housing. “With its new zoning code, Kingston is leading the state in pro-housing land use reform,” she says. “This new zoning code will directly enable the development of affordable housing while respecting Kingston’s historic character.”

The City produced a series of flyers to explain how the code meets community goals and to make the issues and benefits more vivid. These pages show how the new regulations promote walkability and housing choice by promoting corner stores and a greater variety of housing types throughout the city. Source: Dover, Kohl & Partners
A week‐long charrette with virtual and in‐person meetings, walking tours, and open studio hours kicked‐off community engagement, giving participants an opportunity to voice their ideas and concerns and providing a foundation of citizen input for the code. An extensive two‐year public process saw hundreds of residents participate in an ongoing dialogue, including neighborhood open house events and community meetings to review a total of 4 successive drafts. Source: Dover, Kohl & Partners

Note: The Charter Awards will be presented in a ceremony on May 16 at CNU 32 in Cincinnati

Kingston Forward, Kingston, New York: 

  • Dover, Kohl & PartnersPrincipal firm
  • City of Kingston, Client
  • Laberge Group, Land-use planning, GEIS
  • Land Use Law Center, Code integration
  • Hall Planning & Engineering, Inc., Multimodal Street Design Standards
  • Gridics, Online code platform

2023 CNU Charter Awards Jury

  • Matthew Bell (chair), Professor, University of Maryland School of Architecture, Principal, Perkins Eastman in Washington, DC
  • Diane Jones Allen, Professor, College of Architecture, Planning, and Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington
  • David Baker, Principal, David Baker Architects in San Francisco, CA
  • Anne Fairfax, Principal, Fairfax & Sammons in New York, NY, and Palm Beach, FL
  • C.J. Howard, Principal, C.J. Howard Architecture in Washington, DC
  • Neal Payton, Principal, Torti Gallas + Partners in Los Angeles, CA
  • Rico Quirindongo, Director, City of Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development
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