May 29, By Christian Murray
The city council passed several pieces of legislation last week that aim to rein in the Board of Standards & Appeals after claiming that the city agency grants zoning variances with little regard to the views of the public.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer was a sponsor of one of the bills that calls for the BSA to directly address the concerns of the public when it renders a decision.
“If the board votes against the apparent wants of a neighborhood, I believe that the members of the community who will ultimately live with the consequences of the Board’s decision deserve to know why,” Van Bramer said in a statement.
Several council members claim that the BSA has become a rubber stamp for developers. They cited a study conducted by Citizens Union in 2012 that found that the BSA ruled in favor of the applicants 97 percent of the time.
Another bill that passed last week, sponsored by Karen Koslowitz (Forest Hills), requires the BSA to provide a written explanation whenever it approves a variance contrary to the recommendations of the community board.
The issue resurfaced in this neighborhood last year when the BSA approved the Long Island City YMCA’s application to modify an existing zoning variance so it could transfer air rights to an adjacent lot thereby allowing a developer to construct a 17-story hotel at 32-45 Queens Blvd.
Community Board 2 rejected the YMCA’s application arguing that the approval would lead to the construction of a much bigger hotel than otherwise permitted—and would add to an area already saturated with such buildings. However, the community board’s recommendation, which is merely advisory, had no impact.
When the matter was heard by the BSA, very little attention appeared to be paid to the Community Board’s decision, based on a March 8, 2016, recording of the testimony. In fact, one of the five BSA board members relied on the lawyer advocating for the YMCA to find out how Community Board 2 ruled on it (see 1 hour and 47 minutes in video)—as opposed to the BSA independently retrieving it ahead of time.
Several legislators are calling for the BSA to be more transparent and accountable.
One of the bills that passed now requires the BSA to list the number of applications it has approved or denied as well as the average length of time until a decision was rendered. Another bill requires the BSA to list all the variances and special applications action upon since 1998 to be available on an interactive map of the city.
Ben Kallos (Manhattan), who sponsored several of the bills, said in a statement: “We are taking away the rubber stamp from a government agency that used it far too often over the objections of residents.”