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Van Bramer Aims to Clamp Down on Building Variances

Dec. 22, 2011 By Christian Murray

Developers are often able to ignore the prevailing city zoning code by obtaining a variance from the New York Board of Standards and Appeals, a city agency.

Last week, Jimmy Van Bramer held a press conference in Woodside and claimed that the BSA is running roughshod over the community by granting developers’ variances that are often against the wishes of civic associations, community boards, residents and elected officials. As a result, he said, he is introducing several pieces of legislation to rein in the agency.

Van Bramer said that it standard practice for the BSA to grant variances. He said his office had reviewed BSA decisions from the beginning of 2005 until early 2011 and found that the approval rate was 86.9%. During this time, throughout the five boroughs, there were 2,855 appeals brought before the BSA. The city-wide denial rate was 2.7%, with the remainder of the cases were withdrawn.

The timing of Van Bramer’s legislation comes shortly after several variances were granted by the BSA on properties on Woodside Ave., which were just rezoned as part of the Sunnyside-Woodside rezoning that occurred in July.

The variances were granted despite them being unanimously rejected by local Community Board 2 and members of the community. Therefore, he aims to reform the way in which the BSA operates, which he said would help prevent future out-of-character development.

Van Bramer has introduced four pieces of legislation that he said will reform the BSA:

• Intro 678 would create a standardized procedure through which the BSA will incorporate the recommendations of the city planning commission, community boards, borough boards and lessees and tenants into the final decision of the BSA.
• Intro 679 would expand the BSA to sixteen members – five from the Mayor, five from the New York City Council, one from the Public Advocate, and one from each Borough President’s office.
• Intro 680 would amend the New York City Charter to create a formal procedure for community members to draft a complaint against the issue that stands before the BSA. This panel would be composed of a representative from the City Council, one from the local community board and one from City Planning. The BSA would then be required to take into account the decision of this “Community Advisory Review Panel” in determining their final decision.
• Intro 681 would amend the NYC Charter to require all mayoral recommended members of the BSA be approved by the New York City Council.

The legislation received the backing of community leaders and Community Board 2 chairman Joe Conley.

“This community has suffered far too long by developers who are using the BSA to override the Department of City Planning and the Department of Buildings. The legislation proposed by Councilman Van Bramer will set a course for meaningful community dialog and representation on matters before the BSA,” Conley said.

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Just Looking

Thank you! I was wondering why every single thing proposed gets put up. What a stinkin’ racket these moneyed people have. I’m so tired of being bought and sold for someone elses’s financial gain. Please, please, please, make sure the old Phipps Outdoor Nursery doesn’t get built up, as the owner proposes. I feel for them, but they bought property just before it was landmarked. The landmarking rules should be upheld.

Again, thanks.


A great idea! What is the point of standards if they can be easily evaded? no more developers’ monstosities!


Developers with enough money to spread around to their political lapdogs will always get their way.


An interesting bit of legislative activity.

On the flip side of this you always worry about NIMBYism, but I guess the stats are there to support it.


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