The Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) is a city agency that hears and rules on land use requests. Many of the cases involve variance requests that allow an applicant to develop a site by bypassing some established zoning regulations.
The Board is headed by five commissioners who are appointed by the mayor. There is no appeals process to decisions made by this Board unless a costly lawsuit is pursued by either an applicant or those who may oppose the variance.
On October 18, the BSA unanimously approved a variance that will allow a second house to be built on a property in Bayside Hills where one house now stands. A variance had to be sought, because the R2A zoning that exists in this area would prohibit the construction of a second house due to the small size of the lot. The plot is currently a small garden.
This is a precedent-setting case. Other properties, especially corner properties, will be susceptible to such inappropriate development. This will threaten the character of our communities for years to come.
The Bayside Hills community came out in full force in opposition. Large numbers of local residents showed up at hearings at Community Board 11 and Borough President Helen Marshall’s office to protest. The community board voted unanimously to oppose the variance and the borough president, likewise, came out in opposition.
When the hearing was held at the BSA in downtown Manhattan, a busload of local residents attended and stood up and testified that they did not want this type of development in their neighborhood. They were supported by their local elected officials and many other members of the community.
Despite this impressive display of community unanimity, the BSA chose to grant this variance, and ignored the will of the people. Five people, who are not elected, are determining the destiny of a community. That’s democracy?
It is painfully obvious that the BSA is an agency in need of reform. Councilman Daniel Halloran has proposed legislation that would set up an appeals process through the City Council if a BSA decision contradicts the community board’s and/or the borough president’s recommendation to deny approval.
To his credit, State Senator Tony Avella proposed similar legislation when he was in the City Council, but was thwarted in his efforts to seek sensible reform of this agency.
Let’s hope that Councilman Halloran will prevail.