When the city Board of Standard and Appeals voted unanimously in 2011 to grant zoning variances for construction of this one-family house on a narrow, long lot at 8 Orange Ave., at the corner of Decker Avenue, the neighborhood was incredulous and in an uproar.(Staten Island Advance/Virginia N. Sherry)
CITY HALL -- Legislation that could help curb haphazard development on Staten Island was passed by the Council on Wednesday.
The nine bills would reform the city's Board of Standards and Appeals, an obscure government body with significant power over neighborhood planning and land use across the five boroughs known as the BSA.
With five commissioners appointed by the mayor, the BSA was created to provide "relief" from zoning code. Most of the board's work centers on reviewing applications for variances and special permits, as well as appeals for property owners whose proposals were denied by city agencies.
One measure introduced by Minority Leader Steven Matteo would require the BSA to notify owners about variances six month before they expire, provided that exemption was granted 2014 or later.
Notification would also state that the BSA might not approve an extension until penalties for violations of the certificate of occupancy are fully paid.
"Currently, developers are able to work on structures that do not conform to zoning regulations and despite racking up fines for variances that have long expired, and there is no system to notify them that they must re-apply for these variances," Council Minority Leader Steven Matteo (R-Mid-Island) said in a statement. "The legislation I introduced will fix that problem, and, along with this package of BSA reform legislation, will help bring better oversight and a stronger enforcement to a process that often circumvents the public will."
Right now the BSA allows the City Planning Commission, Community and Borough Boards, owners, lessees and tenants to testify and provide evidence on matters before the board related to the city's zoning resolution.
A bill from Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Queens) would require the BSA to refer to that evidence or those arguments in final determinations.
Community and Borough Boards can hold public hearings over variances or special permits and submit recommendations too. A measure from Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Queens) would require the BSA to respond to these recommendations when granting or denying an application for a variance or special permit.
Another bill from Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Queens) would require copies of BSA applications and materials be sent by certified mail to applicants.
The Department of City Planning would have to publish online the name and contact information of the BSA coordinator under a measure from Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan). The agency would also have to post a record of each permit and the BSA would have to provide a link on their website to testimony from city planning.
Two other measures from Kallos would require the BSA have access to an experienced, state-certified real estate appraiser and establish the minimum required materials that must be submitted with applications. Another would require the BSA to report on information regarding applications and compile date on the location of all variances and special permit applications.
'IT'S LONG OVERDUE'
Staten Island's three-member Council delegation, including Matteo, voted in favor of the bills.
"It's a system that hasn't been reformed in decades and it's long overdue," Councilmen Joseph Borelli (R-South Shore) said.
Councilwoman Debi Rose (D-North Shore) is a co-sponsor of all the bills.
"Too often, the BSA becomes a mechanism for builders and individuals to circumvent zoning requirements and override the will of the community. The Community Board will vote one way, and the BSA will overrule without explanation," Rose said in a statement. "These bills will help put an end to that and finally make BSA accountable to the Community Board, and therefore the public on whose behalf they work."
The measures are expected to cost nothing, or for one bill, a minimal and unspecified amount.
BSA executive director Ryan Singer declined to comment.
City Hall didn't respond to a request for comment, but Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sign the legislation on Tuesday.
'THE BSA'S DECISIONS CAN HAVE A HUGE IMPACT'
Borough President James Oddo has tried pushing the BSA to deny waivers for borough projects, including a controversial development on the land where Mount Manresa once stood.