Queens Chronicle Mayor OKs 9 bills aiming to reform BSA by Ryan Brady

Queens Chronicle
Mayor OKs 9 bills aiming to reform BSA
Ryan Brady

Mayor de Blasio signed an amalgam of bills on Tuesday to reform the Board of Standards and Appeals.

“I am proud to have authored a bill and co-sponsored eight other bills signed into law today that will strengthen community input into the decisions of the Board of Standards and Appeals and bring a new layer of transparency and public accountability to the Board’s decisions,” City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said in a prepared statement.

Queens activists have for years criticized the BSA for a perceived disregard of input from community boards in the approvals that it makes on building, development and construction projects. And because of a bill introduced by Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) that is now law, the agency will be required to include responses to recommendations from borough and community boards in its written decisions on cases.

Similarly, the BSA in its decisions will have to “refer to relevant arguments and evidence submitted to them in rendering a final determination,” because of legislation introduced by Van Bramer that the mayor signed after the Council’s May 24 approval. The arguments in the measure include those given by community and borough boards, along with tenants, lessees and the City Planning Commission.

Reforming how the BSA notifies community leaders is a priority of two of the laws.

Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) introduced one of those, which requires the BSA to provide proof on its website that it has sent copies of an application or application material to officials and groups that the law already requires it to, including an application’s relevant Council member, borough president and community board. Verification of the materials’ receipt, the measure dictates, then has to be posted online.

The other notification-focused bill, whose main sponsor was Councilman Steven Matteo (R-Staten Island), requires the BSA to notify people when their variances will expire in six months and they could face financial penalties.

Variance-seeking developers will be affected by one of the laws, which Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) introduced. In their BSA applications, they will have to demonstrate that the situation is a unique one in the neighborhood. And if they lie on their application, they face a civil penalty of up to $15,000.

Kallos introduced four other bills signed by de Blasio that affect staffing at the BSA and aim to make it more transparent.

One of the former requires the Department of City Planning to appoint a coordinator who testifies in defense of existing zoning rules to the BSA; the testimony will be accessible on the internet. The other mandates that a New York State-certified real estate appraiser be available to consult with or work for the BSA to analyze and review real estate financials that developers provide.

The transparency measures dictate that the locations for all sites for which special permits and variances were approved by the BSA since 1998 be viewable as a layer and list on an interactive New York City map. The second law requires the BSA to biannually report the average length of time it takes to make a decision on an application; the total number of applications; how many were approved and denied and the number of pre-application meeting requests.