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Reform Demanded Of Board of Standards and Appeals

Councilman Dan Halloran and community leaders discuss frustrations due to variance process at hearing.

Councilman Dan Halloran, R-Whitestone, is calling for that would allow more community input on zoning and development issues.

The City Council held a hearing Friday on four bills introduced by the councilman to reform the agency. One of the bills would require the BSA to inform property owners six months before their variance expires.

Halloran said this bill would prevent property owners from forgetting to renew their variance and blaming their inaction on new ownership.

“My bill eliminates a loophole and gives zoning enforcement agencies real teeth,” Halloran said. “Currently, abusive developers know they can ignore the city and get only a slap on the wrist.”

Renewing a variance allows local community boards to comment on a business’s relationship with the community as well as impose restrictions or conditions on a new variance, he said.

Under Halloran’s bill, failure to renew a variance would result in a fine increasing by $500 every six months until it is updated.

Currently, there is no punishment for a business operating with an expired variance.

Northeast Queens community leaders and residents turned out to last week’s hearing to call for reforms to the BSA.

"Anything to finally put an end to the madness ," said Bayside Hills Civic Association President Michael Feiner, who testified in favor of BSA reform.

“I think it treats the symptom, rather than the actual disease,” Community Board 11 said of Halloran's bill. “There should be an appeals process, but I think there should be some change as to who is on the BSA. Right now, the board is chosen by the mayor. But I support any type of legislation to curtail the BSA. Anything we can do to beat them back a little is a good thing.”

Susan Seinfeld, CB 11’s district manager, said she understands how the BSA makes some of its approvals due to the complexity of zoning regulations, but also how residents can see the granting of a variance as a giveaway.

“I think the BSA does owe everyone an explanation sometimes,” she said of the agency’s process.

The BSA could not immediately be reached for comment.

The agency claimed Friday that it agrees with community boards 80 percent of the time. At the hearing, the BSA’s representatives also claimed the agency lacked the staff and resources for additional work, which they said should be referred to the city’s Department of Buildings, Halloran said.

“Bureaucracies are resistant to change,” Halloran said. “This is a rogue government agency that acts with complete disregard to the neighborhoods its impacts. This unelected board rules from its ivory tower without considering the views of a community or its elected officials.”

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