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The Civic Scene: Charter revision should change BSA to help boro homeowners

The mayor’s City Charter Revision Commission has been holding hearings for the last five months. Since the charter is the city constitution, whatever the commission proposes is of importance to the civic leaders who comprise the Queens Civic Congress. The QCC even held its own forum to evaluate the revision topics June 21. Most people probably do not even know what is happening, although the civics tried to alert people during the summer.

Possible changes could affect term limits for public officials, the status of community boards, city agencies, government structure, overdevelopment, the status of the city Board of Standards and Appeals, land use, non-partisan elections and the status of the borough presidents. Proposed changes made by September could be on the November ballot. Many people believe there should be more discussion and no voting until 2011.

Back in 1951, Mayor Robert Wagner created the city’s 51 community boards to reflect the wants and desires of each area. The community board offices try to solve the problems homeowners or civic and block associations have. They are the conduits to city agencies that provide services to the people. They vote on issues of concern and evaluate proposals made by city agencies or elected officials. They are often underfunded by the city and sometimes have to fight to get needed funding to operate.

The five borough presidents operate with a budget less than 1 percent of the city budget but provide funding for borough groups who provide service for the people. Many people could not manage to obtain services from the city agencies which, although they may have an office in the outer boroughs, do not seem to be able to provide vital services to some individual people. Borough presidents provide money to many worthwhile charities that help local people in need.

Borough President Helen Marshall believes the commission is moving too fast and that more time is necessary to evaluate any proposed changes. The community boards and borough presidents’ offices should be given a stable, yearly, baseline budget and the borough presidents should have the power to make binding recommendations within the uniform land use review procedure and an infrastructure committee consisting of all the relevant borough commissioners who would meet to review all infrastructure and building projects in each borough.

Some civic leaders believe the BSA should be redesigned. The five-member BSA is appointed by the mayor. The BSA was a body made up of the five borough presidents that voted on any zoning or land-use proposals or changes. The borough presidents knew what the communities wanted and needed.

The BSA is the last resort of homeowners who believe a builder is getting an illegal variance to build something. Lawyers know how to manipulate the BSA so builders can build what they want and the local zoning is circumvented by rulings of the BSA. In the outer boroughs, tall or massive buildings are replacing trees, grass and gardens.

There is legislation in the City Council which would give it the final vote on variances to the regular zoning rules. CB 8, at a special executive board meeting July 7, passed a resolution requesting that there be not less than one member from each borough on the BSA and that members should be people who have not been employed or received income from any industry or profession whose activities are under the jurisdiction of the BSA.

The idea of non-partisan elections is being proposed by the Independence Party, but it is interesting that this group is strongly funded by the mayor. The commission may bring back term limits as a sop to the many people who have been complaining since the mayor convinced the Council to vote to move the term limits up to 12 years. This issue may be like Lindsay’s snowstorm, which paralyzed Queens and lost him his popularity. Keep your eyes open and watch the media for any Charter revision information.

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