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Van Bramer wants to reform powerful city zoning agency

George Stamatiades (c.), of the Dutch Kills Civic Association, speaks at a press conference held by Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (third from l.) calling for BSA reform. Also attending were Assemblyman Michael DenDekker (second from l.), CB 2 Chairman Joseph Conley (fourth from r.) and other civic leaders. Photo by Rebecca Henely
TimesLedger Newspapers

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) announced last week he was introducing four pieces of legislation dedicated to reforming the city Board of Standards and Appeals.

The councilman said the BSA, which he calls a “bogus agency,” regularly ignores community protests against out-of-character developments and dismisses community board recommendations to satisfy the wants of developers. Van Bramer said that of the 2,855 appeals to the BSA by developers between 2001 and 2005, only 2.7 percent were rejected.

“These folks to go the BSA, claim a hardship and boom, they’re able to be approved,” Van Bramer said.

The BSA said they had no comment on the legislation.

Van Bramer’s first piece of legislation, called Intro 678, would create a standard procedure for the BSA that would incorporate City Planning, community boards, borough boards, leasees and tenants into the BSA’s decision on whether to grant a variance to a developer. These groups can currently comment on a variance, but their concerns often do not factor into the decision, Van Bramer said.

Intro 679 to 681 would expand the BSA to include appointees from the city public advocate, each borough president and each community board; create a formal complaint procedure for community members; and require the mayor’s appointees to be approved by the Council.

State Assemblyman Michael DenDekker (D-Jackson Heights), Community Board 2 Chairman Joseph Conley, CB 1 District Manager Lucille Hartmann and numerous civic leaders joined Van Bramer for his announcement Dec. 14 at a site at 64-01 Woodside Ave. in Woodside.

Van Bramer said the developer of the site has filed to create an eight-story building with 27 apartments, although the new Sunnyside-Woodside rezoning only allows for five stories and 17 apartments. The building will sit on a block with residential houses and some small businesses across the street.

“You have to ensure the quality of life in the neighborhood,” said Rose Daraio, president of the Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together, “and you have to build in the context of the neighborhood.”

A number for the owners of the property, listed on the city Department of Buildings’ website as 64-01 Woodside Realty, was disconnected.

Van Bramer’s proposals are similar to two pieces of legislation Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) introduced in August.

Halloran’s bills would require the community board and the borough president to have advisory input into a BSA decision, have the BSA notify property owners when they need to apply for new variances and make the BSA levy fines if owners operate without a variance for six months.

Halloran said he was worried that Van Bramer’s idea to have the Council appoint BSA members would violate the separation of powers between the city’s executive and legislative branches, but hoped the best part of the six bills could be merged in committee meetings.

“I think Jimmy’s got some great ideas,” he said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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