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Under Pressure, Board Changes Rules About Public Hearings

Critics who charge that neighbors are not properly notified about applications for special permits and variances before Community Board 15 won a marginal victory last week when the board voted to change the demands it places on applicants — but the gains could have been much bigger. Currently, Community Board 15 only encourages applicants to notify surrounding neighbors about impending plans to build so that residents have an opportunity to speak out on the proposal at community board hearings. The board does not, however, compel applicants to do so. CB 15 member Eileen O’Brien re-introduced a motion changing this policy by requiring applicants to notify neighbors within a 400-foot radius of property owners attempting to build beyond existing zoning regulations. That motion was immediately challenged when fellow board member Harold Weinberg leapt up to object, suggesting that the board’s rules about public notification had to be in line with those of the Board of Standards & Appeals. Cliff Bruckenstein, another board member, tried to challenge Weinberg, explaining that the community board could, in fact, adopt its own rules about public notification. Community Board 6, for example, calls for public notification within a 500-foot radius of homeowners seeking approval from the city to expand on their properties. Bruckenstein’s objection, however, fell on deaf ears and the board took its cue from Weinberg and adopted a watered-down version of O’Brien’s motion, only requiring applicants to notify neighbors within a 200-foot radius of their property. As an engineer by trade very active in the community, Weinberg’s position on the community board has been called into question before. Two years ago, he was the subject of a Conflict of Interests Board inquiry. At the time, Zoning, Variance & Special Permits Committee Chair Maurice Kolodin maintained that Weinberg could no longer serve on the board as long as he represented clients in the community. Weinberg was able to remain on the community board as long as he did not take part in votes concerning cases in which he was professionally involved. Ed Jaworski, an outspoken critic of CB 15’s public notification policy, welcomed the change in the notification process, but had little confidence that all those directly affected by proposed changes on their block would be informed about upcoming public hearings in the future. Local civic groups have long charged the group with being too liberal in granting special permits and variances. O’Brien’s motion had been tabled from an earlier meeting of CB 15 after many objections from members. Attorney Eric Palatnik, meanwhile, was successful in gaining the board’s support for his client’s bid to build a second-story addition onto 2224 East 14th Street during the same contentious meeting inside the Kingsborough Community College dining room. At the same time, the board voted to reject an application by Roll n’ Roaster – the popular Emmons Avenue eatery – to establish an unenclosed sidewalk café in front of the restaurant at East 29th Street and Nostrand Avenue.

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