BSA should protect, not develop, Queens communities

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The city Board of Standards and Appeals is a powerful agency. The BSA was created about 30 years ago, when the courts ruled that the old city Board of Estimate was unfair because the five borough presidents, who composed the board, were elected by different amounts of voters.

The Board of Estimate was valuable to the little people of the outer boroughs because a borough president elected by the people could vote to protect their interests.

The BSA has five engineers or architects appointed by the mayor. Troubled homeowners could appeal to the BSA to give a variance to the zoning resolution if they had a hardship. Today, a group of lawyers and engineers make a living by appealing to the BSA on owners’ behalf to obtain variances to zoning laws, which were designed to maintain neighborho­ods’ quality of life.

Realizing that after approving one appeal after another, the BSA is changing the composition of communities zoned for certain sizes of buildings by permitting larger buildings. The Queens Civic Congress would like the BSA to be an elected body so a business−oriented administration in City Hall cannot appoint BSA members who will be pro−development at the expense of residential communities.

Two recent BSA rulings that will change communities are the City University of New York dormitory in Long Island City and allowing the Bukharian synagogue on 80th Road and Chevy Chase Street in Jamaica Estates to build a large building with no parking facilities.

CUNY continues to expand into residential communities which do not want it there. CUNY decided to build a 12−story dorm in Long Island City, which is zoned for seven stories. The developer wants to have 188 market−rate units, 245 units for CUNY doctoral students and faculty and a home for the Queens Council on the Arts.

The area zoning calls for low−squat buildings set back from the street, but the seven zoning variances which were granted do not have this building match other area buildings.

The BSA ruled to give a Bukharian temple in Jamaica Estates variances from the R1−2 zoning in Jamaica Estates. Although Community Board 8 and state Sen. Frank Padavan (R−Bellerose) were opposed to the variances, the BSA approved them with conditions. The community was concerned with the bulk of the temple the applicant wanted to build, traffic, parking, site drainage and noise, but the BSA approved the building.

It seems that a court ruling in 1968, Westchester Reform Temple v. Brown, permits a religious institution to be built unless it has an adverse effect on the community’s health, safety or welfare. General concerns about traffic and disruption of the neighborhood’s residential character are insufficient grounds for the denial of the applicant.

The temple felt that a smaller building would not meet their needs for a second−floor balcony for female worshipers. They will have a cellar for use by groups.

The applicant claimed that 96 percent of the members lived within three−quarters of a mile of the proposed building and they downplayed that fact that at least 10 men had to come every weekday morning and evening to pray. There had been problems with people parking in driveways when they came to pray at a house two buildings away from the proposed site.

Although the block is a residential block used by people who shop on adjacent Union Turnpike and as parking by people who take the express bus into Manhattan, it was maintained by the applicant that there is adequate parking on the surrounding streets. This is true if temple members are willing to walk two or three blocks after parking or block driveways for 20 or 30 minutes on weekdays when they go to pray.

The BSA said that the hardship was not created by the applicant, although they bought a house in an area with limited space and parking. Well, the BSA listed nine conditions when it granted the variances. Some were that the building cannot be used to prepare food or beverages for events, a 3−foot−wide strip of landscaping be provided to absorb rain water and screen the property and all work comply with the drawing provided.

The QCC had tried to prevent a large out−of−context house of worship from being built in residential neighborhoods by limiting the size of buildings and requiring parking so as not to inconvenience other residences, but the BSA keeps granting variances because city policy is growth and development.

GOOD AND BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: There are zoning laws to preserve neighborhoods, but the BSA keeps overriding them.

Updated 6:40 pm, October 10, 2011
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