BSA affirms DOB policy on roof cell phone antennas

Vallone and Astoria residents argued that DOB lacked authority to grant cell phone equipment permits. In 2005, Omnipoint Communications received a Department of Buildings permit to install cellular phone antennas and equipment cabinets on the roof of an Astoria, Queens building. Council Member Peter F. Vallone Jr. and Astoria residents appealed the permit to BSA, arguing that Buildings lacked the authority to approve the cell phone equipment. According to Vallone, approval required a special permit from BSA.

Buildings disagreed. In 1998, it issued a technical policy notice interpreting a section of the zoning resolution. The notice stated that for cell phone equipment meeting certain specifications, including being less than 8.45 sq.ft. in diameter and needing less than six feet in height above a building’s roof line, Buildings could issue a permit. Since the zoning text required a special permit from BSA for “communication equipment structures” that posed “serious difficulties” in locating, Buildings reasoned that this meant much larger cell phone equipment. If the cell phone equipment exceeded the notice’s specifications, it needed a special permit from BSA, according to Buildings.

Vallone argued that this technical notice amounted to an unauthorized change to the zoning resolution. According to Vallone, Buildings did not merely interpret the zoning resolution but had changed it without the Council’s approval. Buildings countered that the City’s charter required it to interpret the zoning text, and increased cell phone use necessitated a determination as to what fell under the special permit requirement. Buildings stood by the fact that since the cell phone equipment did not pose a “serious difficulty” to locate, the special permit requirement could not apply to it.

BSA agreed with Buildings, finding the technical notice to be within Buildings’ authority to interpret the zoning resolution under the charter. BSA pointed out that the notice only applied to small installations that were unlikely to have a significant impact on a neighborhood.

BSA: 32-42 33rd Street (287-05-A) (July 24, 2007) (Evie Hantzopoulos, for residents; Deborah Glikin, for DOB; Kenneth Fisher, for Omnipoint). CITYADMIN

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