Land Use Committee Approves Brooklyn CB10’s Application; Subcommittee Expresses Concern About BSA [UPDATE: City Council Unanimously Passes Application]

Land Use Committee Approves

An example of a residence enlarged pursuant to a BSA-approved application in Brooklyn Community District 10 (original residence shown on the left). Image credit: Brooklyn Community Board 10

The approved proposal would remove Brooklyn Community District 10 from applicability under Section 73-622, while allowing three applications to go forward. On October 5, 2016, the City Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises heard testimony on an application from Brooklyn Community Board 10 to amend the New York City zoning text relating to special permits issued by the Board of Standards and Appeals. These special permits allow property owners in R2 zoning districts to enlarge family residences beyond what is otherwise prohibited by the Zoning Resolution. Currently, Section 73-622 only applies to four of the fifty-nine Community Districts in New York City. For CityLand’s past coverage on the application, click here and here.

At the October 5th hearing, the matter was opened with a statement from the City Council Member Vincent Gentile, who represents Brooklyn Community Board 10. Council Member Gentile explained that when Zoning Resolution Section 73-622 was originally passed, Community Board 10 was in favor of the provision because the special permit “would allow current residents to in effect, ‘grow in place.’” The Board of Standards and Appeals has approved every permit application since 1997, including all applications that Community Board 10 recommended disapproval of “making the application almost as a ‘de facto’ ‘as-of-right.’” Council Member Gentile added that he had, in conjunction with the City Council Land Use Division, created an amendment that would vest the three applications pending before or approved by the Board of Standards and Appeals which were filed prior to June 20, 2016 when the matter was first considered by the City Planning Commission. Those three applications would not be affected, however, two applications, “one that has yet to file with BSA and one that filed only two weeks ago, fully cognizant of the change being sought, will not be included in this vesting provision.”

Josephine Beckmann, district manager for Brooklyn Community District 10, testified that the proposal garnered overwhelming support from the residents of District 10. Beckmann stated that Community Board 10’s decision to propose the text amendment was based on 13 years of study and experience with the special permits in the district.

Council Member Antonio Reynoso expressed shock that for 19 years the Board of Standards and Appeals had been approving all the special permit applications against the wishes of the Community Board. “It seems like the systems that are in place are limiting community input,” Council Member Reynoso said, “We have to be very careful about what we are doing as a city when we are discouraging those voices from being heard.” He further stated that the kind of processes which stifle community input should be carefully reviewed and considered by the Subcommittee and City Council.

Chair Donovan Richards followed up by saying that the City Council would be taking a closer look at the Board of Standards and Appeals in the near future. He added that “a lot of damage has been done and we are here to rectify that thanks to the effort of Council Member Gentile.”

Council Member David Greenfield, seeking to clarify how the Board of Standards and Appeals approached the special permits, questioned Beckmann on how much of the community board’s input was considered. Beckmann replied that the community boards input was never considered. Furthermore, she added, at the beginning applicants would tweak their own proposals based on the community board’s comments but overtime, as it became clear to applicants that the Board of Standards and Appeals would rubber stamp all applications, such considerations and tweaking stopped.

The Subcommittee voted 7-0 to approve the amendment to the Zoning Resolution. On October 6, 2016, the City Council’s Land Use Committee voted 13-0 to approve as well. The City Planning Commission will review the proposal and then it will be considered by the full City Council.

UPDATE: On October 27, 2016, the City Council voted 51-0 to approve Brooklyn Community Board 10’s application to amend the zoning text, removing the district from eligibility for section 73-622 special permits. The zoning amendment will go into effect November 1. During the roll call vote, Council Member Vincent Gentile thanked the Council for its support in rescinding the district’s eligibility for the special permit “which over the years allowed the zoning to be too easily overridden.” District Manager Josephine Beckmann called the vote the conclusion to “a 13 year long journey by CB10 members to remove Community District 10 from this section of the zoning text.” She thanked Council Member Gentile for his “tireless advocacy.”

By: Jonathon Sizemore (Jonathon is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2016).

2 thoughts on “Land Use Committee Approves Brooklyn CB10’s Application; Subcommittee Expresses Concern About BSA [UPDATE: City Council Unanimously Passes Application]

  1. To say that the BSA has approved “all” of these applications is a gross misrepresentation. Obviously many proposals brought before the Board for a pre-application meeting never made it to filing, based on perceived likelihood (or lack thereof) of approval. Even more notable, many other applications have been Withdrawn over the years by applicants following multitudes of hearings where it became obvious the Board wasn’t going to grant.

  2. Yes, indeed, not “all” of the 73-622 applications from the 4 community districts have been approved…it’s closer to 95%! This special permit has been greatly abused. It should be suspended in the other applicable districts until that abuse is studied, until testimony from applicants is sworn, until the BSA is given a definition of “neighborhood character” which is supposed to be protected, and until abuse of the DOB’s Post Approval Amendments is halted.

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