Community Board 14’s frustration with the Board of Standards & Appeals and its tendency to ignore their special permit recommendations has some members wondering why they even bother considering building applications in the first place.
“The special permit process has been a substantial burden on this board,” Community Board 14 Chair Alvin Berk complained at the group’s October meeting held at P.S. 249 last week.
Property owners seeking special permits or variances from the BSA when their building plans do not adhere to code must first petition their local community board for consideration.
The board’s vote is only advisory.
The problem, according to Community Board 14 members who devote their time and energy as volunteers reviewing building plans, is that the BSA has a history of taking their recommendations and promptly rendering contrary decisions.
“Our board does a good job of analyzing the facts, and I think we’re generous [with special permits], but the ones that we do turn down, they just steam roll over us,” board member Florence Valentino said.
Despite that track record, Berk believes that his board has been able to “leverage” important concessions from building applicants with objectionable plans.
“As frustrated as we are by the rejections, we feel we play a valuable role in the special permit process,” Berk said.
Special permits have long been contentious.
In nearby Community Board 15, for instance, supporters maintain that they prevent growing families from moving out of the neighborhood. But critics charge that the process is responsible for undermining the character of their communities. Much of the special permit applications that come before Community Board 14 are generated in an R-2 district south of Brooklyn College.
“It’s a sensitive area,” Valentino said. “It’s changed from its original mission and probably taken on a life of its own. Rather than being used sparingly, it’s become the norm.”
Barbara Sheeran, another member of Community Board 14, says that groups like hers ought to be listened to more when it comes to special permits.
“We don’t have a lot of clout, but I still think we’re important,” Sheeran said. “I feel we don’t get enough respect.”