Like so many Staten Islanders, I have been angry at every step of the seemingly unstoppable sale and destruction of Mount Manresa in Rosebank. These developers are now coming before the Board of Standards and Appeals with a plea for a variance from Section 36 of the General City Law, without the requisite environmental assessment statement.
I’m puzzled, however, that the developers would even be here today seeking a variance. They knew this site inside and out when they purchased it. These developers were aware of the topography of the land before they purchased it. Nothing new has been unearthed. There is no undue hardship here – and therefore zero grounds for a variance. These developers walked into this purchase with eyes wide open.
Let us just take a moment to review what they are asking for here, because the BSA is not a rubber stamp.
The General City Law says that BSA can waive these requirements “where the enforcement of the provisions of this section would entail practical difficulty or unnecessary hardship,” and references local variance findings.
As a condition to grant a variance, the board must make each and every one of the following findings:
There must be unique physical conditions peculiar to and inherent in the particular zoning lot that will present practical difficulties
With these physical conditions there would be no reasonable possibility that a development, enlargement, extension, alteration or change of use on the zoning lot in strict conformity with the provisions of this Resolution will bring a reasonable return
That the variance, if granted, will not alter the essential character of the neighborhood and will not substantially impair the appropriate use or development of adjacent property; and will not be detrimental to the public welfare
That the practical difficulties or unnecessary hardship claimed as a ground for a variance have not been created by the owner or by a predecessor in title – and the purchase of a zoning lot subject to the restrictions sought to be varied shall not itself constitute a self-created hardship
And finally, the variance, if granted, is the minimum variance necessary to afford relief.
Again, under the provisions of Section 72-21, each and every one of these five separate findings must be met in order for this variance to be approved. Having read the application, I do not see even an attempt to meet any one of these findings.
Finally, BSA’s determination that these applications are “Type II” and therefore exempt from SEQRA/CEQR is supported neither by the SEQRA Rules nor the City’s “Type II” list. Title 6 CRR-NY Section 617.5 (c)(2) only exempts “acts of a ministerial nature involving no exercise of discretion,” such as building permits predicated solely on the applicants compliance with the relevant local building code.
In this case, to the contrary, General City Law Section 36 approvals are specifically predicated upon the BSA’s finding that the enforcement of the provisions of that section would entail “practical difficult or unnecessary hardship.”
The language of the statute clearly establishes that BSA is required to use its discretion in making a decision on General City Law Section 36 applications. The City’s Type II list, revised in 2014, establishes that some BSA actions, such as certain special permits, are exempt from environmental review, but fails to call out applications of this type. Therefore, it clearly does not consider these actions Type II. Accordingly, BSA must require an EAS to be completed prior to reviewing these applications.
Again, the BSA is not a rubber stamp for developers to bulldoze and do as they please. The BSA must take seriously its responsibility to city residents and our collective future by following state law and city zoning regulations.
The Board of Standards and Appeals must review this application closely – and when they do, they will see what is in plain sight to those of us who live on Staten Island, that this development will “alter the essential character of the neighborhood” and that it will be “detrimental to the public welfare.” The BSA should deny the application on that one point alone.
The only appropriate way for the developers to proceed is through a change to the City Map which requires the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure -- and therefore public review and a City Council vote.
Councilmember Debi Rose
NYCC, 49th District