Borough Cabinet, Board 1 Hear Bldgs. Dept. Rule Changes
The city Department of Buildings (DOB) is proposing a change in its rules regarding public comment on development projects.
At a March 6 public hearing, DOB proposed to allow public challenges for 30 days from the date of an approval, with the entire process online. Currently, DOB rules do not impose time limitations for the public to raise objections regarding complaints about development projects.
Under the new rules, DOB will also require that documents outlining zoning attributes of a proposed new building and enlargement projects be submitted with new building and major alteration job permit applications.
"We want to arm the public with information before construction starts," said Donald Ranshte, DOB Director of Communications, at the April meeting of the Queens Borough Cabinet. "Usually, complaints are made after construction starts," he said.
Marilyn Bitterman, Community Board 7 district manager had a different viewpoint. "You've eliminated everybody's ability to do something on the 31st day," she said.
"If someone can come to us and prove us wrong, we will not limit their challenge, replied Ranshte.
After a schematic diagram and all forms are posted and the project is approved, Ranshte said, "At that point, a clock starts. Any member of the public can post to the Web a challenge to our approvaal of the building." Challenges can even be made anonymously.
Using the "My Community" feature on the DOB Web site at nyc.gov, the public can search by community board to find all projects filed in their community and the status of each. 'Zoning Challenge and Appeal' or 'Construction Challenge and Appeal' forms are both available online.
At the end of the initial challenge period, DOB will review challenges and the Borough Commissioner will make a determination. If there is still disagreement, the challenge can be taken to the Board of Standards and Appeals or to the DOBs Technical Affairs Unit.
"What we're allowing the public, the community boards and elected officials to do is to say to us we think you've missed something, Ranshte said. "Transparency, fairness, raising the level of the quality of work," he said, enumerating DOB's goals.
Ranshte also appeared before Community Board 1 later on April 21 concerning the proposed rule change, but the board voted to send a letter in opposition. Community Board 1 Zoning Committee Chairman John Carusone said DOB was taking "a very complex issue and putting it at the mercy of the public".
Ranshte responded that presently, DOB audits can be requested at any time. "If you're in compliance, there should be no worries," he said.
Board Chairman Vinicio Donato asked the hypothetical question. "On the 31st day, I'm a public person and I see something wrong, can I still make a challenge?"
Ranshte said public challenge forms are always accessible online and a person can make a challenge after the 30-day period, although review is at the discretion of the borough commissioner. Within the 30-day period, the commissioner must review and respond to all public challenges.
"The final rule hasn't been promulgated yet," Ranshte said regarding the 30-day period. Asked how long the review period is, he said, "An equal or comparable time to the challenge period. "We're trying to get people familiar with the process," he added.