“A variance is a discretionary action by the Board of Standards and Appeals which grants relief from the use and bulk provisions of the Zoning Resolution to the extent necessary to permit a reasonable or practical use of the land. A variance may be granted, after a public hearing, when unique conditions on a specific parcel of land would cause the property owner practical difficulty and undue hardship if it were developed pursuant to applicable provisions.
” From the Zoning Handbook Glossary
Variances: How Out-of-Scale Buildings Get Built On Your Block
What is the Bureau of Standards & Appeals (BSA)? The BSA is a quasi-judicial body created to address unique circumstances not anticipated by the city zoning law.
It has 5 members, all appointed by the mayor for a 6 year term.
Can BSA decisions create problems for a neighborhood? Yes! Here's how.
Variances: How To Undermine Zoning and Make a Profit
"BSA can grant exceptions to the zoning law known as variances, if property owners can show that they meet the following five conditions.
1) that there are unique physical conditions on the site;
2) the variance is needed so the property owners can get a "reasonable return" on their investment;
3) the variances won't alter the "essential character" of the neighborhood;
4) the economic hardship wasn't created by the owner; and
5) the change being requested is the minimum necessary to relieve the owner of their hardship.
"The main problem is that there's no limit to the variances that the board can dole out in any neighborhood. As a result, entire neighborhoods have been developed in ways not allowed in the zoning.
"The BSA, although not a planning body, engages in ad hoc planning, or planning by variance.
"Planning on land use belongs to the City Planning Commission and its support agency, the Department of City Planning.
"Unfortunately there are too many examples where zoning rules get changed to accommodate development that is already taking place.
"Out of 137 requests for zoning variances across the city filed with the board during those two years and decided by April 2003, all but 10 were granted. That 93 percent success rate for developers was an increase of about 10 percentage points since the 1970's.
"As a result of BSA's actions,, the City Planning Commission, which is charged with overseeing city zoning, is often confronted with de facto changes, and redraws zoning maps to match decisions by the board, a case of the tail wagging the dog, planners and other critics of the standards and appeals board say.