Board of Standards and Appeals in NYC

The Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) is made up of five commissioners who are appointed by the mayor of New York City. According to the City Charter, these five commissioners must include a professionally qualified city planner, a licensed professional engineer, and a registered architect, each with at least ten years of experience in their field. (, 2016).

They review grants and applications for special permits for certain proposed developments, as well as grant zoning variances for zoning lots with irregular physical conditions where it wouldn’t otherwise be possible to develop the land, renovate existing structure, or begin new construction. Variances are administrative exceptions to land-use regulations, which tend to be loosely defined across regions and within them. (

The Board of Standards and Appeals uses five criteria when they consider applications:

  1. Is there a unique condition that impacts development?

  2. Does the unique condition prevent the applicant from a ‘reasonable financial return’?

  3. Would the variance alter the essential character of the neighborhood?

  4. Was the situation self-imposed (i.e. the developer’s fault)?

  5. Is the variance requested the minimum necessary to provide relief (i.e. are they asking for too much)? (, 2016)

Variance requests have historically led to significant tension between the developers seeking them and the communities they could affect. This tension is exacerbated by the fact the BSA has ruled in favor of developers nearly 97 percent of the time despite protest and push back from local community boards that claim a particular development or renovation would have negative effects on the local community (, 2012).

As a result, some measures have been proposed in order to reform the BSA, though as of yet, none have passed. These have included expanding the number of committee members from five to thirteen, and creating a process where the City Council would review all variance and special permit decisions.

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