The Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) is an integral part of the City's system for regulating land use, development, and construction and was established as an independent board to grant “relief” from the zoning code. When the City’s first zoning regulations were enacted in 1916, they were intended to be generally applicable to large swaths of the City. However, the drafters had concerns that individual parcels of land might be unduly restricted by the regulations, subjecting the City to claims that the City had unconstitutionally taken private property. Historically, appeals boards have been created all over the country whenever municipalities establish land-use regulations. By providing an avenue for relief through the Board, the City significantly reduces the likelihood that any broad constitutional challenges to its overall zoning system could be successful, and the Board safeguards the City's ability to regulate the use and development of private property.
The Board is empowered by the City Charter to interpret the meaning and applicability of the Zoning Resolution, the New York City Construction Codes, and the Multiple Dwelling Law. This power includes the ability to vary in certain instances the provisions of these regulations.
Most of the Board’s activity involves reviewing and deciding applications for variances and special permits, as authorized by the Zoning Resolution, and appeals by property owners whose proposals have been denied by the Department of Buildings, Fire Department, or Department of Small Business Services. The Board also reviews and decides applications from the Department of Buildings and Fire Department to modify or revoke certificates of occupancy.
The Board can only act upon specific applications brought by landowners or interested parties who have received prior determinations from one of the enforcement agencies noted above. The Board cannot offer opinions or interpretations generally, and it cannot grant a variance or a special permit to any property owner who has not first sought a proper permit or approval from an enforcement agency. Further, in reaching its determinations, the Board is limited to the specific findings and remedies set forth in state and local laws, codes, and the Zoning Resolution, including, where required by law, an assessment of potential environmental impacts.
The Board has five full-time commissioners with select skill sets, including experience in architecture, urban planning, and engineering, and no more than two commissioners may reside in any one borough.
The Board meets regularly in review sessions and public hearings, which are open to the public.
Local Law 40 of 2011 requires agencies to post certain memoranda of understanding and similar agreements (MOUs) entered into among governmental agencies. The Board has not identified any covered MOUs or similar agreements.