Community Board 15 voted to reject a request from the Manhattan Beach Community Group that a moratorium be put in place that would suspend special permits and zoning variances in Manhattan Beach in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
According to a letter from the group sent to the Board on April 22, the Manhattan Beach Community Group fears that there remain too many environmental and safety issues in the wake of Sandy that must be studied before the Community Board allows homeowners to expand their homes in ways that could make a bad situation worse.
“They seem to approve everything. Including houses that we’ve objected to,” MBCG President Ira Zalcman told Sheepshead Bites after the proposal was defeated. “If [flood-prone areas are required] to do away with basements, for example, why would they be approving requests for basements now? I just thought we should see what’s going to happen before people create more problems in the community.”
The group’s letter, posted in full below this article, said that granting special permits – one of the few functions in which the Board has formal influence in city planning matters and which allows some homeowners to build beyond allowed zoning limits – should wait until more information is available.
As part of their reasoning, the group included a 12-point list of concerns, such as the fact that home expansion could eat up valuable green space, which helps absorb stormwater, and that digging new basements and cellars could alter the water table throughout the community. They’ve also requested the Board wait until the Army Corps of Engineers presents plans for how the community will be protected in the future, as that may help guide decision-making in development issues.
The ideas took some heat from those at the board meeting before being shot down in a 9-1 vote by the Zoning and Variance Committee.
“None of those ideas connect … this is nothing but a cheap ploy to stop things from getting done,” said boardmember Harold Weinberg, who is also an architect who represents many clients in Manhattan Beach. Weinberger said the Department of Buildings has already issued guidelines that address the group’s concerns.
Although no one from the group was in attendance to defend the request, Madison-Marine-Homecrest Civic Association President Ed Jaworski said that it was within the Board’s purview to take steps beyond what the Department of Buildings has laid out to protect the community.
“Planning is one of the prime purposes of community boards. When community boards came into being their initial title was supposed to be Community Planning Boards. That is supposed to be the function of the Community Board,” Jaworski said. “Planning for the future of a community and the impact of storms is the essential responsibility of this Community Board and it should not be diminished.”
According to Community Board 15 Chairperson Theresa Scavo, though, the Board would in fact be diminishing its own power if it acted on MBCG’s request, since it would be surrendering its voice on development issues. If the Board gave up their right to review special permit applications, she said, the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) would continue to review them without the Community Board’s input.
“I was told if we waive and table any of our zoning items they would proceed as normal at the BSA,” Scavo said, noting that the letter was also sent to the BSA and the Department of City Planning.
According to Zalcman, though, it’s just more of the same from a Board he believes is pro-development.
“They’ve been approving almost every house with special permits for Manhattan Beach. So no I’m not surprised where they stand on zoning,” he said. “[The moratorium's defeat] was expected. I was surprised with the quickness of it. I didn’t think it would be shot down in the same meeting [but that it would be tabled for discussion], but I think that speaks for itself.”
The Manhattan Beach Community Group’s full letter to the Board:
April 22, 2013
THERESA SCAVO, CHAIR, COMMUNITY BOARD 15
RE: All BSA SPECIAL PERMIT REQUESTS
DEAR CHAIRPERSON SCAVO:
The disaster of Super Storm Sandy has created questions in the Manhattan Beach Community that require specific action from the Community Board.
Considering the fact that no one knows what plans will be created by our governments, the Manhattan Beach Community Group respectfully requests that all Special Permits that come before your Board be deferred to a future time or be denied for the following reasons:
1. All Special Permit requests, by definition, take more land that could be used to absorb rain/storm water.
2. No one knows, at this time, what the impact will be if more land is taken in order to build a larger home.
3. Where is water to go, even during heavy rainfall?
4. In the event a request is made to build a basement where there was none, no one can say with any certainty that this will not change the water table and cause neighboring homes to find water in their basements.
5. No one can say with any certainty that having basements where none were previously built will not cause new basements to be flooded and require 24 hour pumping as we have witnessed in Manhattan Beach in the past.
6. Everything concerning the Manhattan Beach community relative to Super Storm Sandy is in a state of flux.
7. There have been no studies regarding the water table(s) under homes in the community.
8. No one has made any determination as to how to handle future storm surges.
9. No study has been forthcoming regarding the water levels in Sheepshead Bay and when it will overflow again since there is significant history of the Bay overflowing.
10. No one has been able to enforce the Yards Text Amendment recently passed by NYC . The non-enforcement of this law has exacerbated the issue of non-absorption of water.
11. No definitive plans for how to rebuild our homes devastated by Super Storm Sandy have been presented to the community.
12. The Army Corps of Engineers has not been forthcoming with plans they may have to protect our community.
Since there is uncertainty as to what or how or if our community should be rebuilt or protected in the future, we submit that “business as usual” should not be the case. Therefore, we believe the Board’s decisions as they relate to Special Permits should be postponed or denied.