Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr., has now weighed in on sweeping changes to the zoning laws protecting Riverdale's greenbelt — and it's a solid no.
Diaz issued his recommendation Monday rejecting city planning's proposal to overhaul rules governing the Special Natural Area District of the Bronx, but left the door open for approval in the future.
"This strikes at the heart of checks and balances," Diaz wrote in his recommendation. "New York City has a charter for a reason. Part of it is to lay out proper procedure to assure that established entities within city government have proper review and say in the land use process. Asking one of those entities to move forward without the opportunity for proper review while another one of those entities in another geographic location is given an undetermined amount of time to reimagine their land use process is entirely unacceptable."
Diaz is referring to city planning's last-minute changes to the overall zoning text change that would transform SNAD into the Special Natural Resources District. Designed to update 40-year-old environmental rules and streamline some of the bureaucracy, city planning had hoped to implement the new rules in not just the Bronx, but where much of existing SNAD is found in Staten Island.
However, just before Community Board 8 was set to consider the SNAD proposal, members there learned that Staten Island had been removed from the proposal, and that there was no time to give CB8 an amended version of the text removing Staten Island. City planning officials later said that nothing about the Bronx portion of the SNAD changes were affected by the Staten Island removal, but CB8 officials disagreed.
At its own hearing, CB8 chose not to vote on the SNAD changes, and instead put forward a resolution calling the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure city planning had put together as unlawful. The board demanded they receive a revised text amendment so that they could review and vote on it accordingly.
Diaz agreed with CB8 on that approach.
"The issue I have is the lack of proper notification and opportunity to review changes to the ULURP for Bronx Community Board 8," Diaz said in his recommendation. "The clock was ticking, and decisions were made. Unfortunately, the community board did not have an updated document to review in a timely fashion. In essence, Bronx Community Board 8 was asked to 'take DCP's word for it' that there were no content changes as it pertained to what was agreed upon with the working group."
Diaz acknowledged that he did receive the revised amendment removing Staten Island in time for his July hearing, but that wasn't enough, since he often takes "the views of community boards into consideration."
"If they were not afforded sufficient chance to review the document — even if to affirm that there are no changes — how am I able to take into consideration all viewpoints that may advise my recommendation?" Diaz asked in his recommendation.
Even with the borough president's rejection, the SNAD amendment will continue through ULURP with its next stop at the City Planning Commission, which has two months to hold a public meeting, and then consider passing or denying what's in front of them, or modifying the proposal.
"This Bronx proposal to eliminate red tape for single-family homeowners and better protect the borough's important natural resources was developed with significant community input over four years," said Melissa Grace, spokeswoman for the city planning department, in a statement. "We thank Borough President Diaz for his official comments and look forward to the next steps in the public land review process."
CB8 chair Rosemary Ginty sent a note to Diaz late Monday thanking the borough president "from a very grateful community."
"You heard our issue," Ginty said. "You listened. You understood. You supported your community board. Thank you."
Diaz — who did not attend the July 11 hearing in his office himself, but was represented by members of his staff — made it clear the "contents of this proposal are sound," but that "the process has become muddled, and decisions appeared to be made subjectively at the behest of the city's particular stance at the time."
If approved in its current form, the Special Natural Area District that encompasses much of Riverdale's and Spuyten Duyvil's riverfront — as well as much of Fieldston — would become the Special Natural Resources District. The changes, according to city planning, would consider alterations to property on a holistic basis, rather than just individual parcels, and would remove some community board oversight of smaller parcels, which city planning says greatly increases the cost and time for single-family homeowners.
Even if the SNAD changes make it through the City Planning Commission, it would have to pass the city council and get the mayor's signature before it could become law. That process would not conclude until late October, at the earliest.
Story was updated at 6:14 p.m., to include comments from Rosemary Ginty, and to reflect the borough president's attendance status at the July 11 hearing.
Story was updated at 8:42 p.m., to include comments from the city planning department.