The one thing leaders of Community Board 8 wanted more than anything else was to get the Special Natural Area District that has defined this part of the Bronx for more than 40 years separated from the Special Natural Area District that has defined Staten Island.
In a move last week, that’s exactly what the city planning department did. But not in the way anyone — at least outside of Andrew Cohen’s office — expected.
Reportedly succumbing to significant political pressure from the council members in that borough, city planning withdrew proposed changes to Staten Island’s SNAD, allowing the greenbelt there to remain just the way it is. At least for now.
But city planning’s proposed changes for the Bronx greenbelt in and around Riverdale? It’s moving forward, no matter how much local leaders opposed major aspects of the new zoning laws.
The decision makes little sense. City planning’s efforts to revise the 1970s-era laws had been in the works for the past five years. And as CB8 chair Rosemary Ginty has said more than once, the SNAD on Staten Island is far bigger than what it is in the Bronx, and so Staten Island is in the driver’s seat for any changes.
But Staten Island is not the Bronx, and the Bronx is not Staten Island. The environmental and real estate development needs there own land with plenty of room to grow is much different from what we have in Riverdale, Fieldston and the estates, where it’s mostly built-out.
That’s why community board members led by Ginty and land use chair Charles Moerdler pushed for the Bronx SNAD to be severed from Staten Island. City planning got the memo — it just didn’t read it all the way through.
So what happened? If an observer were to make a pretty educated guess, it seems almost clear: Andrew Cohen happened.
Cohen has made no secret his disagreement with the community board over a key component of the proposed SNAD changes: Properties less than 1 acre in size would no longer have to go in front of the community board to start new building or major landscaping projects. Instead, those property owners can take their plans straight to the buildings department.
It streamlines the process for sure, but at what cost? Although CB8’s role in city government is purely advisory, many times, it’s the only real place the community itself can speak up for — or against — a proposed project within SNAD. Cohen is more concerned about speeding up the approval process, while the community board wants to keep oversight intact from a body that actually understands how SNAD is supposed to work.
Those who live and work in and around SNAD want to keep this greenbelt intact and active. But to achieve that, we need leadership. Right now.