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Riverdale wins battle to keep SNAD regulations intact

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After months of battling between local community board representatives and city government, the efforts to transform Riverdale's Special Natural Area District into a revised Special Natural Resources District is dead. For now.

City planning's Bronx borough director Carol Samol officially ended the efforts to overhaul Riverdale's greenbelt district in a letter to Councilman Andrew Cohen withdrawing the plan that had failed to pass both Community Board 8 and Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr., but was pushed through the City Planning Commission, earning high praise from executive director Marisa Lago.

The move comes more than a week after Cohen wrote to Samol, informing her that the proposal to create the Special Natural Resources District would not pass the city council.

"I am convinced now more than ever that there is no viable path forward for the current SNAD legislation to pass in the city council," Cohen wrote Oct. 2. "Despite the recent text amendments, these changes do not reflect the current needs of the community."

That was different from what Lago said during a final SNRD vote late last month. 

“DCP has dedicated significant resources to this multi-year planning effort in the Bronx,” Lago said in prepared remarks at the time. “Such an intensive review of zoning affecting a small area of the borough only comes along once every few decades. As you might guess, our Bronx office is extraordinarily busy meeting the planning needs of neighborhoods across the Bronx, the fastest-growing county in New York state.”

Following the decision to withdraw the SNRD proposal, city planning's Juton Horstman commended those who spent the last four years working on the project.

"While we truly believe that we crafted a good proposal that would better protect Riverdale's green neighborhoods and cut red tape for homeowners, we don't see a way to resolve remaining issues," Horstman said, in a statement. "So today we withdrew the application from ULURP. The current SNAD regulations remain in effect."

The idea of SNRD was to modernize environmental building restrictions that were more than four decades old, many of which have been changed through evolving science. It would have better grouped properties together to look at a more macro impact on environment, rather than the lot-by-lot review that currently exists, and was expected to help produce more trees for the affected neighborhoods.

Local leaders, however, objected to clauses that would remove community board oversight of smaller properties. Any property of less than an acre could bypass local officicals and go straight to the city's buildings department. The idea was to save time and money for single-family homeowners, who sometimes had to wait more than a year to do exterior work on their property, and sometimes spend more money on red tape than the projects themselves.

Community Board 8 leaders became more incensed last summer when the city planning department suddenly, and without explanation, removed Staten Island from the overall changes — that borough is part of SNAD, as is the Bronx. City planning refused to give CB8 a revised rules amendment that removed Staten Island in time for them to vote on it as part of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.  

In response, CB8 refused to vote on the proposal, which continued through the ULURP process to Diaz's office. There, Diaz expressed the same concern about CB8 not having a chance to properly weigh in, and also recommended against SNRD.

When the proposed amendment reached the planning commission, the planning department worked out what they believed was a compromise that would require the buildings department to share all applications within the SNRD with CB8, but that CB8 still would not have an official voice in the proceedings, and property owners would not be required to appear before the board. CB8's leadership — including chair (and original SNAD author) Rosemary Ginty and land use chair Charles Moerdler objected.

"Though changes were made in response to community concerns during public review, DCP does not see a way to resolve remianing issues, and so has withdrawn the application from ULURP," city planning department spokeswoman Rachaele Raynoff said, in a statement.

For more on the failure of the Special Natural Resources District proposal, pick up the Oct. 17 edition of The Riverdale Press.

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