Up to this point, Councilman Andrew Cohen has described the changes he would make to the city planning department’s proposal to overhaul Riverdale’s Special Natural Area District as inexplicable.
But it’s now time for Cohen to find that voice after the City Planning Commission moved forward what is expected to transform SNAD into the Special Natural Resources District, and it’s up to Cohen and his fellow members of city council to decide what to do next.
The City Planning Commission left the SNRD proposal mostly intact from what it received from the city planning department. It’s expected to be the biggest overhaul of Riverdale’s greenbelt laws in decades, treating overall land collectively, with the hope of preserving more trees.
But what has drawn significant lines in the sand comes down to community board oversight of property improvements inside the protected area.
Under current laws, virtually any changes a property owner living inside the SNAD wishes to make would have to go through the complicated and time-consuming Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, better known as ULURP.
That includes not only presentations in front of various boards like the City Planning Commission — as well as a vote by city council — but also review by more neighborhood-type bodies, like Community Board 8.
Under SNRD, however, most properties less than an acre would no longer have to go through the lengthy and costly process. Instead, those property owners can submit plans directly to the city’s buildings departments, completely bypassing the community board.
That prompted many on the community board to cry foul, including CB8 chair Rosemary Ginty, one of the original authors of SNAD. Matters became even more complicated when Staten Island’s SNAD rules were abruptly removed from the SNRD proposal, forcing the community board to consider a set of rules that were now significantly out of date.
Because of that, CB8 refused to vote on the rules changes, a lead followed later by Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr., who cited significant concerns on how this proposal was pushed through ULURP without pausing long enough to let community board members see a copy of SNRD without Staten Island in it before forcing them to cast their vote.
The planning commission didn’t take that route, however. Instead, the commission made modifications to SNRD that return CB8 to the process — even if its role had changed.
Under the modified proposal, the buildings department will notify CB8 of all applications it receives inside the SNRD before making any decisions. The buildings department will not solicit CB8 for its opinion, however, nor will any of the applicants be required to speak in front of the board.
That wasn’t enough for Ginty, who told The Riverdale Press last month that the community board would have “no zoning authority to review or recommend to the City Planning Commission.”
“What’s so wrong about the community board receiving, reviewing and recommending after a public discussion?” Ginty asked at the time.
In prepared remarks before the final vote, planning commission chair Marisa Lago said all “meaningful feedback” was considered.
“DCP has dedicated significant resources to this multi-year planning effort in the Bronx,” Lago said. “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.”
But now the city council has nearly two months to decide if this plan should move forward in its current form, be modified even more, or simply get tossed aside.
For proposals specific to neighborhoods like this one, the council tends to follow the lead of their colleague representing that area. Cohen, however, hasn’t quite revealed publicly where he stands.
Cohen originally implied support for key aspects of SNRD after publicly attacking the process of going in front of the community board’s land use committee. Later, however, he stated he would not vote in favor of SNRD without changes. He wouldn’t share what changes he was seeking, or if what the planning commission modified was good enough.
Cohen did not respond to requests for comment.
If the city council does approve the changes, SNRD would still have to be approved by Mayor Bill de Blasio.