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Staten Island backs out of SNAD changes, but Bronx still in it

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Staten Island political leaders and decision makers seemed to celebrate the city planning commission backing down on proposed changes to the Special Natural Area District on Monday. But those feelings couldn't be shared in the Bronx — it appears the massive overhaul to the environmental greenbelt project will move forward here. 

At least that's what city planning spokeswoman Rachaele Raynoff confirmed to The Riverdale Press on Thursday.

"The Staten Island portion of the application is not proceeding at this time," Raynoff said, in a statement. "This will not affect the proposal to strengthen and streamline natural district regulations for the Bronx. Public review continues."

That means Community Board 8 is still set to weigh in on the changes that will ultimately create a Special Natural Resource District with a more streamlined approval process for work on smaller properties, at its regular board meeting in two weeks.

Both CB8 chair Rosemary Ginty and land use committee chair Charles Moerdler told The Press they were caught off-guard by the decision. Although Staten Island community board members were informed about the change on Monday, CB8 received no official notice, and members only learned of it after calling the city planning department's Bronx office.

"They were working on this for five years, they spent a fortune on putting together an environmental impact study," Moerdler said. "And one month of complaints from the (Staten Island) councilmen — poof, gone."

Moerdler was referring to councilmen Joe Borelli and Steven Matteo, who opposed the changes not long after Staten Island Community Board 1 voted against them May 29. The two other community boards in the borough that were originally set to be affected by the changes had been set to vote this past Tuesday and next week.

Councilman Andrew Cohen, who represents most of the CB8 area, joined his Staten Island counterparts to ask city planning to split the Bronx and Staten Island proposals, but said he still supported many of the changes, including removing community board oversight of building projects on property of one acre or less. That put him at odds with the community board, which wanted to retain that oversight.

When reached late Thursday, Cohen said changes to the SNAD/SNRD proposal were not expected to happen until the fall.

Moerdler points out that the majority of the proposal references Staten Island, because that's where the majority of the area covered by SNAD rules is. Now, Moerdler and Ginty are unsure how they are supposed to vote on a proposal with large swath of information now seemingly void.

"I've been dealing with planning issues all my professional life," said Ginty, who helped author the original SNAD rules while working in city government more than four decades ago. "I have never seen this."

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