The Special Natural Area District (SNAD, NA-2) within the Bronx includes parts of Riverdale, Spuyten Duyvil and Fieldston neighborhoods within Community District 8. The SNAD is home to steep slopes, rock outcrops, ponds, brooks, and mature trees. The special district protects and enhances the important natural habitats and recreational assets by balancing preservation with development.
Bronx Advisory Committee - To create the proposal, DCP worked with stakeholders and conducted significant research since 2015. The Department of City Planning has held 13 working meetings with the Bronx Advisory Committee since April 2015:
Advisory Committee Members:
Community Board 8 SNAD Working Group
5 working meetings with the Community Board 8 SNAD working group.
Proposed changes to the district are needed to ensure an improved and more consistent approach to development that results in predictable outcomes by 1) applying updated environmental preservation science with a more holistic approach to natural resource protection, 2) codifying best practices from last 40 years and 3) focusing on preserving the largest and most ecologically sensitive features while 4) creating a zoning regimen that is fairer and more predictable for property owners.
The proposed regulations:
The proposal will create ecological areas across the special district based on proximity to the most sensitive natural resources such as large parks, forests, and hillsides. Regulations for development focus on lot coverage, impervious area and planting controls, which will vary depending on adjacency of sites to these natural areas.
Outreach in addition to Advisory Committee engagement
Bronx Open House – October 2018
On Wednesday, October 15, DCP hosted an Open House at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in the Bronx to share information about the proposed Special Districts Update. See the summary of the open house.
Why is the City proposing changes to SNAD?
SNAD was established in the Bronx in 1975 with minor updates in 2005. Over the decades, DCP has established important best practices, and our understanding of the natural environment has evolved significantly revealing the importance of larger natural resources, such as large parks, forests. The goal of the SNAD proposal is to address the broader ecological context and incorporate best practices to create strict, clear and mandatory rules that achieve predictable outcomes for the natural environment and property owners.
While current regulations have preserved the tree-lined neighborhoods and natural features of the community, the regulations allow property owners to remove or modify natural features through a site-by-site review by the City Planning Commission (CPC) without regard to the larger ecological context. Over time, this has resulted in inconsistent application of the rules and created unnecessary cost and time burden for small homeowners.
What will the changes mean to a small homeowner?
The proposed changes streamline review for development on small properties, those of less than one acre. The regulations will establish strict but reasonable rules and standards for small properties, which allow owners to proceed directly to the Department of Buildings (DOB) for review rather than coming to the Department of City Planning (DCP) for approvals before going to DOB for permits. The existing two-step process can add significant time and cost to a project for a small homeowner. Larger sites will continue to require discretionary review by the Department of City Planning and the City Planning Commission. To support homeowners, DCP will create a homeowner guide to the SNAD regulations and best practices.
How does proposed SNAD changes shape development?
SNAD was established to ensure development rights and natural features are balanced and protected. Under the proposed regulations, SNAD will shape development by focusing on outcomes - for instance connecting larger natural resources such as parks and waterways, promoting greater biodiversity, and preserving the tree canopy. The changes will establish firm limits to the modification of natural features. On larger sites, one acre or more, a portion of the property will be designated for preservation in perpetuity.
Are the proposed regulations specific to the Bronx? Are they driven by needs in Staten Island?
Today SNAD regulations apply to sub districts in Staten Island, the Bronx, and a small area of Queens. There are minimal differences in the existing SNAD rules between Staten Island and the Bronx. However, because Staten Island SNAD is being expanded to incorporate two other special districts, the scope of proposed regulations is much wider in Staten Island than in the Bronx. The special district will retain the “sub districts” in the Bronx, Staten Island, and Queens.
DCP conducted significant research on the character of Fieldston and Riverdale and used these neighborhoods as a model for the proposed regulations. Most importantly, the proposed regulations meet the needs in the Bronx by encouraging campus planning, allowing small homeowners easier review, placing strict limits on modifications of natural features, requiring more trees and greater biodiversity, creating more predictable outcomes, and enhancing neighborhood character.
Will removing public review from small projects mean the community loses an opportunity to provide input?
The proposed rules incorporate 40 years of best practices identified by DCP to create strict but reasonable rules for every small homeowner that make site planning more predictable for homeowners and the community alike. In general, DCP site plan review and public review rarely alter site design for small projects. The proposed regulations would eliminate this lengthy step which would remove a significant burden and expense from small homeowners; at the same time, the proposed regulations would allow for more predictable outcomes. Large sites and large developments where outcomes are less predictable would still require DCP review and referral to Community Board 8.
Additionally, the proposed rules will go through a full public review allowing the community the opportunity to provide input on the proposed changes. DCP believes the proposal will provide clear, strict rules that will continue to balance the preservation of natural features with development on small lots while continuing to meet the intent of the special district.
How will the proposed regulations support neighborhood character?
SNAD neighborhoods are clearly identifiable by their significant trees, greenery, rock outcrops and wetlands. Natural features add significantly to the value in these neighborhoods. The proposed regulations would support and enhance neighborhood character by preserving rock outcrops and large trees in front yards, limiting retaining walls, diversifying planting requirements, including plant species and types to support biodiversity, and considering natural features for certain large site subdivisions and in historic districts.
How will the SNAD regulations be enforced?
Like all zoning regulations, SNAD regulations are enforced when a property owner seeks approvals and permits from the City (currently CPC and DOB), or when DOB receives a complaint about a property owner’s failure to comply with regulations. When a violation is issued the owner must correct the violation and pay a fine and new permits will not be issued unless the violation is corrected. DOB is strengthening the enforcement and construction safety supervision for all sites. DOB has also created an online portal to track all active construction sites which increases transparency.
To assist with review and enforcement under the proposed rules, DCP and DOB are creating checklists, application requirements, and forms for inspectors and applicant professionals, and DCP will provide staff support to DOB after the new regulations go into effect. Other supporting documents will include a plain language homeowners’ guide.
How are subdivisions treated in the proposed regulations?
Under current regulations, zoning lot subdivisions follow underlying zoning regulations but require only limited consideration of natural features and are not subject to public review.
Under the proposed regulations, subdivisions of lots in historic districts and sites one acre or larger will be subject to public review and will need to demonstrate that a proposed subdivision meets requirements for the protection of natural features. Subdivisions of an acre or more will require a “preservation area” of natural features to be set aside, in perpetuity, to enhance the ecological connectivity. No development will be permitted in these “preservation areas” which is a major strengthening to the existing natural area regulations. All other proposed subdivisions, that do not require public review, would have clear rules that allow property owners to apply directly with the DOB for approvals.
Will I be able to garden as I wish?
Yes! The proposed regulations require more planting, trees, and biodiversity on sites that will enhance the neighborhood character that defines the SNAD. The regulations require that a minimum number of trees and a minimum square footage of planted area be maintained on a site. The regulations will encourage planting of native species and limit invasive species.
How did DCP get input to create the proposed regulations?
DCP convened working groups of local institutions, homeowners, landscape architects, elected officials, local civics and environmental groups, and city agencies to shape the proposal, review the proposed framework, and establish core principles to guide this overhaul of the regulations. We have also heard from and met with Community Board 8’s SNAD Task Force.
For questions and to join our mailing list, email DCP at: SpecialDistrictsUpdate@planning.nyc.gov.