In 1970’s and 80’s, the Department of City Planning established a set of unique rules through the creation of three special districts (Special Natural Area District in the Bronx and Staten Island, Special Hillsides Preservation District and Special South Richmond Development District in Staten Island). These districts encompass more than half of Staten Island and most of the Riverdale neighborhood in the Bronx. The rules were set to ensure that neighborhood development and preservation of environmentally sensitive resources are balanced. Over the past four decades, the rules have resulted in the tree-lined streets, the preservation of local wetlands (the Bluebelt Program), and forested parks that, today, exemplify these last remaining and extraordinary green New York City communities.
The Challenge: The current system allows a property owner to remove or modify natural features through a site-by-site review by the City Planning Commission (CPC) without considering their relationship to the larger ecological context. Additionally, it is a one-size fits all approach for parcels of all sizes, land use or type of natural feature. Overtime, this has resulted in inconsistent application of the rules and created unnecessary cost and time burden, especially for small homeowners.
The Proposed Solution: Codify best practices and streamline the special districts rules to reflect updated environmental science and a more holistic approach to natural resource preservation with clear development standards resulting in better and more predictable outcomes. DCP convened working groups in both boroughs, including representatives from local institutions, homeowners, landscape architects, elected officials, local civics and environmental groups, and City agencies to shape the proposal over the last three years and establish core principles to guide the update.
The proposed new rules will strengthen environmental protections, and make the rules more practical and predictable for homeowners and communities, to ensure that development and preservation of important natural features is balanced. The proposed rules create firm and clear parameters and allow small property owners (those with lots less than one acre) to go directly to the Department of Buildings (DOB) for permits. For larger sites (one acre or more), including sites with homes, retail, hospital and college campuses in the districts, the proposed rules with clear parameters will require individual site plan review by the CPC because these sites contribute more to the public realm and natural habitat. The proposal encourages upfront long-term planning to create a holistic development plan for the public and the property owner, considering natural resource preservation.
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.
The Department expects the proposed modifications to be rolled out for the formal public review process by middle of 2019. For any further questions, please contact the team at SpecialDistricts_DL@planning.nyc.gov.