The Riverdale Community Coalition
The Riverdale Community Coalition was formed in January, 2013. We are a grassroots volunteer organization of homeowners and other residents in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. The mission is to safeguard the unique character of Riverdale and its neighborhoods, and to encourage people in the Riverdale area to be aware of changes happening that may affect them, before its too late! We are concerned with the proposal of the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Riverdale to expand onto the property formerly owned by the Passionate Fathers by constructing 300 apartments on the site.
The section of Riverdale surrounding the Hebrew Home lies in a Special Natural Areas District that reflects and is intended to protect its very special natural character.
A little history to explain how our current strict zoning regulations came about...
- In the last century, many large estates were developed here to take advantage of the natural setting and views of the Hudson River. As a result, large amounts of open space were retained in private ownership, and when some of these large properties were subsequently broken up, they were developed for relatively low-density single family use with much of the natural setting maintained. This defines the character of Northwest Riverdale today.
- For a number of years, this area was zoned R1-2, reflecting its single-family make-up but allowing lot areas as small as 5,700 square feet. This was not only inconsistent with existing conditions, it held the potential of fragmenting the area in the future. The community came together to propose a re-zoning that would address the problem and go a long way towards assuring that the existing character of the neighborhood would be protected. Through a 197-a Plan developed in 2003, the proposal was to rezone the area from R1-2 to R1-1,requiring a minimum lot size of 9,500 square feet.
- In approving this zoning change, the City Planning Commission stated in its report of September 26, 2005: The Commission believes the proposed zoning changes will reinforce the historic character of the Riverdale-on-Hudson community. The overwhelming character of this community is one of large single family homes on large lots. The Commission notes that 78% of residential properties in the area have lot sizes of 9,500 square-feet or greater. The existing R1-2 zoning has a minimum lot size of 5,700 square-feet thereby allowing subdivision of many of the existing lots. The R1-1, with a minimum lot size of 9,500 square-feet, will limit future lot subdivision development patterns and density.
- This proposed change, together with the recently approved revisions to the Special Natural Area District regulations, will ensure that future development will be consistent with the area’s existing development patterns and density. The proposed zoning is consistent with recommendations contained in CB 8 2000: A River to Reservoir Preservation Strategy, a 197-a Plan prepared by the Community Board, and approved by the City Planning Commission on October 22, 2003 and by the City Council on November 19, 2003.
Why we oppose the Hebrew Homes Plan ...
- The rezoning has served the community well until now, avoiding the sort of multi-family housing and small lot subdivision that has plagued other sections of Riverdale. But “until now” is the operative phrase. The Hebrew Home expansion project contemplates 300 units of multi-family housing on the property it purchased from the Passionate Fathers and is aggressively pursuing strategies to circumvent the strict zoning regulations in the Special Natural Area District in Riverdale.
- The Riverdale Community Coalition strongly opposes this plan. To begin with, having struggled long and hard with many other Riverdale residents to secure the R1-1 rezoning and the designation of 35 blocks of Riverdale as a Special Natural Area District, we are not prepared to see these protections rolled back. They were adopted to preserve the special character and environment of our community; and as this case shows, they stand as our principal defense against incompatible development.
- Under no circumstances should there be any modification of these regulations.
Why should we care? ...
- The reality is that the Hebrew Home expansion project would insert into the neighborhood an over-scaled institutional development that would serve to defeat the very purpose of the rezoning – i.e., using City Planning’s words, to maintain “the historic character of the Riverdale-on-Hudson community, the overwhelming character of [which] . . . is one of large single family homes on large lots.” The Hebrew Home project would erect four large multi-unit, multi-story apartment buildings of questionable design, with 300 apartments and at least 300 parking spaces, into the neighborhood, in direct conflict with the goals identified in the City Planning report and in defiance of the community efforts to maintain its special character.
- We recognize that the Hebrew Home is itself a collection of multi-story,multi-unit buildings which provide homes and services for a large elderly population, and we respect the important functions that it serves.
- But these buildings are on a tract that has long been zoned for multi-unit development (i.e.,R4) and most of them were built before concerns about the future of the neighborhood were clearly articulated.
- The existence, then, of the current multi-unit Hebrew Home campus cannot be used as a justification for developing the former Passionate Fathers’ property in a similar way. Moreover, if the Hebrew Home project were approved, it would mean that all the remaining large properties subject to the R1-1 zoning would have an equal claim to such incompatible development – a precedent that would eviscerate the effectiveness of the rezoning. Having acquired that property fully aware of the R1-1 zoning, the Hebrew Home has no basis for claiming that it should be able to develop it inconsistently with that zoning or, of equal importance, the purposes of that zoning.
- The Coalition also is deeply concerned about the traffic implications of the Hebrew Home proposal. The sole access to the existing facilities is, and the sole access to the existing and expanded facilities would be, via Palisades Avenue, a very narrow and often very steep and curvy two-lane roadway running between 254th and 261st Streets. Over much of the length of Palisade Avenue, vehicles have to share the roadway with pedestrians and bicycles because there are no sidewalks. This makes travel on the road precarious as matters stand now. Adding 300 new living units and more than 300 new parking spaces can only exacerbate this situation. The impacts of a sensible development consistent with the zoning would be far less objectionable.