Let’s not repeat history with trees

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The Riverdale Nature Preservancy wishes to express our deep concern to Community Board 8’s Land Use Committee that the spirit and intent of the Special Natural Area District (SNAD) regulations have not been met by recent development approvals such as the expansion of the Cardinal O’Connor Clergy Residence on Arlington Avenue.  

The dramatic visual, and environmental, impact of cutting down a large number of old growth trees left many of the O’Connor Residence’s neighbors stunned and angry. This action raised a number of questions, the first being, what is the value of a SNAD if a property can be stripped of its glorious trees in such a manner?

Secondly, what is the role of regulatory bodies if this occurred in the SNAD without proper oversight and with minimal opportunity for community review and input? The Preservancy believes it is time to review the SNAD regulations and modify and strengthen them where appropriate. To this end, the Preservancy asks that the Committee undertake a thorough review of these regulations, and offers to assist the Committee with this review.

Replacing majestic old trees, some over a 100 feet in height, with a sufficient number of saplings to meet the SNAD tree-replacement formula truly ignores the reason for creating SNADs in an urban environment. The purpose of a SNAD is to safeguard the existing natural beauty and environmental value of an area for the benefit of the entire community.

Old growth trees, diverse native shrubs and naturally formed rock formations and outcroppings are both aesthetically pleasing and environmentally important. The large canopies of these old trees provide cooling shade, absorb carbon and muffle traffic noise. Their deep roots absorb storm water runoff and prevent erosion — important considerations in the steeply inclined SNAD area where storm water flooding of the sewer system is a major problem. The fundamental justification for a SNAD is that an urban community wants to preserve its remaining natural elements that both delight and serve the community.   

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