When a tree falls in Riverdale’s special natural area district, buildings inspectors aren’t usually around to hear it.
Vigilant neighbors alerted the buildings department to another illegal tree-felling Dec. 28, this time at 5501 Palisade Ave., the six-bedroom home of the late Alice and Stuart Boynton. It changed hands in December for $3.3 million.
Removing trees is verboten in Riverdale’s special natural area district without authorization from the city planning department, which oversees New York City’s zoning resolution. The buildings department carries out enforcement, including penalties for violations and certification of corrective measures. It is meant to be a sensible way to triage non-permitted work in the built environment or safety hazards on construction sites, but makes less sense for protecting flora and fauna.
The buildings department relaxed penalties for single-family homeowners on a range of non-hazardous buildings violations as part of its pandemic-era Homeowners Relief Program. Homeowners are now granted a 60-day grace period after receiving a notice of violation to fix the condition before facing further enforcement action.
Community Board 8’s land use committee was not pleased about the program’s impacts on SNAD enforcement.
CB8 has often found itself fielding complaints about illegal tree-cutting in lieu of more rigorous enforcement from the buildings department. The land use committee hopes to change that with a resolution they are putting before the full board for a vote Feb. 14.
It asks for the buildings department to rollback the Homeowner’s Relief Program allowances that specifically apply to SNAD, increase maximum penalties to more effectively deter violators, and authorize CB8 to retain pro bono counsel to pursue litigation against violators to enforce the law.
“The Department of Buildings is just that. It’s a department of buildings,” said Riverdale Nature Preservancy chair Sherida Paulsen. “They don’t have personnel who are experienced at regulating landscapes or natural features.”
When SNAD offenses occur in Riverdale, Paulsen is usually in-the-know. Witnesses often call the Riverdale Nature Preservancy to report incidents. She said two of the organization’s board members live near 5501 Palisade Ave. and have been keeping tabs on the property.
It was the fourth location where SNAD violations were reported in Riverdale in 2022.
Buildings department spokesperson Andrew Rudansky said, “prior to this incident, we have no record of any violations or 311 complaints. We inspected the next day on the 29th.”
The owner received a request for corrective action notice for two trees an inspector noted had been removed, 26 and 28 inches in diameter. The owner will need to follow a restoration plan laid out by city planning.
It typically involves planting trees to replace the ones taken down, though a close approximation is often impossible.
The buyer purchased the property using an LLC that appears to be linked to Carlyle Development Services LLC, a boutique property development firm founded in 2006.
The company did not return phone calls from The Riverdale Press this week.
Abigail Nehring is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.