AT TOWN HALL MEETING, VILLAGE BOARD PROPOSES LOOSENING REGULATIONS ON TREE REMOVAL
January 29 -- The Sea Cliff Village Board presented its proposed revisions to the Village Tree Ordinance at a Town Hall Meeting this past Thursday evening. The new regulations, if adopted, would significantly loosen restrictions on tree removal in the Village.
The current law requires that a resident wishing to take down a tree that is greater than eight inches diameter at a height of 4.5 feet, first obtain a permit before removing it. The Tree Committee, made up of the Buildings Superintendent, a Village Board Trustee, and two residents, has the authority to grant or deny tree removal permits. In effect since 2010, the current ordinance replaced a law that allowed residents to take down one tree per year without a permit, with subsequent removals requiring approval.
On Monday, Board Trustee and Tree Committee member Carol Vogt opened the meeting, explaining that the changes under consideration came about as a result of input from the current Tree Committee and from the community at a September 16th Town Hall Meeting during which dozens of Sea Cliff residents gathered to discuss the current tree ordinance. The Village, she said, wants to strike the right balance between property rights and maintaining the treed character of the Village. The question that needs to be considered she added is “What role do we want the Village play when it comes to trees?"
Russell Gorog, one of two resident members on the Tree Committee, then gave a PowerPoint presentation outlining the new policy.
The proposal creates three distinct tree removal "levels". At "Level 1", any number of trees with less than a 10 inch caliper (diameter) can be removed by a resident without restriction; At "Level 2", a resident can remove up to three trees with a 10-20 inch caliper without first obtaining a permit, but would be required to provide notification to the Village; and, at "Level 3," a resident would be required to obtain a permit to remove more than three level 2 trees, or any tree with a caliper greater than 20 inches. Permits would continue to be issued by the Tree Committee. In addition, at the third level, the resident would be required to replace the removed tree with a similar type, or be assessed a fee of $350 for the first tree removed, and $500 for each additional tree. All fees would go into a planting fund.
Under the proposal, the Tree Committee would be made up of three resident members, one of whom would serve as the chair. In addition, two residents would be designated alternate members. A Village Board Trustee would act as a liaison to the Committee, and the Village building Superintendent would be available to offer his advice, but neither would be voting members with regard to the issuance of permits.
There seemed to be general support for the proposal among the approximately 20 audience members present. Only one resident, who said at the September town meeting that he supported going back to the policy that was in effect prior to 2010, objected to the new proposal for being too restrictive. Mayor Bruce Kennedy responded that the proposal was was far less restrictive for most tree removals than the earlier tree policy. The resident then replied that the new policy was too "convoluted" and would be too difficult to understand for many people.
Two other residents who had said at the previous town meeting that the current policy was too restrictive, stated that they believed the new proposal was very fair, with one saying that he did not think that it was convoluted at all, but rather, quite easy to understand.
There were a couple of residents who expressed concerns about the proposal being too lenient. One stated that she was concerned that some residents would now feel free take down large numbers of trees. She said that there needed to be an emphasis on education, and stressed the importance of trees to the community and the value of one's home. Mr. Gorog responded that he did not believe that the new policy would lead to people cutting down lots of trees. Mr. Kennedy added that he believed that people are generally concerned about trees. However, he continued, with people being concerned about trees falling on their homes after the storms of the past two years, he would "always go for peace of mind over protecting trees."
Another resident said that she is happy with the current policy and that she has had only very positive experiences seeking tree removal permits. She added however that she was relieved that regulations of some sort would continue to remain in place.
As the meeting neared its end, Mr. Gorog added that also under consideration was the establishment of a Village Landmark Tree List that would allow for registration of historically significant, specimen, or unusually large trees. A resident would voluntarily seek such a designation for a tree on his or her property - it would not be imposed by the Village, he explained.
At the September Town Meeting and reiterated to a lesser degree Monday evening, Mayor Kennedy and Trustee Carol Vogt explained why the Board was considering changes to the policy at this time.
“Sandy changed everything," the Mayor said in September, as it has caused residents to re-examine trees on or near their property, worrying that the next windstorm could bring a limb or entire tree down on their house.
Ms. Vogt added at that time that with increased concerns about trees, a significant burden has been placed on the tree committee which has received approximately 100 tree removal applications per year, and has had to spend three or four hours every other week to inspect sites. Only about 2% of those requests have been denied. "The way we are going is not tenable with what the committee has to do,” She explained.
Next in the process is for the Village Board to draft a new Tree Ordinance; followed by a public hearing; and then concluding with a vote by the Board of Trustees on the new ordinance.
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