RESIDENTS COMMENT ON PROPOSED TREE LAW THAT VILLAGE BOARD SAYS SEEKS TO STRIKE THE RIGHT BALANCE
October 16, 2014 -- At this past Tuesday evening’s Sea Cliff Village Board meeting, residents were invited to comment on the proposed tree law that has been more than a year in the making. The draft legislation has been posted on the Village website for the past month. (click here)
The most significant change to the current law, which requires that residents obtain a permit to remove any tree greater than 8 inches in diameter, is that three distinct tree "classes" would be created with different removal regulations for each. "Class A" trees are those with less than a 10 inch caliper (diameter);"B", from 10 to 20 inches; and "C", more than 20 inches, or a tree that has been designated a "Heritage Tree." There are no restrictions on the removal of Class A trees. For Class B trees, a resident can remove up to three trees without first obtaining a permit, but would be required to provide notification to the Village; A resident would be required to obtain a permit to remove more than three class B trees, or any class C tree. 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.
Resident Anthony Losquadro spoke first, challenging the language in the law’s statement of Legislative Findings and Purpose, which among other things lists the benefits of having trees, including producing oxygen. While he agreed that trees do indeed produce oxygen, citing an article he had read in the Journal of the International Society of Arboriculture, he said it was an insignificant amount of oxygen and therefore that benefit should not be included in the statement of purpose.
Mr. Losquadro added that he believed that the preamble also ought to include language that recognizes that some residents do not want to be “micro-managed by the village.” Later, the issue came up again, and Mayor Kennedy said that he believed that view was represented in the phrase “property protection” which not only includes concerns regarding falling trees and limbs, he said, but also property rights. Trustee Carol Vogt recalled that Mr. Losquadro had expressed that concern at the town meeting last September and that the board was taking into consideration that point of view with the language “property protection.”
The resident continued that he believed that the new law did not loosen, but rather increased, restrictions.
As an example, he said the proposal includes language about “destructive pruning practices,” that is not included the current law. The term, he said, was not clearly defined. Mayor Kennedy pointed out the definition in the legislation, which Mr. Losquadro said was too open to interpretation.
After a several minutes of back and forth on, among other issues, the pruning method called “pollarding,” whether the fee schedule ought to be codified permanently in the ordinance, or determined by the board each year just as the tax levy and other fees are, (Mr. Losquadro supported the former, and Mayor Kennedy the latter), whether the language for use of monies from the “releaf fund” ought to read “may” or “shall be used for planting trees” (Trustee Vogt the former and Mr. Losquadro the latter), and who should pay for an arborist should the Tree Commission request that input before deciding on whether or not to grant a removal permit, Trustee Edward Lieberman said that the village was trying to make it easier for residents to take down trees while at the same time recognizing the desire on the part of others to keep in place the current ordinance or make removal more restrictive. “We’re trying to strike a balance,” he said. “There is no magic formula.”
Mr. Losquadro concluded where he started coming back to the statement of purpose, some of the language of which, he said, represented an “attempt by some people who are tree fanatics to impose their standards on other property owners.”
Resident Carol McGill then came to the lectern and addressed the board, saying that although she did not view herself as a “tree fanatic,” she was concerned about balance. “What is the balance,” she asked, “in cutting down a mature tree and replacing it with a much smaller tree?”
Trustee Carol Vogt said that she understood the resident’s concerns and that it was a struggle for the board to come up with the right balance. “To what extent can we tell a person they can’t cut down a tree?” she asked “We want to provide some relief,” she said, to those who are concerned about trees on their property, “but also to have some authority” over maintaining the treed character of the village.
Mayor Kennedy said that he recognized the resident’s concerns, but that the requirement that a new tree be planted, while maybe taking thirty years to grow to the size of the tree it replaces, would help preserve the treed character of the village for future generations.
Ms. McGill asked if there would be an effort to replace removed trees with native plants, as she was concerned about non-native invasive species. Trustee Vogt replied that replacement trees must be consistent with those on “a preferred species list.”
Resident and former Mayor Claudia Moyne, citing data she saw in the Sea Cliff Bulletin, expressed concern over the gap between trees being taken down and trees being replanted. She encouraged the village to use the “releaf fund” to “keep planting new trees because the discrepancy is too much.”
Mayor Kennedy, replied that that data ought to be taken with a grain of salt, as the statistics only takes into account trees that have been planted to replace a tree that has been removed with a permit. They do not, he said, take into account trees that germinate naturally, or the many trees that residents plant that are not replacing a downed tree. Ms. Moyne encouraged the village to keep on planting trees.
Resident Charlie Weinstein, citing what appears to be the pending sale of the Bay Avenue house where the mudslide took place this past May, asked whether the proposed tree law gives the Village government any authority over how the damaged hill gets re-landscaped or reconstructed.
Trustee Vogt said that there is a section of the tree ordinance that deals with land development that is a “refrain” of what the planning board is authorized to do with regard to requiring an approved landscaping plan for new development. The planning board can ask the advice of the tree commission, she said, but authority was ultimately in its hands. She said when that property is sold, and the new owner “wants to develop it, it has to go to the planning board,” and that trees could be a part of that plan.
Mr. Weinstein said that the trees on that hill appeared to have been holding it up, but that they had been clear cut. “What oversight or influence did the village have in how did that process unfolded?”
Mr. Kennedy replied that he believed it had happened over time, and occurred without a permit, and then, when the village caught it, the owner was required to get the permits. “When someone is hell bent on doing something like this,” the Mayor said, “sometimes you can’t stop them.” He said that when the new owner submits an application to the Village for approval on the means by which he will shore up the hill, “it will be the desire of the village as a whole to ensure it is done properly and protect the adjoining properties as well.”
Capturing the nature of the debate over the proper role of government, Mr. Weinstein commented that there was a clear “tension” between Mr. Losquadro’s concerns about the village interfering in the property rights of residents and other people’s concerns over there not being enough village oversight in protecting the community from being negatively affected by what a resident does on his private property.
Trustee Vogt interjected, “that is exactly the balance we’re always trying to find. Not just in this legislation, but every time we do something. That is the challenge of democracy.”
A public hearing on the tree ordinance with any modifications based on community input, is expected to be scheduled before the end the year, after which the Board will hold a vote.
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