Changes to Yorktown Wetlands Law Tabled After Public Outcry

Paul Moskowitz and Mark Lieberman participate in the rally outside of town hall prior to the public hearing. Credits: Gabrielle Bilik

YORKTOWN, N.Y. – Town hall was packed with residents who came to voice their concerns over proposed changes to the town’s wetlands laws during the April 18 televised meeting.

Requirements under the current law mandate permits for construction on 1,000 square feet or more of wetlands. Last December, the town board began drafting a new law that increases the size of wetlands that could be built on without a permit, on the notion that the function of a wetland should take priority over its size.

Wetlands of up to about 4,356 square feet were included in the proposed criteria that could allow for anything less to be built on without a permit.

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Supervisor Michael Grace said the proposed changes “approach things from a qualitative rather than a quantitative point of view,” and would serve to examine the function of an individual wetland, rather than operating in accordance with a blanket parameter according to size.

During the hearing, Grace listened to residents—about 30 spoke—and asked those with environmental expertise for their opinions regarding the implementation of functional analyses. He assured residents halfway through that the currently proposed ordinance, the fifth draft, would not be under consideration for a vote that evening.

Residents Paul Moskowitz, Mark Lieberman and others organized a protest outside of the building 30 minutes prior to the start of the meeting, in an effort to ensure concerned constituents’ voices were heard.

Lieberman credits Grace’s decision to not vote that evening on the public turnout, saying that with recent public hearings, the board has voted the day of the hearing, and in opposition to the majority of speakers.

“If we didn’t come out en masse they would do what they did with the tax abatement,” he said, referencing the public hearing to pass a law allowing Yorktown to participate in a tax incentive program. He is among residents who have criticized the board for voting on laws immediately after closing public comment.

“If you really want an inclusive community, you have public hearings while you’re thinking of the law to help mold the law and to get the opinions of the public and then you vote,” Lieberman said.

Moskowitz, a 35-year resident, said his neighborhood is dotted with wetlands that protect against flooding. He carried with him an enlarged photo of a 3,000 square-foot wetland that sits alongside Hunterbrook Road. He displayed it during the protest and later to members of the board during the hearing.

Moskowitz fears that because of its size, the wetland might not be protected if the law gets changed, and that could present problems for residents like himself down the road. Many residents that spoke at the hearing echoed this sentiment.

“The result is going to be flooding of Hunterbrook Road, creating ice in the winter and the deterioration of the road,” he said. “We have to protect the wetlands and not weaken the wetlands law.”

Several residents spoke about the economic impact of fixing damaged roads should flooding begin to occur.

Grace reiterated details of the law to the crowd in order to address “misinformation” he believes is circulating around the issue.

He said the guidelines of the proposed changes are “in comport” with nearby towns and that he is battling against the notion that if a Republican is touching an environmental law, it must be weakening it.

“That’s just not true,” he said.

Councilman Vishnu Patel and other speakers argued that the function of a wetland may not be measurable in the way the proposed ordinance seeks, as it can take decades to observe a wetland and its function in an ecosystem.

Another criticism of the proposed law was the diminished role of the conservation board.

Grace said there will likely be several more drafts of the ordinance before it gets put to a vote.

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