As one of the drafters of the town’s original tree ordinance, passed in 2010 after a great deal of negotiation and compromise, and five years of effort, I don’t think I can sit on the sidelines of the current debate over proposed changes to that ordinance.
The two most difficult-to- formulate sections of the existing law pertained to quantifying exactly what we wanted to preserve of Yorktown’s wooded environment, and what mitigation should comprise. In both cases, we punted. We arbitrarily proposed preserving 70 percent of the (at that time) existing woodland in the town. We thought/hoped that would provoke a discussion with the Town Board on what their goals were. It should also be noted that we had NO scientific basis for choosing 70 percent. And the method we proposed for determining the “baseline” threshold from which 70 percent would be measured was to use aerial photos dated 2008 or later.
The 2010 Town Board accepted our 70 percent suggestion virtually without discussion, as well as the aerial photo baseline for measurement. The mitigation sections were drafted at the very end of the long process, in a state of frustration, and have not been enforced in any way.
The current Town Board has reached out to and welcomed comments from anyone interested in participating in the process, as well as town volunteer advisory boards and its staff and consultant subject matter experts. They should be commended for the openness and inclusiveness of their process.
While the current draft is not perfect (for example, I would still like to see the town governed by the same rules and regulations it proposes imposing on us), the document that has emerged from this collaborative process (as yet incomplete) is still a strong protection for Yorktown’s woodlands.
1) It continues strong protections from, among others:
• “Land conversion”—the industry jargon for what we lay people call clear cutting;
• Removal of specimen trees, which were not protected in the current ordinance due to lack of a list of trees of significance deserving protection;
• Tree removal on steep slopes; and
• Allows removal of diseased, dangerous and invasive species.
2) It strengthens the roles of the Tree Conservation Advisory Commission (TCAC) and mandates more-detailed planning to manage Yorktown’s town-owned woodlands and to provide a comprehensive “roadmap” on where and what kind of trees should planted (i.e. street trees, park and/or forest trees, trees to establish a tree farm for stock available for future town use, etc). This overt recognition of the TCAC’s role and the additional responsibilities also lend strength to augmenting the resources available for that work. (The work done by the TCAC to date has been managed by a handful of volunteers and meager—though very gratefully accepted—grant dollars.)
3) The current drafts allow mitigation strategies to be developed as part of overall land use decision-making. This means that using TCAC recommendations as guidance, boards can work with applicants to implement solutions tailored to specific sites. The draft language also proposes that those mitigation solutions focus on preserving/replacing the function of the wooded areas to be modified—a goal we strove for but did not fully succeed in putting into our 2010 language.
4) A minor point, but significant to those of us who regularly work to produce the town’s Arbor Day events, this draft moves the town’s celebration to coincide with national Arbor Day, making it easier to take advantage of the visibility of national events and availability of private-sector materials.
However good or bad a law is as written, it means nothing if it is not enforced. This Town Board says it wants an ordinance that is enforceable. I think they will also get an ordinance that can be used to achieve the laudable woodland protections we all want. We should hold their feet to the fire to make sure that whatever ordinance is on the books, it is enforced.
In closing, I also encourage you to go to the Town Board work sessions where the draft is discussed and participate. And when the board brings the draft to public hearing in consideration of adoption, read what they propose, consider it, and please participate.