YORKTOWN, N.Y. – The Town Board last week began casting its collective critical eye on tree law revisions that have been proposed by the grass-roots group, Advocates for a Better Yorktown.
Residents, members of the Tree Conservation Advisory Committee and ABY, and Director of Planning John Tegeder all had points to make on a variety of issues, from how to define a specimen tree to where the revised document might come in conflict with provisions in laws already on the books.
The ABY took the lead in producing a draft of its proposal for board review that, members say, is designed to strengthen and add clarity with regard to what, when and where trees can be cut. Among other things, it includes a more extensive definitions section and its provisions would apply to town-owned properties as well as privately owned properties.
At the board’s work session on Tuesday, June 12, Bill Kellner, chairman of the TCAC, began the discussion by saying, “My personal opinion is that what the ABY people have done represents an improvement in the current law,” although, he said, there were some provisions in it that his committee was not “totally on board with.”
The law that was adopted in 2016, he said, defined a specimen tree by its diameter, which was set at 24 inches. But a previous law set that diameter at 18 inches. In the revision, he said, “The ABY would like to revert to 18 inches.”
Although Kellner said he was “not in agreement,” his committee now favors the 18-inch standard.
Councilwoman Alice Roker said that as a homeowner thinking of taking down two trees on her property, she had concerns.
“I think I like what you guys wrote, but I think there is a balancing act” that must be struck between homeowner rights and conservation, she said. “So, I’m not there with that.”
In response, Linda Miller of ABY said, “The idea of a specimen tree is that it is an old, valuable tree…and very likely has some kind of cultural or historical significance.”
While towns may have different ways to determine what a specimen tree is, she said, ABY felt that to avoid complications, “It’s just one size fits all.”
“Yes,” she said, “to get a permit for one tree?...But there’s no limit to the number of trees you can take down.
“It seemed like a good compromise to protect the trees, the old stately gentlemen we have, and the homeowner.”
But, resident Jay Kopstein said, “It’s not just getting a permit. It also requires getting your neighbors notified. That’s kind of onerous. I’m on one acre and I can’t take down one tree without getting all of my neighbors’ permission and getting a permit?”
“It’s going to cause neighbor disputes, boundary disputes, the whole nine yards,” Councilman Tom Diana said.
“It’s not a significant deterioration of property to take down one tree,” Kopstein said.
Susan Siegel, a former town supervisor and a member of ABY, said many of the town’s land use laws have notification requirements, and this would be no different.
“It’s not a permission issue,” she said. “It’s just a notification so that before the neighbor hears a chainsaw, that they at least know” what is happening, she said. “In most cases, it’s not going to be an issue.”
Another area of concern, Kellner said, was the reinstatement of the definition of a woodland and a requirement for a permit to remove more than 30 percent of a woodland, and “how to determine where you cross this permitting threshold.”
Tegeder, meanwhile, broached the issue of manpower and work hours.
“This is a lot of administration,” he said. Referring to notification requirements, he continued, “You have one department that works on one law…All we do is things such as that. It is a lot of work.”
Roker and Supervisor Ilan Gilbert agreed.
Tegeder also advised that there were many provisions that are left open to interpretation.
“There’s a lot of verbiage, and when you have a lot of verbiage, you run the risk of having conflicts, being unclear, and so forth,” Tegeder said. He went on to cite one such conflict with the town’s wetlands law.
“There’s a lot of nuances here that end up tripping up people that are applying the law and it becomes very difficult to apply it evenly to people,” he said.
He also expressed “serious concerns” with the mitigation section, noting that the town’s land use boards are charged with regulating, for example, wetlands issues that some of the proposed provisions cover.
Tegeder said the draft document “really needs to be gone through” to ensure consistency with existing town laws, as well as the need to delve into theoretical issues, such as whether the town wants to add layers to the regulating and permitting processes.