YORKTOWN, N.Y. – A committee formed in October to comb through proposed regulations that would govern tree removal on both private and public properties in the community brought a clear-cut outline of a draft to the Town Board’s table on Tuesday, March 12.
In leading the discussion about it at the work session, John Tegeder, the town’s director of planning who has been providing guidance to the group of volunteers charged with shaping the new law, said his hope “was to summarize how this law would work and not get bogged down in sentences and actual passages of the law,” much of which he said still needs to be “fine-tuned.” Instead, in a power-point presentation, the board would learn “the bones of how this law should work and what we’ve come up with.”
Supervisor Ilan Gilbert, addressing the group’s assignment, said its goal was to find “balance” between providing environmental protection and property owners’ rights, as well as eliminate any conflicts with other regulations. Along with Tegeder, Linda Miller, a retired environmental consultant, former member of the Conservation Board and a member of Advocates for a Better Yorktown, which authored several drafts of the law, and William Kellner, a member of the Tree Conservation Advisory Commission, represented the group, which has been meeting on a weekly basis to reformulate a 2016 law faulted for sapping tree protections.
Tegeder said the latest draft contains two “overarching” thresholds that would offer the most significant protection: a permit requirement for the removal of more than 10 protected trees—defined by consensus as those with an 8-inch dbh, or diameter at breast height—in a calendar year, and the definition of a protected woodland, which would comprise a minimum of 10,000 square feet, up from a proposed 5,000.
Tegeder explained that the Advocates for a Better Yorktown, in particular, looks at woodlands “as an ecosystem.” Members, he said, “would like to protect the woodland as a whole, so there’s more things to protect and permit for than just cutting trees.”
“The law does protect when there is a disturbance to those other two components of a protected woodland, which is the understory, the shrub layer and/or the ground layer. If there’s disturbance or destruction of that, you need to get a permit, and in some cases, there will be some mitigation” required.
“The emphasis is on the different layers of vegetation,” Miller said, to protect the structural integrity of a woodland, on which its function depends.
Tegeder said the group has also “nailed down the dbh calculation so it’s clear.” He cited an example using the protected tree, with an 8-inch dbh. If a property owner were to mitigate its removal with 2-1/2 inch caliper trees, that number would be divided by 2-1/2, “and that’s the number that would be considered a one-to-one mitigation. That would be three trees.”
He also detailed a “menu of choices” for mitigation, including the ability to replace the understory shrubbery, which was not included in the 2016 law.
Dave Paganelli, the town’s highway superintendent, spoke to a situation he said he has encountered “dozens of times” while on the job—the removal of trees without permitting.
“What’s your thoughts as to how are you going to enforce this so we don’t have a situation where we’re asking for forgiveness, rather than permission, because that’s a big problem,” he said. “It’s all great on paper, but if there’s no enforcement, it becomes a paper tiger, in essence.”
Tegeder said “there is a whole section on penalties” in the draft, but if it was a matter of manpower, he had no answer.
Councilman Tom Diana reiterated his concern about pitting neighbor against neighbor, and also referred to recent storms that have felled large numbers of trees.
“I don’t want to see a law that’s going to prohibit a resident homeowner from taking down trees that they think might come down on their house,” he said.
“In both instances,” Tegeder said, “whether it is deemed a hazard or is diseased, it’s not, and if it’s one tree, it’s not regulated, either.”
“An important part of this is going to be an education piece so that people are aware of what the law says that you can do and can’t do and when you need a permit, and how the town is trying to take care of them and address their interests in this law,” Miller said. “So, with respect to pitting neighbors against neighbors, I think education is going to be an important part of that.”
Tegeder said the next step would be to “refine the language” and ensure the draft’s consistency with other laws.
“Now we move on to actually going sentence by sentence.”