Oyster Bay tree proposal baffles activists

A plaque already in place proclaims that trees

A plaque already in place proclaims that trees do not live forever. The Fairhaven Beech is dead, and was cut down over a 2-3 day period. (Feb. 22, 2006) (Credit: Newsday/Bill Davis)

An Oyster Bay Town proposal to strike from the code book an ordinance mandating permits for tree removal baffled environmentalists who said Monday that a repeal would threaten the local tree population and endanger the ecosystem.

"I don't understand why the town, after 30 years of having the tree ordinance, is out to repeal it with little notice," said Ben Jankowski, of the preservation group Save the Jewel by the Bay. "I fail to understand the logic."

Trees, especially those on steep slopes, are an environmental "linchpin," keeping soil erosion and stormwater runoff from polluting the Oyster Bay Harbor watershed, he said.

Town officials Tuesday will host the first of two public hearings on the repeal -- part of a bundle of proposed code changes that also include bamboo growth regulations.

Supervisor John Venditto Monday said the tree ordinance, adopted in 1973 and expanded in 2007, has over the years toed the "government intrusion" line and burdened residents with fees and fines.

"With the economic downturn, it was a double slap," he said, quoting residents, " 'Not only have you come into our backyards, but in these difficult economic times, you're charging us.' "

Venditto said, "I think I acted too zealously to protect the tree population."

A town permit for tree removal costs as much as $75 per tree and requires a survey form and site inspection.

"I'm sure there's a way to not throw the baby out with the bathwater," said Patricia Aitken, of the environmental nonprofit Friends of the Bay. "We're not happy about it at all."

She said she will ask the town to consider the tree ordinance separately from the bamboo and other proposals.

If the ordinance is repealed, she said, "Some people will be considerate about trees, but others will go clear-cut their property and not think twice about it."

Nassau County Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury) pushed for tree protections in 1973 after Woodbury developer Sidney Kalvar infamously bulldozed his 15 wooded acres in retaliation for town officials' refusal to rezone the property for apartments.

"That was a horror show," said Jacobs, then a civic leader.

"At a time when every municipality is going green, we're going to go cement," she said. "I don't get it. It just doesn't make sense."

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