Keith Alleto stands in his backyard near bamboo that is...

Keith Alleto stands in his backyard near bamboo that is growing on his property line in Smithtown. (Jan. 21, 2011) Credit: Ed Betz

Smithtown officials plan an environmental review of a proposed ordinance regulating bamboo, an unwieldy plant that is dividing neighbors over the damage it can do and the cost of its removal.

The review follows Thursday's public hearing on the proposed regulation, which drew more than 50 residents.

The environmental department will look into the issues residents raised, said Russell Barnett, Smithtown's environmental protection director.

The ordinance, which applies to clumping bamboo and the more invasive running bamboo, would require Smithtown residents to keep bamboo from spreading within 10 feet of neighboring properties.

More than 15 residents spoke in support of the regulation, with at least one resident describing bamboo as a "suburban scourge" for its tendency to creep underground into the yards of neighbors. Some called for an outright ban of bamboo.

"Running bamboo in particular is almost unique in the plant world because of its rapid invasiveness and potential for destruction," said Ann Marie Alletto, who has battled her neighbor's bamboo for six years. "This is much more than a landscaping issue."

Alletto's family has spent more than $15,000 removing bamboo, making repairs and placing underground barriers to slow its return, she said. If unchecked, she said, the thick, pointed roots can damage foundations and infrastructure.

Bamboo, which comes from China, has been grown on Long Island for decades, said Jonathan Lehrer, a horticulture professor at Farmingdale State College.

Some residents use the plant as a privacy screen, he said, because shoots can grow to 40 feet.

The plant is restricted in the Fire Island villages of Saltaire and Ocean Beach.

Lehrer, who was invited to Thursday's meeting by Alletto's husband, said he did not recommend running bamboo for suburban landscaping.

"The plant can theoretically be contained," he said at the hearing. "The problem all too often is people plant bamboo or some other plant without full knowledge of what the potential of the plant is. Eventually it runs wild."

Removal requires digging out the roots with machinery, he said, or using herbicides, most of which are not licensed for homeowner use.

Many of the bamboo owners who spoke at the hearing said they bought their homes with bamboo already growing there, and were concerned about the cost of complying with the ordinance.

"It would prove a tremendous financial hardship," said Marguerite Baldwin of Smithtown.

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