SOMERS, N.Y. – To the consternation of some Somers residents, an ancient white oak in Greenbriar was cut down last spring without a town permit. A violation was issued to the property owner, Milton Shapiro.
There followed a series of negotiations between the town and the property owner. It was ultimately agreed that Shapiro would donate $3,000 to the town in lieu of planting a new tree.
“People are concerned,” Town Board member Richard Clinchy said at last week’s Town Board meeting. “They say this isn’t a strong enough deterrent to future violations.”
“This was rather a unique situation,” said Town Attorney Roland Baroni. “The tree was in the center of a building lot approved long ago by the Planning Board, with the condition that if the tree had to come down, the developer would submit an arborist’s report.”
“The developer did get an arborist’s report,” he said, “but took the tree down without submitting the report. The report was submitted afterward.”
“If the Planning Board had seen the arborist’s report,” Baroni continued, “they might have chosen to hire their own arborist for a second opinion and sought a third opinion if there was disagreement. But the Planning Board chose not to go down that route.”
Referring to Steven Woelfle, Somers’ principal engineering technician, Baroni said, “Steve went in and negotiated what I think is a practical result. It’s not possible to replant a tree of that size.”
Because replanting the tree was not possible, he said, “they were trying to come up with an amount that would discourage this sort of thing from happening again in the future.”
“This never proceeded to court,” Baroni added, “because of this practical result. I think we fared better than we would have.”
The board asked Baroni what the maximum amount of a fine would be under these circumstances. He replied, “$350.”
“You can’t plant a tree for $350,” observed board member Rick Morrissey. “We should be looking at our tree ordinance.”
“You could probably strengthen your ordinance,” Baroni said.
Board member Anthony Cirieco asked what other municipalities do, and Baroni replied: “A lot of them charge for every day that there’s an infraction. It’s a series of separate violations and requires multiple summonses. Then the monetary amount adds up.”
Baroni said that once the white oak was felled, its center proved to be hollow. “It’s not the best example of a healthy tree. It must have been thought that this tree would die.”
“So, they took down an unhealthy tree without permission,” Cirieco said.
The donation of $3,000 was accepted.