GN Village Tree Law Remains Intact

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Rachel Berkower addresses the Board

With an assist from Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax and Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees,” Village of Great Neck residents have apparently discouraged the Mayor and his board of trustees from loosening the requirements for obtaining a permit to remove a tree.

But what two evenings of public hearings and over 30 speakers (most of them opposing the change) have accomplished is to point the village in the direction of crafting a new policy to go along with its existing five-step removal law that would allow homeowners who were denied a permit to ask the village to obtain a second opinion from a licensed arborist.

After the latest hearing last week at Village Hall that began with a speaker who read Kilmer’s well-known 1913 poem and was soon followed by 15-year-old Rachel Berkower who referred to Dr. Seuss’ 1971 book, Mayor Pedram Bral asked VillageCounsel Peter Bee to come up with “a series of protocols” to go along with the existing law.

“One of my favorite books when I was growing up was The Lorax,” Berkower told the board. “In it, he (Dr. Seuss) tells of a sad little town without any trees. There’s no doubt that (in) making changes in regard to the protection of our trees, there will be people who will abuse this change and use it as an excuse to eliminate their own trees.”

“It will only be a matter of time until someone will find a reason to cut down the rest of our trees,” she said.

The Seuss book is an early (1971) allegory on the dangers of harming the environment. In it, The Once-ler selfishly cuts down all of the trees before he realizes the error of his ways and tries to make amends for it.

The Once-ler’s lesson learned is “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better” and Berkower echoed that line as she finished her presentation.

Before the Mayor told the audience that the plan to change the law was being dropped, he said, “The reason why this was suggested was by no means meant to go ahead on a rampage and cut the trees . . . The reason for this proposal was to try and come up with a protocol to decrease or possibly eliminate the dangers that some of these trees can have. The purpose of this law was not to cut healthy trees.”

Bral also spoke of the possibility of having a procedure whereby a homeowner could ask the board of trustees to overrule the denial of a permit after the building department and arborist both said that a tree was healthy and posed no danger. It was also indicated that any new procedural plan would be discussed with the public.

This heightened focus on tree removals has come about recently, of course, after a large tree fell on a sleeping 20-year-old college student and pinned her in her second floor bedroom on Wooleys Lane East near the end of July. Stephanie Epstein miraculously escaped being killed and has since returned to college in upstate New York.

The Epstein incident also brought back memories of the damage and devastation caused by the 2010 microburst and Hurricane Sandy when so many trees were lost and damage from falling trees was so extensive.

Several speakers at both hearings recalled the trauma and fear caused by falling trees that they experienced during both weather events.

The existing law details a five-step process of consideration for the building inspector to take when considering the granting of a tree removal permit. Removing a tree without a permit can carry a fine of $1,000.

The second criteria in deciding whether there is a “necessity” to remove or prune a tree, is only what the Board wanted to change, proposing that the word “necessity,” be replaced with “appropriateness” and following it, in part, with the phrase “minimize the concern of citizens regarding their safety.”

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