June 27, 2022, Mayor's Column

Though we take a short hiatus from our public trustee meetings, the Trustees and I continue to work on projects so when the Village is back to its full complement of citizens in September, we will be ready to go with a variety of initiatives. One item that is front and center is the crafting of a tree ordinance.

This column will serve as background as to what the Trustees and I are thinking and researching as well as an opportunity to solicit your opinions.

We are very aware that tree ordinances are always a balancing act between the rights and desires of private property owners and the needs and the benefits to the greater community. Members of the Village’s Green Committee did extensive background research for us by reviewing many ordinances in Westchester with a very comprehensive investigation of the ordinances in Scarsdale, Irvington, Rye Brook and Tuckahoe.

Due to the loss of some of our tree canopy most directly relating to the frequency and ferocity of the storms we have been receiving as well as some choices made by property owners that have impacted their neighbors, we felt it was the opportune time to act.

After a great deal of study and review, it appears the most objective standard to trigger a tree removal permit is the size of the tree diameter at breast height or approximately 4 1/2 feet off the ground.  As background, with this as the metric, permit removal diameters range from 6 inches in Scarsdale to 8 in Irvington and 10 in both Rye Brook and Tuckahoe.

In addition, many communities also have a different set of rules for trees in special locations such as on steep slopes or when used as riparian buffers.

Nothing is more beneficial to a community than its tree stock.  The benefits of trees are so multi-faceted: aesthetic appeal, cooling properties, improvement of air quality, reduction of energy use and atmospheric carbon dioxide, habitat for wildlife, reduction of soil erosion, excess runoff, and flooding, water absorption, a barrier to noise, and a natural screener.  All of these factors contribute to a significant increase in home values.

In terms of our streetscape, the beautiful abundance of trees truly defines our Village. It is a natural resource we must protect for the generations to come.

Since trees are becoming more vulnerable to disease, it is critically important at this juncture to use diverse native plants. Scarsdale and Irvington have ordinances that prohibit the planting of invasive tree species.

A permitting process alone will not stop the decrease in our canopy; rather we also need a strong policy of replanting trees that have been removed.  Irvington addressed this issue by a Preferred Species List for required replanting.

Based on preliminary discussion, the Trustees are predisposed to have the law we craft administered by the municipal staff, rather than a volunteer tree commission that engender concerns that the volunteers may be more subjective and less schooled in tree expertise vs the Village retaining expert arborists and/or landscape designers to assist in the permitting process.

It is clear from our research that any ordinance we enact must allow invasive trees and plants to be removed without a permit with a prohibition on the re-plant of any invasive species.

In addition, clearly any tree would be allowed to be removed if it is a danger to health and safety to persons or property, if its structural integrity is compromised or if diseased.

If replacement of a tree is not practical, almost all ordinances provide for a required donation to a tree fund to be spent on municipal trees. A donation is also required to a tree preservation fund as a penalty if a tree is illegally removed.

We continue to research and extract what we think are the best and most objective provisions in tree ordinances that have stood the test of time and we welcome your input.