A vision to plant street trees along Main Street has the New Paltz Town Board ready to ask the state and the Association of Towns of the State of New York for help.
“To re-tree Main Street requires being able to plant trees beyond the right-of-way,” said Al Wegener, the town’s arborist.
Town right-of-way usually extends about 10 feet from the curb. Trees planted in that space often have to compete for space with utility lines, they might interfere with road maintenance — especially snow removal — and might not have the right soil volume to grow properly.
“To go beyond that into what is private property requires a consideration of that and requires the towns to realize the public benefits of trees,” Wegener said. “The town can’t spend money enhancing a private property. But what a town can do is to invest in doing things that have a public benefit.”
New Paltz officials would need to rally support from the other towns in the state and get the Legislature to change the rules and allow municipal trees to be planted outside the right-of-way on — in many cases — private property.
For Supervisor Susan Zimet, the goal of beautifying town with tree-lined streets has been a dream since back when she became supervisor the first time in 1996. She’s also supportive of the current initiative because she thinks it could have a chance at becoming a statewide model for how to implement street trees in small towns.
According to the town arborist, changing the state rule would allow towns to tap into federal money. “There is several hundreds of thousands of dollars each year that the state uses to subsidize and support tree plantings — a lot of it in cities. But the restriction is they can’t be planted outside of the right-of-way.”
If agreed to by the state, the resolution allows the town to create a mechanism to negotiate with private landowners to place trees just outside of the right-of-way.
“It’s not talking about takings. It’s not us all the sudden having the right to go to a private property and have the right to plant. It’s starting the process to recognize the importance of trees — to get the state to start making it a little easier,” the supervisor explained.
As for who would maintain the trees if the state ends up amending the rules, Wegener said he wasn’t sure. “This has to be worked out. Those are good questions and they have to be worked out,” he said.
Potentially, the system might work out that if a property owner agreed to accept a free tree — which would increase their property value — they would become obligated to care for it. It could be that those responsibilities fall on the municipality.
“There’s a lot of questions with how to do this,” Wegener said.
Town Board members passed the resolution supporting tree plantings outside of the right-of-way, which gives the Association of Towns an option to lobby on their behalf with Albany. To become a reality, the changes would have to be approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.