Woodstock board weighs tree plan

Michael Veitch (photo by Julie Last)

Michael Veitch (photo by Julie Last)

A proposal to create a volunteer committee dedicated to the protection and preservation of the town’s trees met with an approving reception by the Woodstock Town Board at its January 21 meeting.

Board members expressed a willingness to authorize the formation of a tree committee (or commission) upon receipt of an acceptable mission statement from the proposal’s prime movers, local resident Michael Veitch and councilman Jay Wenk, who agreed to draft a statement for an upcoming meeting with Woodstock supervisor Jeremy Wilber.

Although the town has a law aimed at protecting and preserving shade and ornamental trees in the hamlet, said Veitch and Wenk in remarks to the board, several such trees are diseased or dying — in some cases, due to infestation by the emerald ash borer — while others have been removed without the board’s permission, as required by the local tree law.

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“If we start now, we might preserve trees that are currently in trouble,” said Veitch, a former member of the Woodstock Environmental Commission (WEC). “We need to think about how we want the town to look in 30 years.” Veitch and Wenk noted that their proposal would reestablish a volunteer committee that existed in the past but has long been inactive.

A handful of residents in addition to Veitch have expressed interest in serving on a tree committee, which could take the form of either a WEC subcommittee or a freestanding advisory body that works cooperatively with the WEC but reports directly to the Town Board. The first order of business for the new committee, suggested Veitch and Wenk, might include a review of the existing tree law and a survey of trees in the area regulated by the statute.

 

Local law

The current tree law was adopted in December 2007. Toward the goal of preserving the “esthetic characteristics” of the town’s central commercial district — an area along Route 212 between Plochmann Lane and Wittenberg Road, and along the Woodstock portion of Route 375 — it prohibits the destruction or removal of shade or ornamental trees that are generally healthy and are deemed to enhance the beauty of the community and the value of its buildings and properties.

Trees that receive protection under the statute must have a minimum diameter of 8 inches, as measured at any point within four feet of the ground, and must lie within 20 feet of either side of streets, roads, or highways in the defined area. The law states that the “needless removal” of such trees would cause a significant depreciation in property values and would detract from the “physical attractiveness” of the community. Accordingly, anyone who wishes to cut down or otherwise remove such a tree must apply to the Town Board for a permit.

In response to a question from councilman Ken Panza, Wenk said he believed that a new committee could be created without an amendment of the tree law. Wenk agreed with deputy supervisor Laura Ricci’s suggestion to formalize the structure of the committee by designating officers, such as a chair and vice chair.

Councilman Bill McKenna endorsed the involvement of the WEC in the affairs of a volunteer tree committee, but emphasized the importance of opening the group’s membership to the community at large. Veitch said that the committee would benefit from input by agencies such as the Commission for Civic Design and the Highway Department, as well as the WEC and the Town Board.

In other business at the meeting, which lasted only a half-hour, Panza reported that that the public bathrooms adjoining the Woodstock Chamber of Arts and Commerce booth on Rock City Road are draining electricity at an excessive rate, at significant cost to the town. The high level of usage remains unexplained. In a voice vote, the board agreed with Wilber’s recommendation to close the bathrooms on Columbus Day instead of the customary date in early December, which coincides with the townwide “open house.” A sign will direct visitors to the bathrooms at the newly renovated Town Hall.

Panza noted that the board at its recent organizational meeting had neglected to appoint a chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals for the coming year. The council promptly rectified the oversight, appointing the ZBA’s current chair, Annemarie Gilly, to a new term in that post.

Wilber said in an interview after the meeting that the Town Board had decided not to participate in a contract, sought by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, for a project aimed at preventing the erosion of a section of stream bank along Mink Hollow Road into the Beaverkill Creek. The board discussed the proposal at its January 14 meeting and subsequently agreed, said Wilber, that the town was unwilling to assume long-term maintenance and repair responsibilities under the terms of the contract.

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