New Paltz man deals with the consequences of failing to secure a permit for cutting down trees

John Heppolette feels bad about what happened on his Rose Lane property in New Paltz. He’d wanted to get the dark woods “opened up” to bring in light and make room for a camper “to entertain friends.” He got someone to do that work, but “I failed to supervise and instruct him,” Heppolette told New Paltz Town Planning Board members at their June 10 meeting. He also claims he wasn’t aware that cutting trees may require a permit.

Next-door neighbor David Brownstein encouraged Planning Board members to see what happened next for themselves. He recounted seeing some tree work being done over the winter, and how only after it was too late did he realize that a large swath of land had been clearcut, including an oak he estimated to be 75 years old, which he described by throwing his arms into a wide circle to illustrate its breadth. “Concerned and sad” about the damage, he contacted town building inspector Stacy Delarede, who had issued no permit for the work.

“Did it not occur to you to call?” asked board member Jane Schanberg.


Coming before the board after the fact to get permission for what’s already been done is neither appropriate nor easy, town engineer Andy Willingham said. The steep slopes permit in particular is intended to get erosion controlled during the work; there are 19 different standards which might be difficult to implement ex post facto. If the area of disturbance proves to be more than an acre, more stringent standards are triggered.

Brownstein urged a site visit to reinforce his point, that “big, adult trees should be replaced” with similar plantings. That’s what it would take to protect the soil of the now-disturbed steep slopes, he feels. Brownstein also thinks a site visit would make it clear to board members that any sort of camper or campsite would be visible for a good, long distance.

“What if we just say no?” asked board member Amy Cohen.

Attorney Golden didn’t answer her directly. Instead, he recommended one way to conduct the review is to “pretend that nothing has been done” to make sure they understand what was there at that point, and “add conditions as they see fit” to make this right.

“I see this as an enforcement issue,” said Cohen. “I don’t think it’s this board’s job.”

Taking Cohen’s skepticism under advisement, board members agreed to establish an escrow account of $2,000 which Heppolette must fund for the review, and to arrange a site visit. Brownstein may yet get his wish for someone to “speak for the trees.”

There are 20 comments

  1. MaryAnn

    How dare he cut down a tree and not use that open space for SUNY parking or for a “rail trail” because if he, had those trees wouldn’t have mattered.

  2. Joseph Karolys

    What kind of nonsense is this? A permit to cut down trees on your own property? If it’s your property the trees on it are yours to do with as you wish. You can cut them just like you can cut your grass.

    1. Deltoro

      Sounds like New Paltz being New Paltz and nosey neighbors being nosey neighbors. Brownstein sounds like an arrogant little roach who likes to stir trouble for anyone he doesn’t like.

      1. niki

        Trees are a huge factor in how much water a piece of land can absorb. If your uphill neighbor clear-cuts part of their land it could easily cause flooding and water issues for YOUR house. That’s why these things require permits.

      2. Raid

        Go to the Town’s website and you will read he is the liaison to the Board of Assessment Review and the town Planning Board being an elected official on the Town Board.
        The Board of Assessment Review members are town employees,as they are paid for their time. Yet, the chair of the Planning Board is also on the Board of Assessment Review. Why the elected official doesn’t end that conflict of interest, after 10 years no less, we’ll never know?

  3. Paul Bunyan and Babe The Blue Ox

    People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

    The chopper should have said he needed the wood to burn in his fireplace to keep warm during the cold months.

    1. John Freer

      In New Paltz that wouldn’t work.despite being a “renewable resource”. New Paltz would say it contributes to global warming.
      Nothing you do will ever please this town of fools.

      1. Step-Child

        You should live in the Village! Or worse, on a street that’s half Village and half Town. (Prospect, Millrock, North Manheim) and gets water from the Village, but pays the Town Clerk the water bill money.

  4. taxation is theft

    you don’t really own your land, you just rent it, and the lease has a lot of rules. choose not to comply and eventually men with guns with arrive on your doorstep.

    1. Rookie

      By state law of New York, all taxable parcels are to be at 100% of “Full Market Value”. This town was at 100% of Full Market Value, last year, the year before that and the year before that. This year, as of July 1, all parcels will be at 95% of Full Market Value. Ergo, the town’s assessing unit is in violation of State law, and for all parcel owners, real property taxes are up by 5%.
      To quote Milton Friedman, “Inflation is taxation without representation.” See your local representatives.

  5. John Freer

    New Paltz is worse than a communist country. At least in China or Cuba your taxes wouldn’t be as draconian ad they are in the armpit known as new Paltz .
    You don’t want the trees cut down ? No problem pay your neighbors taxes or better yet buy it.

  6. paul fischer

    It is unfortunate that in New Paltz and Gardiner people who are friends with officials can violate any rule they like while others have to toe the line.

  7. Debbie Dammeir

    I can’t imagine most people would question needing a permit to cut down trees on their own property. Why is a permit required at all?

  8. Rick R.

    Janice said “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” A property owner certainly has something to lose, therefore, he is not free. Government, ever so called “free government,” is at the point of a gun.

  9. Steven L. Fornal

    To all those protesting the town’s position: Why have you all completely ignored the issue of erosion via water run off? Such lack of planning vis-a-vis runoff water can pose negative impact on contiguous properties. THAT’S what makes the argument for a permit process.

    Sure, you should have the right to do what you like on YOUR property. But, that right cannot extend to negatively impacting neighboring properties.

    Also, Mr. Heppolette’s claim the camper would be used to “entertain friends” is the type of reasoning that seems suspect in this AirBnB era. Unless New Paltz has a short term rental policy (e.g. re AirBnBs) then it’s illegal to have a camper for such rentals.

    If, however Mr. Heppolette is being truthful as to intent, then he does, in fact, have that right and Mr. Brownstein should understand that he has no authority to demand someone save whatever trees that reside on their property.

    1. Concur with Steve

      Right on Steve, you keep straightening up, as the wisest sage posting, those with their heads up their own arse….

  10. Bruce E. Woych

    PROPERTY. The right and interest which a man has in lands and chattels to the exclusion of others. 6 Binn. 98; 4 Pet. 511; 17 Johns. 283; 14 East, 370; 11 East, 290, 518. It is the right to enjoy and to dispose of certain things in the most absolute manner as he pleases, provided he makes no use of them prohibited by law. See Things.
    2. All things are not the subject of property the sea, the air, and the like, cannot be appropriated; every one may enjoy them, but he has no exclusive right in them. When things are fully our own, or when all others are excluded from meddling with them, or from interfering about them, it is plain that no person besides the proprietor, who has this exclusive right, can have any, claim either to use them, or to hinder him from disposing of them as, he pleases; so that property, considered as an exclusive right to things, contains not only a right to use those things, but a right to dispose of them, either by exchanging them for other things, or by giving them away to any other person, without any consideration, or even throwing them away. Rutherf. Inst. 20; Domat, liv. prel. tit. 3; Poth. Des Choses; 18 Vin. Ab. 63; 7 Com. Dig. 175; Com. Dig. Biens. See also 2 B. & C. 281; S. C. 9 E. C. L. R. 87; 3 D. & R. 394; 9 B. & C. 396; S. C. 17 E. C. L. R. 404; 1 C. & M. 39; 4 Call, 472; 18 Ves. 193; 6 Bing. 630.

    Take it to Court!~ $ue the Board.

  11. SG

    All the comments on this post inspired me to weigh in as well:

    If Brownstein was really attempting to “Speak for the Trees” he could have politely and professionally approached the people doing the tree work when it was happening, and simply inquired with them as to whether they were aware of the law and had appropriately requested and received a permit. The Trees are already cut down whether or not the town permitted it, and whether or not the review board decides to replant upon conducting the site inspection.

    I think there are some good questions to ask such as, how steep is the slope on Rose Lane? And does the area of disturbance in question meet the minimum qualifications of a steep slope as defined in the Town of New Paltz Steep Slope Protection Ordinance?

    § 140-134 of the town defines a Steep Slope as — Any geographical area proposed for disturbance, whether on a single lot or not, having a topographical gradient of 15% or greater (ratio of vertical distance to
    horizontal distance), with a minimum horizontal dimension of 10 feet, and a minimum
    area as defined below, and whether man-made or natural, and whether created by a
    retaining structure or not.

    Steep slopes are further categorized as:
    A. MODERATELY STEEP SLOPE — A slope equal to or greater than 15% but less than
    25% and covering a minimum horizontal area of 3/10 acre or 13,068 square feet.
    B. EXTREMELY STEEP SLOPE — A slope greater than 25% and covering a minimum
    horizontal area of 2/10 acre or 8,712 square feet.

    I agree with town board member Amy Cohen when she said, “I see this as an enforcement issue, I don’t think it’s this board’s job.” In a way, it could get argued that the Towns decisions to make an Escrow account which Heppolette must fund in order to conduct the review and the site visit is a violation of the Mr. Heppolette’s Fourteenth Amendment right to due process under the law. I believe that the town you live in should not be allowed to be judge jury and executioner and the proper due process is necessary to preserve our freedoms and our liberties. I think that Heppolette may have been wrong for not inquiring with the town regarding a permit, but I also believe that Brownstein is wrong for not bringing the tree cutting to the attention of the Town board sooner. I think that little trees are just as important as big trees, but I also feel that we shouldn’t try to get our neighbors in trouble with the town for doing something on their land which you might not find aesthetically pleasing.

    The first commenter MaryAnn made it short sweet and to the point when she said, “How dare he cut down a tree and not use that open space for SUNY parking or for a “rail trail” because if he, had those trees wouldn’t have mattered.”

  12. B. Hives

    Brownsteen should get a second reduction on his assessment, this time 10% for “nuisance” created by his neighbor’s apiary.
    How Brownsteen got a reduction on his first assessment, we’ll never know.

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