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.”