A new Woodstock Task Force will look at ways to strengthen the town’s tree law in the wake of increased development and a lack of consequences for violations. “There are some very specific pieces of it that I think are worth not just looking at and understanding, but deciding if they need to be updated so that property owners, homeowners and vendors can be fully aware of exactly what the tree law says and does and what is protected, and discuss what isn’t protected,” said Councilman Bennet Ratcliff at the Town Board’s March 22 meeting. Ratcliff asked that it be put on the agenda for discussion.
“I’ve had a discussion with several members of the Tree Committee and I have had discussions with several business owners who have recently had trees taken down, and I think that we clearly do need to have greater awareness. And I think that this would be an excellent opportunity for us to look at and strengthen and revise what is a really great natural resource which is the trees here in Woodstock,” he added. “I think it’s a great idea because there’s been a lot going on between the scenic overlay, between Bearsville. There’s a lot going on that has upset a lot of people and it’s great.”
Councilman Reggie Earls said he is looking forward to seeing what Ratcliff comes up with and offered help.
“Same here. I’m a longtime tree hugger myself,” Councilwoman Maria-Elena Conte said. “So I’m open to taking a look as well.”
Ratcliff said Tree Committee chair Michael Veitch and other members have offered to help. “What I would also like to see is perhaps the Chamber of Commerce could offer one or two people who are in what is currently the affected area of most of the tree law, which is from…Woodstock, hammered on down to Bearsville so that they could offer input as well,” he said.
Supervisor Bill McKenna appointed Ratcliff and councilwoman Laura Ricci to the new task force to review the tree law.
“Thank you, Bennet for speaking up for the Tree Committee and for trees. Here in Woodstock we have a very active committee, a group of very dedicated people to this issue,” Veitch said. “We are currently pulling together tree laws from neighboring towns and other towns in the state of New York. So we’re ready to sit down as soon as you are and start the process.”
Recently, several trees were removed on the Bearsville Center complex as part of ongoing improvements. Many have called it clearcutting and have sharply criticized complex owner Lizzie Vann.
Veitch said he’s not out to make Vann the villain, but faults different entities along the way for not informing land owners of the tree law. Trees within 20 feet of Routes 375 and 212 are protected and require town approval to remove.
“It sounds like Lizzie wants to boost the tree committee’s work. She wants to help and we’re more than willing to accept her help going forward,” Veitch said. “We’re here to help. We’re not here to be a pain.”
The Tree Committee does not enforce the Tree Law, but plays an advisory role. The Building Department is in charge of enforcement.
Bearsville Center owner Vann explains tree situation
“What happened is, the town has never been happy that when there’s an event at Bearsville, people park on 212. So we needed to expand the parking,” Vann said, in an earlier coversation. “And there’s no way that you can expand the parking without dealing with some of the vegetation that’s around so we worked with the town and we worked with an engineer called Barry Medenbach to create spaces…We haven’t cut out any old-growth trees. We’ve cut out some of the scabby things that were just growing haphazardly. This is sort of scrub land really and we’re putting in green parking. We’re also replanting trees.”
Some trees were lost to the February ice storm, adding to those that needed removal, Vann said. “There were some that went on the front on 212. But they were near the old electric poles and they were in a bad state. Some of them were already dead, and three of them fell over in the ice storm. We just cleaned them up,” she said. “I’m intending to put a lot of plantings along the front of 212 to make it really pretty. And whether that’s floral plantings, or shrubs or trees.”
Part of the work involves converting the complex’s septic leach field into a pollinator pathway garden in coordination with the Woodstock Land Conservancy, Vann said. The area that encircles the Utopia building will have a paved surface in line with state DOT and environmental guidelines. “We have conformed to every guideline,” Vann said.
The overflow parking in the rear will be redone with green, sustainable surfaces, she said.
“I wish people would know by now or come and talk to me personally, that I’m an environmentalist. I built a whole green village down in Florida that is net-zero energy and Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design),” Vann said. “I would be foolish, I would be crazy and it would be against my ethics to do something that is not environmentally friendly. However, we have to take the cars off the road, and we also have to resurface the car lot because it’s a nuisance to the town.”
Vann said everything is a compromise unless it is all a grass surface.
“And then if we grass over everything, everything’s going to be muddy. And we’re making this wonderful park in the background in the back called the Albert Grossman Memorial Park, which is where we took back a little bit of the car lot so that we could make a wonderful green space for people because post-COVID, people don’t like necessarily sitting inside,” Vann said. “So we’re making a beautiful park for people to sit outside, and so maybe when they come and see that they’ll understand what philosophy is.”
Vann said the complex was beautiful when it started, and over the years, it fell into disrepair because it is hard for a 400-seat theater to make a profit and have money to take care of the property. “And then I come along and say ‘Hey, this is an outrage. Let’s do something about it,’ and people start complaining. Well, what can I do,” she said. “And if we left it to decay, the birds and the bees would get hold of it and it will be a wonderful, great bit of scrub land, and the buildings would all fall over. Or somebody would buy it and build a big hotel there. So, I’m trying to do the best I can for the town and for the buildings so that the whole complex is preserved, and it’s a respected and beloved part of our community.”