In an update of the regulations governing the town’s scenic overlay district, the Woodstock Tree Committee wants money budgeted for drone mapping of the town’s scenic overlay district. The mapping is intended to create a baseline for future scenic overlay issues, tree committee chair Michael Veitch explained during an August 8 public hearing.
“All permit applications should be screened using the drone mapping baseline for any potential clearing prior to application,” Veitch said.
Amendments to the law governing the district are being proposed in response to recent incidents where trees were clear-cut in violation of the law.
Veitch is urging tight enforcement, aerial imaging, and stiff fines for violations in an update of the regulations governing the town’s scenic overlay district. Veitch wants money in the town budget to hire additional enforcement personnel with forestry expertise. He also wants applicants for permits to obtain bonds to cover the costs of replanting in cases of excessive tree-cutting.
“The Woodstock Tree Committee suggests penalties for scenic overlay violations that are equal to the penalties for regulated tree violations listed currently in town code,” said Veitch. These are $1000 per violation and/or a year in jail.
Council member Laura Ricci, who worked on the law as chair of the town zoning revision committee, said the proposed changes included requirements for drone footage before and after developments.
“Why I think a baseline needs to be created is that a property owner could strip the trees before the property changes hands, and then the buyer unaware comes to the planning board or the building department — and you’ve got a situation,” Veitch explained. “That [baseline] would mean that any property owner currently is going to be held liable if they cut the trees down. They can sell the land, but they’re still going to be liable if they clear-cut. And we all know a clear-cut panoramic view is worth a lot more than a piece of land with a bunch of trees is.”
Council member Bennet Ratcliff said the proposed changes gave the planning board the power to require an applicant to supply aerial images. He wants the power absolute.
“I think ‘may’ is not strong enough, and it needs to be ‘shall require,’” Ratcliff said. “And I think that rather than asking the applicant to do it, I don’t understand why the Town of Woodstock wouldn’t want to have that resource itself, just like the Town of Woodstock has its own maps. I would think they would want their own drone footage that they could update as they see fit as well.”
Supervisor Bill McKenna suggested Ratcliff get a quote on what that would cost.
Ratcliff also expressed concern the proposed changes include requirements of the town or applicant without funding. “I am also concerned that there seems to be just a series of unfunded mandates in here telling the property owner to do something, or requesting that the zoning enforcement officer do something,” he said. “I think that we need to provide money for the zoning enforcement office to do these things, or we need to do them ourselves as the Town of Woodstock rather than telling somebody who’s purchasing a piece of property what they need to do.”
McKenna recessed the public hearing so the tree committee’s suggestions and Ratcliff’s concerns could be taken to the zoning revision committee for consideration.
The scenic overlay district protects the viewshed starting at 1200 feet above sea level. Recreational development including decks, swimming pools and sporting courts may be denied at the planning board’s discretion.
Non-essential tree cutting must be minimized in the visual canopy. Activities to be avoided include clear-cutting, topping, limbing or other practices harmful to trees.
“Non-essential tree-cutting shall be understood to mean trees having no fundamental impact on the buildability of the lot, the personal safety of owners or visitors to the property, or the safety of existing structures,” one of the proposed changes reads.
The proposed changes would allow non-essential tree-cutting in the district only where all other measures have been explored and exhausted by the applicant. and the tree-cutting application has been approved by the planning board.