Mayor Josh Cohn flanked by Rye Sustainability Committee leaders Gretchen Crowley and Melissa Grieco at the Arbor Day Ceremony last month.
Photo by Chris Cohan
Making 2020 The Year of the Tree
BY ROBIN JOVANOVICH
Based on the number of honorary awards the Rye Sustainability Committee received last year, it’s a strong contender for volunteer organization of 2019. Unsurprisingly, this visionary group is already hard at work on lofty long-term goals. Top among them is “making 2020 the year of the tree, the native tree,” said committee chair Melissa Grieco.
While continuing to ensure that native street trees are planted all over town, through “Branching Out for Rye”, an initiative launched in partnership with the City in late 2016, the group has set its sights on “leafing up” the City’s tree ordinance. They’ve researched what other Westchester communities have done in recent years to discourage clear-cutting and unlawful tree removal. “A good ordinance reflects the importance of trees — their role in flood mitigation, in enhancing property values, in providing shade and cover for wildlife,” noted Grieco.
Scarsdale is the gold standard when it comes to tree ordinances, according to Grieco. For example, if a homeowner wants to cut down a tree with a minimum diameter of 6”, not only is a permit required but a replacement must be planted. Small caliper native trees may only be removed without a permit if they are 3” DBH (diameter at breast height) or less. If there is no space to plant more trees, a donation to the municipal tree preservation fund is required.
In Rye Brook, any resident granted a tree removal permit must replant a native noninvasive 2– to 2½- inch caliper tree on the property. They require a $200 contribution to their tree fund in lieu of required planting.
“Developers need more than a fine to be deterred,” Grieco emphasized. “Bronxville and Greenburgh came up with a good provision to deter violators: jail time!”
The last time the City of Rye took a long look at its tree ordinance was 2012. Back then, the goal was to set the permit requirement level at 8” DBH. (A tree of that size is considered a mature tree that provides many benefits to a property.) An outcry from developers and several longtime residents stopped the initiative before it could take root.
Mayor Cohn told the paper that he is very much in favor of strengthening the ordinance. Meanwhile, the City has applied for an urban grant to do a tree inventory.
Last month, the City held an Arbor Day ceremony at Milton Road Cemetery. The Mayor cut the ribbon on several newly planted Serviceberries, which can grow to 30 feet in height. They were among the 17 native trees planted by the DPW in 2019.
“The DPW has been fantastic in helping introduce more native trees species and species diversity,” said Grieco.
The challenge for Rye is to plant more trees than are removed in any given year; in 2019, 114 trees were taken down.
The Sustainability Committee has two words of advice for homeowners: start planting. “October isn’t the only month to do this,” added Grieco.
(Note to voters in the 2020 presidential election: Mike Bloomberg planted a million trees during his tenure as mayor of New York City. Challenge to our mayor: Can you top that?)