In the spring of 2021, as the City’s preoccupation with Covid eased, Mayor Josh Cohn asked Councilmembers Richard Mecca, Julie Souza, and Carolina Johnson to work on updating Chapter 187 of the Rye City Code which deals with tree legislation. During the initial meeting with staff, “clear-cutting” was identified as one of the biggest concerns. Rich Mecca, in all his experience and wisdom, explained that the majority of times all the trees on a property are cut down is when that property is being subdivided into a flag lot. After relaying that information to the mayor, and in response to the outcry of Oakland Beach Avenue neighbors, who protested, among other things, the clear-cutting at 95-97 Oakland Beach Avenue, the subdivision of the lot, and the disturbance of the steep slopes, we called for a moratorium. We voted on making it retroactive, but we didn’t have the votes to make it retroactive, so we moved with a forward-looking moratorium.
We were under the impression that making flag lots difficult to create would take care of most clear-cutting at the same time. However, it turns out that’s not the case, it keeps happening.
After the new zoning laws were passed, we restarted a review of tree legislation. After the death of Rich Mecca, the mayor asked Ben Stacks to join Souza and Johnson on the tree legislation committee. But by then, there was an outcry about rock chipping and blasting, so we set in motion another moratorium to deal with that. It took over six months to get new legislation passed regarding rock chipping and blasting. Each piece of legislation demands a lot of staff time, while our City Planner is going through all the logistics about how to administer the new law and our Corporation Counsel fine tunes the language. Involved staff also have their everyday duties, like running the Building Department, at the same time.
That’s the preamble to the latest episode of clear-cutting. Typically, we learn about clearp-cutting after it has happened. This time, unusually, we heard in advance about the plans for tree chopping. We set out to hold a special meeting quickly in the hopes that we’d be able to stop this from happening. But we must follow procedures to give notice of a City Council meeting and allow time to work on the proposed moratorium law. By the time we met, the damage was done, a quarter-acre of mature trees had been felled on one single lot, without a construction plan or tree preservation plan filed with the City.
The now denuded lot abuts several properties, including the mayor’s, and the impact of the tree loss is broadly felt by the entire neighborhood. Believe it or not there are still empty lots in Rye that are not protected by the current tree ordinance. And too many other trees are needlessly cut down, even in the absence of clear cutting. The renewed sense of urgency to act, and a positive collaboration with residents in the course of the special meeting https://ryeny.new.swagit.com/videos/207021 propelled us to set a public hearing for the next City Council meeting February 15 to consider a 3-month moratorium (with exceptions) on tree removal on any lot without a permit.
Once the Council’s intention to amend the law has been made clear, we must move quickly to limit the opportunity for people to remove trees before an amended law is passed. Chapter 187 Trees on the City Code has not been changed since 1990; previous Councils have reviewed it but efforts to revise it were unsuccessful. We believe it’s important to put this issue on the front burner and deal with it as soon as possible. It’s not the first time we set a moratorium in response to residents’ concerns. We have identified a “blind spot” with respect to tree removal generally and we would like to deal with it.
The Mayor recused himself in advance of the recent clear-cutting, but became active again afterwards. The undersigned Councilmembers advanced the moratorium while the Mayor was recused, believing that it should not be the case that the Mayor’s neighbors lose their expectation of prompt City Council help simply because the Mayor is their neighbor.
- Councilmembers Carolina Johnson, Julie Souza, Ben Stacks