East Hills environmentalist and tree preservationist Richard Brummel returned to the Mineola Village Board this past Wednesday night during their regular meeting at the village hall to once again petition on behalf of a tree that he feels in in danger of being cut down by developers.
“I’m not aware of people coming in and leveling houses and leveling trees on properties,” Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss said at the February 6 meeting. “I think you’re under the wrong impression that Mineola is slashing and burning these trees down, that’s not the case, in fact it’s quite the opposite.”
The mayor added that he had received a letter from a resident requesting removal of a tree that they deemed dangerous.
“When we go to evaluate a tree, just because a resident thinks it should come down doesn’t mean we take it down,” he said. “We don’t take down healthy trees unless it poses a problem.”
The village conducts an annual survey taking note of areas where trees have not been replaced and conducts tree plantings in the fall.
“I’ve got people screaming at me that they’ve got trees put in front of their house that didn’t want them,” Strauss said. “So as you’re hearing one side of it, God’s honest truth, I can tell you it’s quite a different story and there’s both sides to every coin.”
Brummel first appeared before the village board on January 16 concerning a red oak tree in the rear yard of a foreclosed property at 208 Roslyn Road that he believed was about 125 years old and had the potential to be destroyed if the property were sold to development.
“This is going on,” Brummel said. “I hope this doesn’t happen with this tree but that’s the risk that you run, that’s why I’m here. This tree is vulnerable in the context of having a deficiency in terms of potential; it’s vulnerable because you don’t have a tree protection law. The clock is ticking; right now this tree has no protection.”
Brummel has since submitted a petition with 168 signatures that he said he obtained after standing in front of a supermarket and canvassing Jerome Avenue. He is asking the board to pass a resolution to protect the tree or adopt a tree protection law.
“What I’m finding from hearing from the residents, is that people are very unhappy with the number of trees that they’re losing,” Brummel said. “They’re losing trees on their streets, they seem to be being cut down unnecessarily, capriciously by whoever’s responsible for cutting down trees. The people that I’m speaking to overwhelmingly support protecting these trees and they regret that so many trees have been lost and they agree that developers are the issue.”
But “51 of the people who signed that 168 signatures do not live in the Village of Mineola,” deputy mayor Paul Pereira said. “They live as far as Astoria, Elmont, Floral Park, East Williston, so although in your letter you mentioned 10 percent, it’s actually 30 percent.”
He also added that “we have arial photos of the village going back to 1926, that tree is not on that property; that tree is not 125 years old.”
It was also noted that only 12 people from Jerome Avenue signed the petition.
Mineola has received “Tree City USA” recognition by the National Arbor Day Foundation for the past 27 consecutive years for its continuing efforts at planting trees. The village will also be replacing approximately 450 trees that were damaged, destroyed or uprooted after Hurricane Sandy.
“We just don’t go down a block and say ‘hey, let’s rip down all the trees’,” Strauss said. “It doesn’t happen here and if anybody that thinks that is misunderstood.”
Brummel replied that “the trees on private property are not really protected at all and that’s what we’re really talking about here.”
Some of the regulations in the 10-page East Hills tree preservation law requires a $25 fee then an additional $100 to remove a tree, that residents only plant trees on an approved species list, the appointment of a tree warden, the creation a tree preservation plan describing all methods used in tree preservation and also that residents are responsible for maintaining, taking down, paying for removal and replacement of all village trees.
Brummer confirmed that East Hills is reevaluating its tree preservation policy due to “irrational, panicked responses by some residents,” with the only thing stopping the suspension of the law being a lack of an environmental analysis.
“They were in headlong rush to respond to panicked reaction of a very small minority of the community and they pulled back from that,” he said.
“And that’s something I don’t want to do,” Strauss said. “I don’t want to do a headlong rush into a section of the community and we’ll need to look at this and evaluate it and maintain a strong conscience and informed decision.”
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, East Hills has allowed a three-month grace period for residents to take and remove trees which they might find a danger or having the potential to damage property or power lines.
“It’s going to open up a big liability and possibility of lawsuit against the village,” trustee George Durham said. “I could not see enacting a law to take and tell people that they couldn’t take down a tree that might fall and damage their house.”
Added Pereira: “We live in the suburbs because we want a suburban quality of life,” Pereira said, “and trees are a part of that. We have to walk a fine line between the community’s interests and the property owner’s and their right to develop.”
The deputy mayor further stated that Brummel was “minimizing the mayor’s concerns” about lot and home size and development of properties.
“If you’re defending the environment, someone’s got to pay,” Brummel said. “You’ve got to tell developers ‘no, you can’t build that building that many stories high, you can’t have that many more people move into the community’. If we’re protecting the environment, something’s got to give.”
State Senator Jack Martins was also in the audience Wednesday night and stated that “I have not heard it to be an issue. I have not heard of a single individual in our village having come to this board asking for relief and demanding to do so. I have not heard anyone speaking to me other than outside of the village asking us to take action. This isn’t the first time we’ve met people coming to our village from outside the village to impress upon us that which we are doing wrong and to try to impose upon us their own worldview of what they believe to be right.”