Clear-cutting trees for views in Woodstock: city officials blame ambiguous law


Woodstock Clearcut (Photo by Michael Veitch)

Complaints about clearcutting on Olderbark Mountain and other places in Woodstock have sparked frustration among planning council members over the lack of bite in the current Scenic Overlay District regulations and discussions about how to manage current and future cases.

“We devoted a workshop to solving the problems with the scenic overlay, as it seems there is a question of how to interpret the code and how to deal with it,” said the chairman of the planning board, Peter Cross, before a reopened public hearing is scheduled for a future. date of obtaining a special use permit for the 132 Valley View Way. Residents nearby complained that a notch in trees had been cut and the activity would spoil the view.

“So the ZEO (Zoning Enforcement Officer), the building inspector, went to the site and determined that there had been no clear cutting. The planning committee went to the site and conducted a site visit and determined that there had been no clear cutting, ”Cross said. “There was, however, the pruning of trees. You can’t cut trees in code. It’s not a good idea, but I don’t see in the code where it’s against the law.

Cross noted that the cut had already been made by the time it was presented to Planning Council. Now city council members and various committees have asked what can be done to compensate for the owner’s topping off trees. “Well the problem is we have [had] before several other instances in the scenic overlay where the site was completely cleaned up, ”Cross said. “And we have a site that people have gone to see, it’s Raycliff and we have one in Day Road. The question is therefore whether these sites have been completely cleaned up. What do you do when it’s already done, and you can’t get someone to plant a 30 foot tree, because we’ve taken that route.

Part of the Scenic Overlay Act says to minimize tree felling. “Who’s going to determine the minimum,” Cross asked.

Another part of the law prohibits building on a prominent ledge. “These other two cases before us are on prominent ledges,” Cross said. “So we’re sort of looking for a way to apply the scenic overlay code evenly across the board. And so that’s the problem, ”he said, noting the reason for a December 16 meeting to discuss the law.

The Planning Council has little power in these cases.

“Peter, you talk about two other sites that are considerably worse in the way they were treated, and we have no executive authority,” said Judith Kerman, member of the Planning Council. “We don’t have the capacity… if there was something in the city law and I don’t think there is… to do more than say you need to mitigate.” I’m not sure how the other two properties could mitigate… “We need tighter and clearer rules for the future, but we also need to have a way that if someone buys a property and does things there first. even to come for us, or even for the building department, there are consequences.

Planning Council member Brian Normoyle agreed with Kerman. “Which frustrates me, and it’s probably not a surprise, I’m just fed up with these helpless laws or regulations that we have, because we have these circular conversations where we can’t do anything,” Normoyle said. “Everyone knows there is trimming and topping, and topping is only done for one reason, in my opinion. This is for the views. Personally, I think it should be banned. What I think and what we can apply are two different things… I wonder how forests were managed before humans started to do it, and the answer is much better than humans, and then we have this problem.

Planning board member Conor Wenk said he was working with City Councilor Laura Ricci on the zoning review committee to reduce fines for violations to current levels. “They haven’t been brought up, I guess, since ’89 or something like that. So even just taking inflation into account would make a substantial difference, ”Wenk said. “All I can say is I agree, and if we can figure out a way to go ahead, or at least make it less appealing. The conversation we’ve had before is that for too many people, it’s really just the price of admission, it’s not a barrier to entry.

Planning Council vice-chairman Stuart Lipkind also seemed to agree. “I think there is a weakness in the current law. It was pointed out that the law says that one of the standards of this scenic overlay is that cutting of trees is supposed to be minimized. One person may think that the amount of cut X is minimal, and another person may think that Y is. There is really no standard in there and it is a weakness of the code as it currently exists, ”he added. “And so you have an owner here, who took it upon himself to thin out some of the upper parts of the trees, and it wasn’t clearly illegal… You look at the code.” How is a judge going to say what minimizes and what is not… and it therefore seems to me that if this is the state of this particular law, I do not know how it is really applicable ”, a added Lipkind. “And even the building department went over there and looked at it and found no violations, and yet some community members have come in and have proclaimed to the planning council what we’re going to do about it.” about these violations. But there are no violations. No one has ever issued a violation for this condition on this particular package. “

The law can be better written

“There are better ways to do it,” Cross said. “There are two descriptions of the clearcut. One is by the state, which says any clearcutting of an acre or more on a certain slope is against the law, and our code says that on the construction site, if 50 percent of the trees of six inches or more are cut off, that is wrong. But now that doesn’t mean much. It points to the site and it’s 50 trees over six inches or taller. I don’t know how you came to figure this out. I really don’t. But that’s the problem.

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