The Town of Mamaroneck responded to our request for comment on our reporting on the Town’s New Tree Law, which passed unanimously, despite opposition from members of the community, Nov. 15, 2023.
The Town response is below.
This New Tree Law was the result of many hours of difficult negotiations over a period of years. In enacting the New Tree Law, the Town Board reviewed the laws of other municipalities in the County, consulted with municipal leaders in the County, consulted with the Town environmental planner and arborists, and consulted with an expert recommended by the Town’s Sustainability Collaborative. In addition, the Town Board conducted three lengthy public hearings and in response to public comments made modifications to the various drafts of the law, i.e., decreasing the number of trees that can be removed “as of right”, increasing the number of trees that must be planted to replace them, and requiring a certified arborist to make certain decisions. Then the Town Board responded to changes requested by our Planning Board. We also addressed the concerns of those opposed to any tree law by adding flexibility for emergency situations and a 30-day cap on permit decisions.
The New Tree Law represents a substantial strengthening from the Former Tree Law. The Former Tree Law applied only to lots of greater than 20,000 square feet, about 20% of the lots in Town, and doesn’t provide any limit on the number of trees taken down.
The New Tree Law, when fully phased-in, will apply to all lots in the Town. Further, it provides limits on the number of trees that can be taken down in a 12-month period, depending upon the size of the lot, and requires replanting of trees depending upon the size of the tree taken down. There also will be a period of time when a property for which a tree removal permit was issued cannot obtain a second one. In all cases, a property owner must obtain a permit to remove a regulated tree, so for the first time, there will be a record of what is coming down and how those trees are being replaced. It contains a provision addressing mature trees of 36” diameter at breast height (DBH) or more that in the past have been removed with impunity. The New Tree Law applies to the Town, too, requiring Town officials to alert the Board as to certain Town tree removal plans before it happens so that the Board can weigh in if it has concerns.
Here is a summary of the key provisions of the new Tree Law:
- The New Tree Law will require persons to obtain a tree removal permit to remove regulated trees, i.e., trees having a DBH of 6 inches or more. Although the New Tree Law is being phased-in, it will apply to every lot in the unincorporated area.
- The Former Tree Law applied only to lots of greater than 20,000 square feet. This meant that the Former Tree Law regulated only about 20% of the lots in the unincorporated area
- The New Tree Law places a limit (with some exceptions) on the number of regulated trees that can be removed in any twelve-month period, viz. no more than 7 regulated trees on lots of 20,000 square feet or more; no more than 5 regulated trees on lots greater than 7,500 but less than 20,000 square feet and no more than 3 regulated trees on lots of 7,500 square feet or less. Although the Former Tree Law contained criteria for obtaining a tree removal permit (the New Tree Law does not), it placed no limit on the number of trees that could be removed if such criteria were met. The New Tree Law allows the numerical limit to be exceeded in order for hazardous or dead trees to be removed, or if the Environmental Planner or the Planning Board determines that a certain tree “substantially interferes with a permitted use of the property”.
- The New Tree Law adds extra protection for regulated trees with a DBH of 36 inches or more by prohibiting their removal unless the Environmental Planner or the Planning Board determines that such a tree “substantially interferes with a permitted use of the property”. The Former Tree Law did not offer added protection to trees of this size.
- The key feature of the New Tree Law is that it requires removed regulated trees to be replaced on a greater than 1:1 ratio or for payment into the Town’s Tree Fund or both.
- Two replacement trees must be planted for each removed regulated tree with a DBH of between 6 and 12 inches.
- Three replacement trees must be planted for each removed regulated tree with a DBH of greater than 12 but less than 18 inches.
- Four replacement trees must be planted for each removed regulated tree with a DBH of greater than 18 inches.
- The number of regulated trees that can be removed from a vacant lot is not unlimited. The number will be determined by the Planning Board as part of its residential site plan review. In addition, a lot rendered ‘vacant’ by the removal of existing structures within the prior 24 months is not considered a vacant lot under the New Tree Law.
- It is anticipated that these ratios of new trees for removed trees eventually will increase the Town’s tree canopy.
- The Town will monitor the health of the replacement trees. When they are planted, the Environmental Planner will issue a preliminary letter of completion. One year later, the Environmental Planner will return to assess the health of the replacement trees. If they have taken root and are in good condition, the Environmental Planner will issue a final letter of completion. If a replacement tree has not survived, the Environmental Planner either will require the replacement tree to be replaced or if it appears that soil or other conditions were the cause of the replacement tree’s failure, will require payment to the Town’s Tree Fund. The Former Tree Law did not have a process like this.
- For lots where size, soil or rock prevents the planting of replacement trees, owners will be required to pay $300 into the Town’s Tree Fund for each replacement tree not planted. The Fund will be used to tend to the existing Town-owned trees by assuring that they are watered and fertilized and to plant more trees on Town property. The Former Tree Law did not require payment into a fund.
- During the 12-month period following the issuance of a preliminary letter of completion, a second tree removal permit cannot be issued for the same property, except to remove a hazardous or dead tree. The Former Tree Law did not impose a hiatus between the issuance of tree removal permits.
- Violators of the New Tree Law will be subject to a number of sanctions.
- They shall be subject to a fine of $300 for each regulated tree having a DBH of between 6 and 12 inches that they remove without complying with the new Tree Law.
- The fine is $600 for each regulated tree having a DBH of greater than 12 but less than 18 inches.
- The fine is $900 for each regulated tree having a DBH greater than 18 inches.
- In addition to the fine, violators will be required to plant the number of replacement trees that they would have had to plant if they had followed proper procedure, or make the requisite payment to the Town’s Tree Fund. Finally, violators will be precluded from obtaining a tree removal permit for 12 months.
For complete text of the New Tree Law, click here.