FAIR HAVEN TREE LAW GETS ANOTHER LOOK

zoe-gallagher12-year-old Zoe Gallagher made her case to the borough council Monday night to amend Fair Haven’s tree ordinance. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Fair Haven is looking at revising its tree ordinance, and is doing so after a push from an unlikely source: a 12-year-old borough girl.

Zoe Gallagher, who made waves last month after a dozen trees were chopped down across the street from her Poplar Avenue home, Monday night asked the borough council to amend its ordinance in a way that she thinks will offer more protection for trees in town. After hearing her make her case, the council moved to introduce the amended ordinance and send it along to the planning board for review.

Under the proposed revision, property owners making an appeal for a denied application to remove trees from their property must notify neighbors within 200 feet and the council must hold a public hearing on the matter.

Giving advance notice and an opportunity for public comment would ideally eliminate scenarios like the one Zoe encountered, when a builder was granted an appeal from the council — against the advice of the shade tree commission — to chop down a dozen trees on his property.

By the time Zoe, a seventh-grader and president of the environmental club at Knollwood School, and her neighbors found out, the appeal by homebuilder Spencer Foxworth had been granted. A small uprising ensued, and culminated last night when Zoe, with copious notes in hand, stood before the council and grilled its members on how it would change the ordinance to give nearby residents — and trees, Zoe says — a voice.

“In this case, the trees weren’t given their fair opportunity,” Zoe said. “Hopefully this never happens again.”

Zoe’s push for the council to make these changes puts the all-Republican governing body into territory that tests its ability to balance its political ideals with its mission to keep its constituents happy.

On the one hand, passing the updated ordinance would do just that, which is why Councilman John Lehnert said he introduced the measure.

“I’m trying to help out people that clearly have a problem with the ordinance,” he said.

But Councilman Bob Marchese argues that Lehnert’s proposal is too Big Brother and goes against his — and the council’s — core values that government should be hands-off. Marchese cast the lone vote against introducing the ordinance Monday night.

“I will always vote in favor of limited government and property rights,” he said. “Always.”

After the amendment is reviewed by the planning board, the council will make its ultimate decision, most likely at its September 13 meeting, said Mayor Mike Halfacre.

Zoe, in the meantime, said she feels encouraged about the progress made following her personal tree tragedy, but recognizes that her changes still have to pass muster with local officials.

“I feel better now, knowing the trees have a better chance of getting saved now,” she said. “I just hope that it gets passed.”