FAIR HAVEN MAY TRIM TREE LAW

fh-treesHance Road in Fair Haven. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Councilman Bob Marchese’s got his axe ready, and it looks like changes to Fair Haven’s tree ordinance are imminent.

Marchese is proposing tweaks to the borough’s tree law, which he says infringes upon property owners’ rights.

“I believe our tree ordinance is subject to a constitutional attack, quite honestly,” he said. “I want to get this moving.”

It got moving Monday night, and the revised ordinance is expected to be introduced for a vote next month.

The proposed changes, while not “wholesale by any means,” said Mayor Mike Halfacre, considerably alter one a section of the ordinance that was designed to prevent clear-cutting of properties by developers.

The one major change — there were three in all — deals with permits. Currently, a permit is required to cut down any tree that has a diameter of 10-inches or more. Marchese would change the ordinance so a permit is required if a property owner with more than 10 trees and proposes to cut down five or more within a one-year period.

Marchese said this update restores property rights while also addressing concerns about clear-cutting, although, he adds, “I don’t necessarily buy that concern, but people do have it. People don’t come to Fair Haven to destroy trees.”

The changes, he said, would also limit the number of appeals brought to the council when tree-cutting permit applications are denied.

“One appeal is too many,” Marchese said.

He also added a line to the ordinance that says any diseased or dead trees that are cut down do not have to be replaced.

His proposal didn’t necessarily win over the hearts of the council.

Council President Jon Peters, who is a proponent of the ordinance, said it’s hard to determine a set number of trees proposed to be removed to trigger the permit requirement because different properties have varying numbers of trees.

The difficulty, he said, is balancing the rights of property owners and maintaining the borough’s abundance of trees, which he called a public asset.

But Halfacre pointed out that the ordinance says any tree that is removed must be replaced, either on the same property or elsewhere.

“It’s the circle of life,” he said.

“Yeah,” Peters said, “and I’m trying to stop the circle of death.”

The ordinance, which was put on the books three years ago after a number of properties were clear-cut by developers, has faced criticism in the last year. In June, a borough teenager challenged the efficacy of the ordinance if the council granted appeals — which was the case across the street from the girl, Zoe Gallagher, where a dozen trees were cut down to build two new homes. Gallagher was in attendance at Monday’s meeting, but didn’t have any input for Marchese.

The council mulled making changes to the ordinance, but it died on the vine. Marchese resurrected the idea last month because, he said, it infringes upon property owners’ rights. Halfacre disagrees.

“Their property rights aren’t being infringed,” he said. “They’re being jumped through hoops.”

But he acknowledged that the ordinance does need to be updated.

“We tried to strike a balance with this three years ago,” Halfacre said. “Now we’re re-striking a balance.”

A draft of Marchese’s changes can be downloaded here: amend-tree-preservation.