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TREE LAW SPLITS FAIR HAVEN COUNCIL

tree-chopWorkers cut down a tree in front of a Third Street home in Fair Haven Monday. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Months of discussion and a handful of proposed revisions to Fair Haven’s tree preservation ordinance still haven’t gotten the six-member council in agreement on just what to do with the contentious law.

Half want to keep it as is. The other half, in the name of preserving property rights, want it updated.

When the latest would-be updates, proposed by Councilman Bob Marchese, came up for an introduction vote Monday night, the motion passed with a tie-breaking ‘yes’ by Mayor Mike Halfacre.

But that doesn’t mean they’ll will go into effect when a final vote comes.

“I will tell you gentlemen, if this same ordinance comes before me again, on a 3-3 tie I will vote no,” Halfacre said.

Under Marchese’s proposal, a property owner who wants to remove more than 40 percent of trees within a 12-month period would need a permit. Halfacre and other council members say they have no problem with that. It’s not requiring that those trees be replaced that has officials at odds.

The whole point of the ordinance is to preserve the trees, and if a large percentage are getting cut down, they should be replaced, Halfacre said.

After a borough teenager put the spotlight on the ordinance’s efficacy last year, Marchese said he wanted to completely scrap the ordinance. But he backed off that idea, and said the revisions on the table are the result of a compromise among council members with clashing opinions.

Councilman Jim Banahan, though, sees them as a preemptive motion by Marchese to accomplish his initial goal of doing away with the local law.

“It’s not tweaking. It’s an attempt at a slow dismantling of the ordinance,” Banahan said. “That’s how you feel. You’ve already made that known.”

Councilman Jerome Koch also questioned Marchese’s motives, implying that he made the changes for political reasons rather than for public benefit — which Marchese denies, although he stood by his opinion that the ordinance needs to be updated to restore property rights.

“I’m just having second thoughts about the whole tree thing,” Koch said.

Fair Haven Road resident Gavin Warners told the council that a few years back he was on the roof of somebody’s house on Navesink River Road in Middletown, and he looked across the river at Fair Haven and saw an expanse of green. He said while he can’t afford a riverfront mansion, he’s proud that he has a home in a town that values its natural benefits.

“You look toward Red Bank, you don’t see that so much,” Warners said. “It’s very impressive.”

Like Warners, Banahan said the borough’s abundance of trees is a major factor in people choosing to live there. Modifying the ordinance, and possibly repealing it, leaves the borough open to looking more like Kings County, New York (Brooklyn), he said.

Marchese chided Banahan — a native of Staten Island — for “getting derogatory” about New York, and said he stands behind the call to update the ordinance, pulling out the Republican ethos of less government, more personal freedom.

After all, he said, “trees come back.”

The council will vote on the revised ordinance on July 11. Here’s the proposed amendment, contained in Monday night’s agenda: fh-agenda-052311

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