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Contested Tree Ordinance Begins to Grow Roots

After five years of work, River Edge introduced a new tree ordinance

A new River Edge ordinance to preserve the borough's trees and limit their removal has long awaited its introduction to begin growing its roots. On Monday night, Ordinance #1765 had its first reading after five years of rewrites and delays as Borough Attorney Sam Cereste threw his support behind the current document and that of the Shade Tree Commission.

The process for the tree ordinance began five years ago during former borough attorney William Lindsley's tenure but introduction was continually delayed for numerous rewrites. The recently introduced five-page ordinance implements a new requirement for the removeal of any trees by combining an application for removal with that of attaining a building permit.

"It's looking for a way to find out when trees are removed and tie it into the building permit process," Cereste said of how the new ordinance would work. "The need for an extensive survey was eliminated and instead a homeowner can mark where the trees are located on an existing survey."

But the removal application would place a greater emphasis on larger home construction and that of redevelopment projects over smaller construction projects by homeowners.

"When we started work on the ordinance there was a lot of brand new construction to take homes down and the street trees were not surviving," Shade Tree Commission member Jennifer Dougherty said. "We're not here to hinder residents but are looking at the larger picture of for sale signs on smaller properties."

Shade Tree Commission chair Liz Stewart added that the ordinance could not legally prohibit one type of construction over another regarding trees on private property.

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The tree removal application would include the location of any trees to be removed, the exact reasoning for the removal and a tree replacement plan to replensish those tree that were taken off the property.

Following the reciept of the application, the Shade Tree Commission could either grant the proposal with or without any additional stipulations or deny it outright.

According to Cereste, a resident or developer could appeal the Commission's decision to the Mayor and Council

"I think it's a pretty good ordinance and fair to private property owners," Cereste said. "I don't know many towns that don't regulate private trees. Both Tenafly and Fort Lee require that if a tree is taken down, it either needs to be replaced or $250 is paid to the town."

But the governing body did have concerns about regulating what the Commission could dictate to a private property owner and is expected to amend the ordinance prior to its final adoption.

Susan May 22, 2012 at 01:10 PM
I think the Shade Tree Comm needs to concentrate on taking care of the trees that they never maintain before they worry about people cutting trees down or adding more trees.
Mary May 22, 2012 at 04:22 PM
I agree wholeheartedly with Susan above. Additionally, if a homeowner is prevented from removing a tree, who is going to pay for damage to home and property that that tree might later cause? I'm sure homeowners do not remove trees just for the fun of it as it is a rather costly process.
Adam Herbst May 22, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Who will be the tree police checking to make sure no trees come down illegally? I agree with Mary's comment - if a tree is found to be diseased but its removal is held up for administrative reasons and then the tree falls and damages property, or worse yet, injures someone, will the town be liable?

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