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Council First Chops Tree Ordinance; Later Trims Back

Over concerns of property rights infringement, the River Edge Council rejected a Tree Ordinance at first but later agreed to revisit the topic at the next work session

After several years of rewrites and failed introductions, the most recent version of a Tree Ordinance in River Edge is now heading back to the drawing board after the Council chopped it down 4-2 along party lines.

"I'm a big property rights person," Council President Paul Cordts began. "Reading through this my main concern is allowing more government to move toward private property and that some things are not defined."

The would have given the Shade Tree Commission jurisidiction over the removal and protection of any trees located on both private and public property except in those cases which are exempt. The main exemption would be a homeowner removeing a tree on their private property as part of their own maintenance or in case of an emergency.

It also implemented a new requirement for the removal of any trees by combining an application for removal with that of attaining a building permit and place a greater emphasis on larger home construction and that of redevelopment projects over smaller construction projects by homeowners.

"I think this ordinance tries to strike a balance between both sides," borough attorney Sam Cereste said. "The only situation when the Shade Tree gets involved is during the permit process for someone to build a new house, a deck or an addition. The borough would benefit from the permit process and just about every municipality in Bergen County regulates private trees. All this says is to have the tree removal in the context have development so government has a say."

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.

But Republican councilmembers questioned the need to dictate what a private property owner could do with their own trees through legislation, regardless of the exemptions included.

"By putting reasonable restrictions on street trees you could get this ordinance passed," Edward Mignone stated.

"No one has the right to damage borough trees," Councilman Alphonse Bartelloni said. " But to rely on good faith and good will of a government organization is ridiculous. In what right capacity should residents relinquish their rights to a government body. This is complely over reaching. I know once this is all fleshed out we'll have an ordinance to protect borough trees with replacement costs for large scale development but what came before us was flawed. We have to balance against the individual's property rights."

According to Shade Tree Commission member Jennifer Dougherty, the language regarding jurisdiction over private trees has been removed before but following an August work session was reinstated.

"When we were here in August, the private trees were not in our initial proposal," Dougherty said. "We got pushed back at that point that it should be included so we went back and re-did it. Initially we didn't want anything to do with private property. You have to trust us. Liz [Stewart, Commission Chair] and I have been on the Commission for 12 and 14 years. Charlie [Amorese] has been here for 17. We've been on the Commission when some of you have not been up here. We haven't planted a borough tree in over three years."

The governing body was later willing to reconsider the decision following the removal of any language that is specific to private property which will be reviewed at the June 18 work session.

Have a question or news tip? Contact editor Eamon Harbord at Eamon.Harbord@patch.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. For news straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

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