Rye Needs To Protect Its Trees – Communities Have Rights Too
By Bill Lawyer, Guest Columnist
The Environmental Advocacy Group of Rye (EAGR) was founded in 2007 because a wide cross-section of Rye residents wanted to make our community a more healthy, safe place to live and raise families. Its first meeting was held that summer, just a few months after the second of two huge floods felled hundreds of trees and caused serious damage to property all over the City.
Right from the beginning, the message we got from the community is that trees are a great resource, but they need to be managed properly. The first issue that EAGR raised was the use of leaflblowers in the spring and summer months. Amendments to the existing ordinances were proposed and passed to have a seasonal ban for the sake of reducing pollution and noise.
Then, in the winter of 2009, EAGR began to look more closely at the issue of trees. A forum was held featuring presentations from Cornell Cooperative Extension tree experts, landscapers, and representatives of Con Ed. We learned that, due to storms, the conversion of open space to impervious surfaces, and not planting “the right tree for the right place” trees were losing the ability to retain stormwater, prevent erosion, absorb carbon dioxide and lower summer temperatures.
That year we also heard from Rye’s Planning Commission and Conservation Commission Advisory Council that loopholes in the existing tree ordinances were allowing people to cut down large numbers of trees without any community oversight.
By the fall we had determined that a combination of education and ordinance revision were needed to help utilize trees in ways that will provide for the health, safety and beauty of the city that we all love.
In 2010 we began a long process or proposals, reviews, revisions, and new proposals. This was done in cooperation with the City’s staff, the Council, and several tree companies operating in Rye and other communities. We also looked at what other communities were going. Meanwhile, more severe storms hit Rye, resulting in the loss of hundreds more trees.
What we saw is that, with trees as with other issues, a line has to be drawn between individual property rights and the rights of the community as a whole. Rye, along with communities all over the United States, has determined that they have the right, through zoning laws, health laws, safety laws and other ordinances, to tell property owners that there are limits to what they can and cannot do.
This is not a case of “big government” stepping on defenseless homeowners – it’s a process of the community working together to decide what’s best for the common good. EAGR got the community’s message loud and clear: we must plug the loopholes and encourage planting the right trees for the right place.
EAGR welcomes anyone in Rye who sincerely wants to help promote trees in Rye to contact us. Since 2009 we’ve been encouraging everyone to give us their thoughts and suggestions.