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Conservationists Want Clarkstown To Force Homeowner To Mitigate Town-Owned Deforested Land
By Tina Traster
The Town of Clarkstown has taken steps to cite a Valley Cottage homeowner for building a second-floor addition to his home at 20 Old Stone Road without a permit. But a local resident and member of the NY/NJ Trail Conference has initiated an effort to ask the town to punish the owner for allegedly removing a large swath mature growth trees on the owner’s land as well as on abutting town-owned property purchased nearly 20 years ago through the town’s Open Space Fund.
At issue is how the town responds to illegal construction of a second-story addition and to the removal of trees without compliance to the town’s tree ordinance.
What complicates this case are allegations from Marvin Baum and a growing group of activists that the homeowner has removed more than 100 trees from land known as West Hook Mountain. The land was purchased under the Town’s Open Space Initiative. Funds from the town’s $22 million open space bond in 2003 were used to purchase the $1.7 million property. Clarkstown voters passed the referendum in November 2000 for the acquisition of open space. The West Hook Mountain property was cited as one of the driving forces behind the open space bond referendum.
“The Town is extremely disturbed by the allegation of destruction of trees on Town property as well as the other alleged violations that have occurred at 20 Old Stone Road,” said Town Attorney Leslie Kahn.
On Nov. 16th, the town issued a Stop Work Order and Notice of Violation under provisions of the town’s Stormwater Management code. The order calls for the property owner to maintain, repair, and install silt fences, issue a site plan, and submit a survey.
The town has also taken the homeowner, Edward Teitel, to Town Justice Court over the issue. The town’s suit, filed January 22, says the defendant has failed to comply with erosion and sediment control measures. The suit also says the defendant did not submit a site plan, erosion plan, or survey. A hearing is set for April 6th at 9:30.
Kahn said the Clarkstown Building Inspector “issued a violation to the property owner on January 21, 2021 for failure to obtain a permit for an alleged addition to the property. The Building Inspector has withheld the issuance of a building permit until he receives plans from the owner’s architect.”
In correspondence written to town attorney Leslie Kahn last November, Baum included photos of the 20 Old Stone Road home in 2018 and 2020, which showed the change in roofline with an additional second floor with large west-facing windows “presumably to take advantage of the views made possible by removing mature pine trees on the town’s parcel to the west.”
Baum pointed out the town’s records continue to show this home as a single-story residence, and the assessed value is the same today as it was in 2016, despite new construction.
But Kahn said the Town Assessors office did a site inspection of the property in January and the assessed value of the house has been increased and the increase in taxes will be reflected on the upcoming tax role. In addition, the Town will seek to recoup property and school taxes for the previous year.
But the activists are extremely distressed over the blighting of the forest and wants the town to force the homeowner to remediate the land with new plantings.
Councilman Mike Graziano has said he believes “it’s disgraceful that anyone would choose to encroach on town property and destroy our open space.” However, the councilman does not believe there is sufficient proof that the homeowner took down a swath of trees.
“As for the older tree clearing,” Graziano said on Facebook, “the town lacks any concrete evidence which would hold up in a court of law to pursue action against whomever is responsible. Based upon aerial photos, that clearing appears to have taken place in early to mid-2019.”
Kahn said the town hired a surveyor to survey and stake out the property. The Town received the survey last Friday and has asked Clarkstown Police Department to open an investigation as to the allegation of removal of trees on Town property but cannot comment on the investigation.
The Town of Clarkstown code states it has a vital interest in the planting and preservation of trees. Trees stabilize the soil on slopes, thereby preventing erosion, siltation, and flooding. They control water pollution, purify the air by generating oxygen, mitigate noise and reduce energy consumption by providing shade. The code states that destruction and removal of trees causes increased costs to the town for remediating drainage control, impairing the value of both improved and unimproved property.
“What kind of precedent will this set if a homeowner or a landscaper can remove all these trees without consequence?” Baum asked. He’s hoping Clarkstown will further investigate the felling of the trees by bringing in outside experts to determine when they were cut.
Baum believes the homeowner who razed the forest should pay a penalty.
Clarktown town code imposes a minimum fine of $500 and up to of $1,500 and/or community service in the amount of 30 days for violation of the town’s tree ordinance. The town can also force the violator to remediate damage by replacing the trees. Each tree is a separate offense under the code.
Homeowner Teitel’s attorney Donald Feerick Jr. did not respond to calls for comment.
Teitel, who previously lived in West Nyack, is part of Teitel Brothers, a 105-year-old Italian provisions store on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Teitels is the only existing store in the Bronx’s little Italy with Jewish roots.
Teitel is one of three brothers who runs the family-owned business with their father.
In February, Teitel Brothers was honored by the New York City Department of Small Businesses as one of 10 century-old establishments across the five boroughs.