Clarkstown & Valley Cottage Homeowner On West Hook Mountain Reach A Settlement That Includes Tree Replacement

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Town Justice Scott Ugell Wants Time To Read Settlement; Sets New Hearing For Aug. 26

By Tina Traster

The Town of Clarkstown and a Valley Cottage resident who built an illegal addition and allegedly cut down a swath of trees on town land have agreed on a settlement to resolve legal issues that have been both before the town court for several months, as well as allegations that are beyond the court’s jurisdiction.

A key provision of the proposed settlement agreement includes the replacement of 150 trees on West Hook Mountain on two town-owned lots adjacent to the homeowner’s property at 20 Old Stone Road.

Donald Feerick said his client, homeowner Edward Teitel, does not admit to any wrongdoing regarding the tree cutting but explained he is willing to replant felled trees because “he wants to return to his family life and to his solitude on his property.”

The Clarkstown Police Department is undertaking a criminal investigation of the tree cutting but Town Attorney Leslie Kahn said “the town has no evidence the defendant took town the trees.”

A spokesman for the Clarkstown Police Department Norm Peters said, “the investigation is ongoing.” He added that “there is no timetable on how long an investigation takes.”

Kahn, and Donald Feerick spelled out the stipulations in the “global” agreement in court Tuesday.

However, Town Justice Scott Ugell said, “The court needs to read this is great detail. This has to be thoroughly read.”

The lengthy agreement had only just been presented to the judge.

Ugell set the next court date for Aug. 26 at 10.

Feerick reminded the court that the soil disturbance issue, which was the legal matter before the court, had been resolved through a submission of both a storm water protection plan and a landscape plan that had been reviewed and approved by town experts. The attorney also said he expects it will take 90 days to finish the work, including the installation of a railing on a deck.

The town’s suit, filed January 22, said the defendant failed to comply with erosion and sediment control measures after building a second floor addition without a permit.

Feerick told the court that an estimated 125 tress that “populate the boundary between the town and his client” will be replanted. The tree felling has been the source of contention between the homeowner and members of the New York/New Jersey Trail Conference. He said he expects the plantings will take place either this fall or next spring.

“We have had discussions with the trail commission and have agreed to plant 150 trees,” said Feerick. He explained the additional 25 trees to be planted accounted for natural attrition of trees that might not take. Feerick also told the court his client would provide a letter of credit to allow the town to tap into if the trees fail.

Kahn told RCBJ Teitel is offering a $25,000 letter of credit.

Feerick said his client has agreed to ensure that the new trees will survive with protective guards and water treatment systems.

But Feerick reiterated that there were “no findings of liability,” regarding the trees and that his client has not admitted to any wrongdoing.

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.

Feerick also said his client has agreed to reimburse the town for surveying the land and putting markings that delineate the property owner’s land from town-owned land.

“This settlement makes the town whole,” Feerick said.

Valley Cottage resident Marvin Baum, who’s been leading the fight for reparations, and who was in court Tuesday, said, “Mr. Teitel caused hundreds of thousands of dollars to Town Open Space parkland, yet he appears he have gotten a terrific settlement deal whereby he admits no guilt and doesn’t have to pay any fines whatsoever, including for the enforcement of the Town’s Preservation Law, which provides for fines of up to $1,500 per tree. That’s not justice for Clarkstown’s taxpayers who spent $3 million to preserve that land on West Hook Mountain, and it’s certainly not justice for the environment.”