Petition Outreach to Reform East Hills Tree Conservation and Land-use Laws

Cover-letter of Petition, a "Manifesto" for local environmental preservation Petition submitted to village board of trustees May 14 and May 23, 2012 (for two hearings)

The efforts of a handful of residents who attended board meetings, along with publicity of local news coverage and hte challenge of the recent contested election has seemed to force village officials to take a sharper look at problems with village laws they grudgingly acknowledge are leading to excessive loss of healthy trees (the "tree canopy" that our laws are intended to protect) and rampant over-building in the community.

(Village officials claim they were not aware of the excesses, but many residents have told me of calling for years about tree removals that distressed them, and I know personally one resident directly sat with the mayor about 4 years ago telling him about how inadequately protected his own home had been from overdevelopment on an neighboring property.)

The village held one sparsely attended middle-of-the-night "Public Hearing" to elicit comments on tree protection, and they announced another hearing May 23rd at 8 PM to elicit comments on the building law issues. No moratorium was considered, despite the plan of the original resolution by the board for the hearing.

Unfortunately a large part of the "tree hearing" was devoted to the vigorous defense of the status quo by the chairman of the Architectural Review Board -- which has been permitting the overdevelopment and tree clear-cutting (!) that many residents are very upset about.

To counter the impression that residents are largely apathetic and ignorant about the degradation being inflicted on the community through out-of-control rebuilding and tree removals, one person, myself, has spent two recent weekends going door to door with this petition outlining the problems and urging specific reforms.

We found a substantial group of residents who are very displeased that so many trees are being lost to developers, many residents who were displeased and surprised when impressive trees were taken down by neighbors, often with village permission, and a large number of residents who opposed the scale of recent rebuilding throughout the community.

On Monday May 14th, 2012, we are submitting the petition to the village mayor and trustees with several dozen names from almost every part of East Hills -- Country Estates, Canterbury Woods, Fairfield Park, Lakeville Estates, Nob Hill, Norgate, North Woods, and Strathmore.

The petition is not meant to represent unanimity -- that would be too easy. For every person who signed there was another who declined to sign, and we skipped many homes where the property had already been over-developed or stripped of trees by the current owner or the recent developer.

But the petition is meant to show village officials that they have a strong moral obligation to listen to those who wish to halt the unexpected and unapproved changes that are taking place in their community.

The petition clearly shows that a substantial group of residents, typically those who have lived in East Hills for a decade or more, feel very aggrieved their homes and the community in which they have invested large parts of their lives are being damaged in ways that zoning and tree laws clearly promised to prevent. The status quo which East Hills residents had a reasonable expectation would remain intact -- based on village laws that clearly promised to preserve "neighborhood character" and a beautiful green environment, among other attributes -- is being upended without their agreement, in fact in opposition to the laws their elected officials had created.

Hopefully the village officials will do better when re-writing the laws than they have done so far, and also put in place all the needed personnel, administrative, legal, and technical resources need to get planning, zoning and environmental protection back on track.

Although the petition did not mention it, we remain strongly convinced that without the presence of a full-time professional Village Administrator, issues like environmental protection in East Hills will continue to be subject to inconsistent and ineffective administration. We are also aware that staff feel short-staffed and are hence limited in their resources.

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