On a brisk January afternoon, Marcia DiTieri strolled through the narrow streets of the North Merrick Campgrounds, where she has lived for the past 35 years. The neighborhood, also known as Tiny Town, is a labyrinth dotted with quaint, cottage-like homes reminiscent of the Methodist revival community that it once was.
Along her walk, DiTieri stopped at the base of a tree to remove invasive ivy that crawled up the bark in zigzags. The thick vines proved no match for her, as she tore at the ivy until it was mostly gone.
“This is why I can’t get my nails done,” DiTieri said with a laugh, explaining that invasive ivy can be harmful to a tree’s health if it’s left to multiply.
Before the new year, DiTieri called the Herald to praise Executive Editor Scott Brinton’s column “The inherent right of trees to exist” in the Dec. 5-11 issue, which detailed the tree-preservation laws of a number of municipalities in Nassau County. For example, in 1973, the Town of Oyster Bay was the first municipality on Long Island to enact legislation to protect trees on public property (see box). Then, in 2007, it expanded the law to include trees on private property. According to town code, violators face fines of $350 to $1,000 or 15 days in jail.
Hempstead prohibits the removal of any tree in the grassy median between a resident’s sidewalk and the curb without permission, according to town code, but on private property, residents are free to cut and chop at will.
For the past few years, DiTieri has attended Town Board meetings to advocate for stricter tree-preservation laws. She argues that trees are necessary to filter toxins in the air, and enhance property values by virtue of their aesthetic beauty.
“I actually moved here because of the purity and the tranquility,” DiTieri said of Tiny Town’s once-shady streets, “but in the last 15 years, developers have come and laws have not been abided by.”
Developers who want to subdivide a property in the town are required to submit a tree-preservation plan to the Building Department before the Nassau County Planning Commission can approve the deeds for the new lots. A recurring problem, County Legislator Tom McKevitt said, is that contractors will sometimes clear the trees on a property before filing the subdivision variance, essentially evading town law.
Last year, New York state passed a law making it easier for litigants to introduce Google Maps, Google Earth and other digital map images at trial. The high-resolution aerial images are useful in litigation for showing distance, proximity or property conditions. McKevitt’s hope, he said, is to work with the town to use the state law to effectively prosecute individuals bypassing town code.
“There’s a lot of problems enforcing the [town’s] law, and by the time all the initial variance work gets to the county, the trees have already been cut down,” McKevitt said.
DiTieri cited one such example that occurred just around the corner from her Lee Avenue home. In 2016, the Nassau County Health Department sealed a two-story, red-brick home — better known as “the pigeon house” — at the corner of Abbot and Bangs avenues. The home had been turned into an aviary, allowing an estimated 300 to 400 pigeons to fly freely throughout the house, according to Herald reporting. Nearly 40 oak and maple trees shaded the property.
DiTieri said the homeowner’s brother bought the estate, tore down the house and built two homes in its place. Some 40 mature trees, she said, were cleared, and only eight saplings were planted in their place.
DiTieri called the tree removal an “atrocity.” “Trees can’t speak up for themselves,” she said, “so we have to protect our environment and the wildlife and everything that goes with it.”
At the Town Board meeting on Dec. 10, council members unanimously voted “no” on three resolutions related to tree preservation, one of which would have required residents to acquire building permits before they could remove trees from their property.
“The members of the 2020 Town of Hempstead Council are committed to preserving and protecting our environment,” Director of Communications Greg Blower said in a statement. “The Town Board will thoroughly review and carefully consider all proposals that would have effects on our land, air or water.”
“There’s not a week that goes by that the chainsaws aren’t cutting down trees,” DiTieri said, “but I hope with this new administration that we can come to some kind of compromise, and make the Town of Hempstead healthy.”
Keep reading the Herald Life for more on this issue.