Rumson residents are frustrated and angry about what they are calling a clear cutting on Navesink Avenue.
Over twenty Rumson residents attended the council meeting on June 14 to discuss an “egregious act” that took place on Navesink Avenue. Residents, led by Cindy Zipf and Rick Jones, say the builders on their neighboring lot have committed a clear cutting of a fully wooded lot of mature trees over the past couple of weeks.
“Most in the neighborhood and other Rumson residents are outraged,” said Zipf. “We are devastated. This has significantly undermined the character of this area of town.”
Zipf and her neighbors not only feel that the “clear cutting” changed the feel of their street, but also violated a borough ordinance.
“We believe that the letter and the spirit of 'Rumson’s Environmental Tree Protection Ordinance' has been violated, and we seek help and consideration from the Mayor and Council to investigate this outrage and work with us to repair the harm and bring justice to any wrong doing,” said Zipf in a letter to the Mayor and Council dated June 8.
The ordinance was formed in 2002 to protect the trees in the borough and prevent situations like this. Under the ordinance, owners are not allowed to cut down more than 40 percent of trees on a lot. They are also prohibited from removing trees that are considered “specimen trees” or have a diameter of 18 inches or greater and ornamental trees including Dogwood, American Holly or Native Laurel.
“I saw what was a beautiful wooded lot disappear right before my eyes,” said Bill Wilby, of Holly Tree Lane. “If that’s not a case of clear-cutting, I don’t know what clear-cutting is.”
Neighbors estimate that over 80 trees were removed for the lot when a permit only called for the removal of 23 trees.
However, Doug Spencer, the Chairman of the Shade Tree Commission , said that no violations were made to his knowledge. “No significant trees were removed, regardless of significance to the neighbors,” he said.
There are many reasons why trees are not protected under the Rumson Tree Protection Ordinance, explained Spencer.
First, a tree is not considered a tree in Rumson if it does not have a diameter of 4 inches or larger at breast height. That means all trees smaller then that measurement can be cut down without a permit. Second, if a tree falls under the three d’s (diseased, damaged, decayed) it can be removed without a permit, regardless of type and size. Hazard trees, like a Locust tree, also fall under this exception. Third, any tree that falls in the footprint of a home and accessory structures can be removed without a permit.
Several residents claim that additional healthy trees protected by the ordinance were cut down because they were "damaged" after a bump from the heavy equipment and excavators used to remove marked trees.
Regardless of whether the company had the right to cut down all of the trees, Zipf and her neighbors feel that the process and ordinance was still violated.
In the letter written to the Mayor and Council, Zipf also listed problems including the fact that there was no public display of trees to be cut when the ordinance calls for 1 inch wide yellow tape, the home owner is not identified on the permit, and an apparent conflict of interest (the tree expert who approved the permits is also currently the tree company that removes the trees). Also, Zipf stated that a stop-work order was not granted when requested multiple times with the help of Councilwoman DeVoe.
In addition to highlighting the violations to the ordinance, many residents stated that they felt the major problem lies with enforcement. Nancy Harin is a member of the Shade Tree Commission and was also very upset with what happened on Navesink Rd. “Enforcement is an issue,” she said. “This incident is very sever, but I have seen many other incidents go under the radar.”
Mayor John Ekdahl thanked the residents for coming and bringing this problem to their attention, but explained that this issue is for the Planning Board to correct. “The planning board is who writes these ordinances. We just approve them,” said the mayor.
Ekdahl suggested that each person who spoke during the 2-hour debate write a letter to the Planning Board and the Shade Tree Commission with their suggestions on how to change and improve the ordinance for the future.
The Mayor made a few suggestions for changes to the ordinance himself. He suggested that residents should have to sign the tree removal permit so they are aware of how many trees are coming down and the Tree Expert should not be the same as the company removing the trees. He said enforcement is an issue that should be looked at as well.
Councilman Rubin stated that he was a member of the Planning Board. He volunteered to make sure that this ordinance was evaluated at the next meeting.
Zipf said that there is nothing that they can do to bring back what has been lost, but is happy that change will come in the future. “The fact that the Mayor and member of the council are talking about making changes to the ordinance makes me happy. That is what needs to happen,” said Zipf.