Town officials to consider rules on tree clearing

Town officials to consider rules on tree clearing

NORTH PROVIDENCE - Town officials, intent on avoiding another mass clearing of trees without their knowledge or approval, say they'll consider new rules on how and when people can take trees down.

There are currently scant regulations mandating that the town's tree warden, Faye Amsden, must inspect trees on town property before they can come down, but what is missing is a comprehensive ordinance governing the destruction and preservation of trees, said officials.

Richard Lipsitz, the president of Waterman Engineering, first made the suggestion that town officials institute new rules on tree removal during a North Providence Planning Board meeting last month.

Lipsitz was responding to criticism directed at his client, developer Joe Romano, that he failed to contact town officials about his plan to level dozens of trees to make way for a duplex development on Smith Street. The clearing, which happened before Lipsitz and his company were hired, was blamed for flooding at the abutting Wine and Cheese restaurant and erosion of neighboring properties.

There is currently little or no oversight on clearing of trees, Lipsitz told town officials, but a tree ordinance would allow town officials to "choose which trees come down," limiting those to only the ones that are necessary.

"You have control over the trees," he said.

Mayor Charles Lombardi told The Breeze he would "absolutely" be in favor of such an ordinance "to preserve all of the trees" possible in the town. North Providence is a "green town," said Lombardi, and leaders here see trees as an important aspect of the community. They should take steps to maintain the tree cover that still remains, he said.

Town Councilor Stephen Feola agreed, saying he feels a tree ordinance "is necessary for the betterment of the town and as a safeguard for property owners with regards to erosion, runoff, and beautification," among other issues.

Feola said he would propose that at least all of the following language be in any tree ordinance:

* Adequate provisions should be made for the treatment and control of soil erosion and stormwater runoff so that it will not adversely affect neighboring properties.

* It would be enforceable under all zoning districts in town.

* It would require a landscape plan.

* Historical and scenic landscape features should be preserved whenever possible.

* Buffering elements should be required to allow for a "logical transition" to neighboring properties.

* And new landscape material should be "native or hearty" for the region.

Town Council President Kristen Catanzaro said she sees what happened on Smith Street as fitting under existing subdivision regulations that require developers to get proper approval from the state for clearing of land larger than an acre. Romano did not follow state permitting requirements, she said.

Catanzaro, who serves on the council's ordinance committee, said she would be willing to "review the current ordinance" to determine what, if anything, might be added to govern tree clearing in town. If someone wants to take down one tree in their yard, she's not sure that action should be regulated by town officials.

Catanzaro contends that town officials are partly to blame for all the trees coming down on Romano's property, and should have been there making sure the developer complied with state regulations.

Councilor Dino Autiello said in an email Monday he would consider revisiting the town's rules on trees "if it would help our dwindling tree population."

Amsden could not be reached for comment.

Tony Natale, secretary of the North Providence Land Trust, said the Smith Street clearing project that caused such a stir with neighbors last month happened on property previously owned by his grandfather. His family sold the property to Romano.

"From the Land Trust's perspective, we would certainly be in favor of any ordinances that make the owner go through a process instead of just pulling (the trees) out of there," he said.

Natale said he works for a developer so he gets to see how many cities and towns deal with tree removal. Some are "very rigorous," he said, while others, like North Providence, have "nothing." He believes the Planning Board should ultimately get to review and approve any plan for destruction of trees before it happens.

Comments

Doesn't the town council and Mayor have more pressing things on their agenda, like cutting costs and developing ways to streamline town government? Now the town wants to control if I cut a tree on MY property. Although the site in question has other concerns of drainage, I doubt it was caused by removal of trees more likely the contour of the property was changed without proper regard to run off of water.
Look the town can't keep up with all of the ordinances presently in place. If this site was reviewed for building on it then that is where the drainage comes in, not tree removal.
Another diversion of what the Mayor and town council should be focused on and that is our crumbling town, taxes and increasing expenses. Did you see the article last week that NP has the 4th highest taxed town in RI? And how about our school district, our teachers have the states highest absentee rate from classes. These are the areas we need to focus on, not cutting trees.