Village of Great Neck Trustees eye bill for tree removal

Justine Schoenbart

Rachel Epstein wasn’t the only resident concerned about cutting down trees at the Village of Great Neck Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday night.

The Wooley’s Lane East resident, whose daughter was the victim of a 5,000 pound tree falling last Monday, was one of over five residents who expressed concerns to the board regarding the potential of trees falling on their property. 

The board told residents that it is currently working on a bill regarding tree removal, which Village Attorney Peter Bee said would “liberalize the grounds under which the public works department will be authorized to grant a permit for the removal of a tree.” 

Under current laws, the village’s building department’s authority is limited to taking care of trees that are dead, dying, or in imminent danger of falling, Village Clerk Joe Gill said. 

Gill said that with revisions to the local law, the building department would be able to take into account concerns of property owners regarding the potential of very large trees or branches falling onto their homes. 

“In the past, it was about a life or death issue for the tree,” Gill said. “They are now more interested in taking into account the likelihood of things happening not because of the health of the tree. If something is so tall and so close to the house, that even a branch falling could cause damage, that could be incorporated into the building department review as to whether the tree could be taken down or not.” 

Old Colony Lane homeowners Steven and Irina Olkhovetsky told the board they were concerned about a large tree near their children’s bedrooms falling on their home, despite an arborist report that said the tree was healthy. 

“Obviously there is a huge scare going on with a tree that fell and almost killed a young girl. We don’t want that to happen to anybody — that was sort of a warning to all of us,” Village of Great Neck Mayor Pedram Bral said. “If a tree is not damaged but you see or you feel that it can cause danger to you or your children, then at that time you should be able to say that it’s okay to cut it.” 

Bral said that if a resident cuts down a tree deemed by an arborist as healthy due to a fear of potential danger, the resident should plant two trees somewhere else on the property as compensation. 

Trustee Barton Sobel disagreed with Bral, saying that “just the feeling that [the tree] could fall is not sufficient.” 

Sobel went on to say that just because a tree has a potential to fall on a resident’s house, it doesn’t mean the tree is at risk of falling. 

“After seeing what I saw, it is difficult for me to deny a permit for a tree that seems to an owner that it could cause damage,” Bral said. 

Bral advised the residents to return in two weeks, when the board will hold its public hearing regarding on new legislation proposed to address the threat of falling trees. 

Epstein said she was concerned about two trees on her neighbors yard — the same yard where the tree that fell on her daughter came from. 

She said she filed a complaint with the village on Monday. 

“I think besides following up on that, it should be addressed and violations need to be issued if they are not removed especially if trees are old and not being taken care of by just regular people in neighboring yards,” Epstein said. 

Superintendent of Buildings Robert Barbech said the village needs to address current policy, which prohibits the village from going on neighbor’s property without their permission. 

“We have to start establishing what the criteria is as to what is an obvious threat and what is not,” Barbech said. “We have to be more definitive in terms of the criteria because we have challenges in going on to one neighbors property and deciding that another neighbors tree is an imminent threat.” 

Bee said that a dispute between two adjacent landowners as to whether a tree does or does not present a safety hazard is typically a matter of private civil litigation, unless it is “visible and apparent” that the tree represents a danger to the public. 

Epstein said the two trees that she is concerned about are clearly leaning over. 

“Are you willing to wait until another tree falls on my house?” she asked the board. 

Bee said the main question the board must consider now is whether the municipality should step in because there is a possible risk of danger, or because there is a probable and imminent risk. 

The board will be holding its public hearing regarding the new tree removal bill at the Village Hall on Aug. 18 at 7:45 p.m.

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Justine Schoenbart

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