In the past few weeks, there have been many complaints lodged against Croton’s Village Board, the Mayor, the staff, the Planning Board (PB), as well as the owners of three properties on Piney Point Ave. The physical degradation of the properties in question is plain to see. And the clear-cutting of those fine old trees, in direct violation of the plans that were approved by the PB is most certainly a travesty. However, the explosion of finger pointing and vitriol that we have witnessed in these pages and on various websites does nothing to clarify where the responsibility for this situation lies, or what’s to be done about it.
Screaming at each other in print does not advance the steps necessary to ameliorate and repair the damage done. It seems obvious that it is past time for everyone to take a step back and get clear on what has actually transpired since to date.
A good place to start is with the informative front page story in last week’s Gazette. It clearly laid out what went wrong:
First, the contractor hired by the owners to clear the trees preparatory to other work beginning exceeded the limits that were laid out in the plan that had been submitted and approved by the PB after years of painstaking work. In addition, there was an amount of “steep-slope disturbance” that had not been authorized. The unstable conditions that these actions created on the lots precipitated decisive actions by Village Engineer and the PB.
As the Gazette article laid out, after learning of the unauthorized tree removal, the Village issued a stop work order while the lots were inspected and the damage assessed by the Village Engineer and an outside firm. The Village then issued an amended order so that the owners could temporarily stabilize the hillsides to protect the soil on the lots and the surrounding properties. That was put in motion and has largely been accomplished.
It was also demonstrated that the original approved plan had been ignored and that many trees that had been removed should not have been. Further recommendations and an amended stop work order was issued so that work on certain elements of the original plan could be done. This work will help to permanently stabilize the lots, as well as protecting the surrounding properties.
In addition, the planning Board ordered the owners to create a plan to mitigate the loss of the trees and caused them to pay the cost of a full-time inspector to oversee the work, and to place an additional $20,000 in escrow to ensure that the work will be done. Finally, court appearance tickets will be served on the people involved to appear before the Village court to answer for their violations of the terms of the initial plan and Village code.
As for the multiple claims that the Village Board or staff somehow “allowed” this to happen, that’s just inaccurate. Under long established practice, they are not the parties charged with oversight of construction in our Village. As with most municipalities, the process in the Village code is clear, the Village Engineer, the Planning and Zoning Boards, and other boards of responsibility have been delegated the authority to deal with these issues, not the Village Board or the Mayor. And they are doing so.
It is impossible to preempt all conceivable violations or monitor all activity in the Village at all times. Consequently, the ultimate responsibility here lies with the parties that violated the law. As the reporting in the Gazette has made clear, the Village has responded appropriately and will seek the sanctions allowed under the Village code.
Richard Masur, Chairman