Back in September 2012, Rolling Stone magazine co-founder Jann Wenner was in the news for apparently cutting down too many trees on his 63-acre Teviot estate in Tivoli.
The controversy arose because Teviot is in Red Hook’s National Historic Landmarks zoning district, and planning board permission is required for tree harvesting. At the time, Wenner and his partner, Matt Nye, were seeking a special permit from the planning board to cut down 16 small trees on an adjacent 19-acre property they own on Woods Road.
A site visit to Teviot by Red Hook planners, however, showed that far more than 53 mature trees, the number approved in the original application, had been removed from the cliffside facing the Hudson River. And for more than a year, the Wenner camp appeared to sidestep efforts by the town to get answers on exactly how many trees had been cut down.
Both sides finally met Dec. 16 at the Red Hook planning board meeting, and the key question remains unanswered.
Representing Wenner and Nye was attorney, Jon Adams, accompanied by engineer Tim Lynch. Using the original special permit application, which sought to remove trees within 1,000 feet of the Hudson River, they produced an updated remediation plan for the Teviot cliffside.
The remediation plan map showed chip piles spread across the hillside, which will eventually be spread out to a depth of two inches. According to Lynch, 140 seedling plantings consisting of groundcover, shrubs and native plants have been planted in the chip piles to grow in the spring along with the natural vegetation growth at the site.
In addition to the map and site plan, the board also reviewed the town planning consultant’s report, which recommended that the project be subject to the town’s Historical Overlay District. The district corresponds with the Historic Landmarks District and encompasses the large estates and other lands of historical and environmental significance east of the Hudson River.
Such a move would give town planners the right to consider the history of the area before making any decisions on the updated plan.
Adams rejected this idea, citing a September 2013 letter from the town Zoning Enforcement Officer that did not include the Historical Overlay District in its findings.
The planning consultant’s report also suggested that the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) be involved in the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process. Adams did not agree with that either, but said the Environmental Assessment Form (EAF), which is part of SEQR, would be revised to include the consultant’s changes.
Board member Sam Phelan felt the board may require the replanting of trees and wanted a landscape architect to see if the property can be restored to its historical design. Planning board consultant Michele Greig agreed.
Adams again wasn’t pleased, saying, “I hope this function is to review and not to substitute a new plan for the applicant’s plan.”
Board member Charles Laing, who chaired the meeting in Christine Kane’s absence, explained that the board just wants an independent review of their plan. Phelan reminded the applicants they did a lot of cutting without consultation and restoring the land is an important step to its recovery.
Adams said his clients didn’t mind having their plan reviewed to see if it conforms to the zoning, but he wouldn’t go along with anything more than that.
Phelan then asked, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but significant clearing was done without a permit; is that a fact? Yes or no?”
“I don’t want to debate the past,” said Adams. “I’m here to comply with the code and the code has specific standards.”
Phelan then made it clear that the landscape architect would review not only the applicants’ new plan, but also the tree-cutting that was done, whether it was excessive and whether those trees should be replaced.
“The code doesn’t prohibit taking trees down, it says you can’t do things to impair the integrity of a watercourse,” countered Adams.
“You’re just kind of blowing off this whole historic district.” Phelan replied. “It has been established that way at a national, state and local level, and I do believe there are landscape features that are easily documented in terms of what historically is going on there.”
Lynch said, “I’d rather not get into a debate about whether it was the right thing to do to cut down some trees. Which we can’t do anything about now, anyway. At the moment the clients don’t want to get into planting more trees, they like the way it is.”
“They like the way it is now, after they’ve cut trees,” said board member Brian Walker. “They submitted a plan and they didn’t follow the plan that was submitted.”
“So where do we go from here,” Lynch asked.
“We go back to that [the original plan] and we go to the landscape architect,” Walker replied.
Planning Board attorney Jennifer Gray explained that the landscape architect will review the plan in the context of what’s required by the code, which covers all the districts in which this property lies. She also said the applicants will be able to respond to the landscape architect’s report and the discussion will continue from there.
No date was set for the applicants’ next appearance.
Update: This story has been corrected to show that the recommendations that the project be subject to the Historical Overlay District and the state be involved in the SEQR process were submitted by the Red Hook town planning consultant, not the Hudsonia consultant as was reported in our Jan. 15 print edition.