Tree cutting in Red Hook, Rhinebeck shorelines and gateways

Cut down trees if you must, but stick to local regulations when you do: that’s the message out of recent planning board meetings where cutting, preserving, replanting and trading trees came under close scrutiny.

The studies in contrast ranged from the removal of a single tree on hospital property in Rhinebeck to the revelation that a whole hillside-full had been whacked at the Teviot estate in Tivoli. A tree-cutting proposal at Montgomery Place also received special attention.

Representatives of Northern Dutchess Hospital returned to the Village of Rhinebeck Planning Board on July 2 seeking a small modification on the tree-saving deal that had been carefully worked out before construction began on the new hospital wing.

Despite their best intentions, the hospital officials told the board, the construction plans would now require the removal of “Tree 57,” a mature ash located near the new main entrance on Montgomery Street.

Rhinebeck residents and planning board concerns about the overall green space and the number of mature trees that might be cut for the project led to a careful compromise that was approved in January. At that time, the trees to be saved were each given a number. A total of 81 trees were slated for removal; of the trees that would remain, nine that are situated close to construction were targeted for special preservation efforts.

This time, hospital representatives told the board they had tried to reroute a water line but Tree 57’s roots are too large and close to the surface. So they need to remove Tree 57, and in its place, they proposed planting two young trees near the hospital’s new entrance, each with a 5-inch trunk size.

Construction Manager David Keith also said they had adapted their plans for the new parking lot near Route 9 and wanted to eliminate the southernmost parking space in order to save “Tree 46,” an older spruce considered “one of the more important trees” on the property.

After some discussion, the planning board agreed to both moves on the condition that the village tree commission review and approve the replacement trees.

By contrast, illegal tree-cutting within 1,000 feet of the Hudson River at Jann Wenner’s 62-acre Teviot estate on Woods Road has caused years of back-and-forth between the Town of Red Hook’s planning board and Wenner’s representatives.

On July 7, the scope of the problem was laid out starkly at the planning board meeting: 75 trees had been cut down sometime after 2011.

According to a new mitigation report from the consultant hired at the request of the board, the damage was equivalent to a biomass loss of 2,385 young trees.

The consultant, Stephen Yarabek of Hudson and Pacific Designs landscape architects, noted the the cutting had occurred in the “tidal buffer zone” to the north of the property. The area is within the Historic Shorelands Zone, where a special permit is required for any site changes because of concerns about erosion along the river.

Wenner, co-founder of Rolling Stone magazine, and his partner, Matt Nye, had approached the planning board in 2012 for permission to remove 17 trees on his neighboring 19-acre property at 245 Woods Road. That property was originally part of Teviot, the riverfront home of the Livingston family in the late 1800s, which Wenner and Nye purchased in 2008 for $5.8 million. Both properties are in Red Hook’s National Historic Landmarks District.

At the time, planning board site visits showed extensive tree removal along Teviot’s riverfront cliffside, and since then, officials have been trying to determine the extent of the damage and what to do about it.

The board discussed the new mitigation report with Wenner’s attorney, John Adams, in attendance.

As a remediation step, Yarabek recommended planting 75 new trees to cover the area: either 6-8 foot- evergreens or 12-14 foot native or ornamental trees.

Those sizes, he said, would be most likely to thrive quickly, would all fit on the slope and planting them would not require heavy machinery, which could further disturb the area and violate protections for a nearby Bald Eagle nest.

Adams said that he could not comment on the plan because he had only received it July 3 and had not discussed it with his client before the meeting.

Planning Board Chair Christine Kane pointed out that the draft Adams got was dated May 14. She also requested that he talk to Wenner and then attend the board’s Aug. 18 meeting for more discussion.

Further downriver, Montgomery Place, the historic site in Annandale-on-Hudson, took a vastly different approach in their application to cut trees at the riverfront estate.
On July 7, site director Raymond Armater presented the Red Hook planning board a plan that would remove upwards of 34 trees to restore “historic” vistas from the 1920s.

The reestablished vistas will include three spots looking out to the river southwest, due west and northwest from behind the main house.

Montgomery Place worked with an arborist to determine which trees should be cut to reestablish the views, which Armater said have not been maintained since the 1980s. The plans have already been reviewed by the environmental research firm Hudsonia at the board’s request, and the work will be funded by a $10,000 grant from the Hudson River Foundation.

The board voted unanimously to approve the special permit required for removing the 34 trees, which include various species as well as an unspecified “corridor” of Ailanthus trees, which are considered invasive.

The permit allows the Ailanthus corridor to be cut at any time, but the 34 other trees can only be taken down in November and December. This condition is based on a Hudsonia recommendation to avoid disturbing Indiana Bat habitat and Bald Eagles that nest nearby.

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