A tree fee takes root after approval by Southold Town Board

Councilman Jim Dinizio was the lone member of the Town Board to vote against a tree fund fee. He said the new law gave too much discretion to the Planning Board. (Credit: Paul Squire)
Councilman Jim Dinizio voted against a tree fund fee at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Some builders will soon be able to pay Southold Town a fee rather than replace trees removed during construction.

Money collected from the fee is planned to go into the town’s tree committee “exclusively for the planting of new street trees and/or the replacement of damaged or removed trees on town property,” according to the new law approved at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting.

Theoretically, those trees would be placed in more appropriate areas of town determined by the tree committee.

The fee costs between $350 and $750 per tree and is based on the tree’s size. The fees would have to be paid prior to any subdivision or site plan approval by the town Planning Board, which supports the new law.

Under the new law, builders can request to pay the fee, but the decision of whether or not a developer qualifies is up to the Planning Board.

During a work session meeting Tuesday morning, Councilman Jim Dinizio said he opposes the new law because it gives additional power to the Planning Board. He said he would prefer a clear delineation of when the fee can be used instead of leaving the decision up to the Planning Board on a case-by-case basis.

“Either it is, or it isn’t,” he said at the work session. “And letting the Planning Board have somebody opt out by writing a check to the tree committee? I have a problem with that.”

On Tuesday night, Mr. Dinizio cast the lone dissenting against the tree fund law. He said that while he believes the current Planning Board may not overuse the additional discretion, he’s worried that future boards could abuse the new rule.

“You don’t know one Planning Board to the next,” he said. “I think it just grants them too much discretion.”

The councilman had said nearly the same thing last week when he voted against a law that would give the Zoning Board of Appeals’ zoning variances an expiration date. Mr. Dinizio has argued that he believes the provision gave future zoning boards too much power.

Councilwoman Jill Doherty said the new tree fund law would affect current cases before the Planning Board, should applicants now seeking the board’s approval wish to pay the fine instead of replanting trees.

The law is expected to go into effect by next month once it receives state approval.

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