North Haven OKs New Clearing Code In Rare Split Vote

Susan Edwards, a member of the Board of Architectural Review and Historic Preservation, has been a critic of the Village Board’s revised clearing code. At the June 16 Zoom meeting (above), she said there are “alternative solutions with less impact” for eliminating the old code’s so-called “sawtooth effect” besides setting new, higher minima for clearing.

After months of debate, the North Haven Village Board in a rare 3-2 split vote last week replaced its restrictive 1990 clearing code with new legislation that slightly increases the potential amount of property in the municipality that can be cleared of vegetation by 1 percent of the village’s total area, Mayor Jeff Sander said.

The mayor voted in favor of the proposal with Trustees Terie Diat and David Saskas. Trustees Dianne Skilbred and James Laspesa voted against the measure, both saying they could not support any rise in clearing limits.

“You give ’em an inch, they take a mile,” Mr. Laspesa said, referring to the many property owners who the village is well aware have cleared beyond the current limits over of the years.

Also at the busy, two-hour Zoom session on June 16, Clerk-Treasurer Eileen Tuohy disclosed that Building Inspector George Butts has requested that the board authorize him to slap an automatic two-week stop-work order on any construction project where work is still being done on weekends in violation of the village’s noise code, after one warning.

“They just don’t care” about fines, Mr. Butts commented at the Zoom session.

The board agreed to set a public hearing on the proposal, which had yet to be drafted as a code amendment, for its next regular meeting at 5 p.m. on July 20. The text of the proposed code will appear in an upcoming legal notice.

After a public hearing at which no one spoke, the board voted unanimously to extend for another four years an automatically sunsetting rule that allows the building inspector to grant permits for 8-foot deer fencing in backyards to protect landscape vegetation and gardens from deer. Fences are normally limited to 4 feet.

Mayor Sander announced that Trustee David Saskas had sold his North Haven home and soon would be submitting his resignation from the board, joining Trustee James Laspesa in departing the panel. Mr. Laspesa did not seek reelection this month. A year remains in Mr. Saskas’s term and the board will have the option of appointing a replacement. Mayor Sander praised and thanked both outgoing trustees for their contributions.

Also, the board set a public hearing for its next regular meeting at 5 p.m. on July 20 on its plan to take over the approval process from the Planning Board for all pending shoreline protection permits. The Village Board under Trustee Diat’s leadership is in the midst of developing a new shoreline protection policy and, meanwhile, the mayor urged the board to take over the review process.

The board’s next regular meeting on July 20 probably will take place in-person in Village Hall for the first time since early 2020, when the state’s COVID-19 restrictions shifted all public meetings to an on-line format via Zoom. The mayor noted that Zoom has allowed for far more public participation than is usual for in-person sessions. As the village waits for the governor’s office to issue guidelines, Mr. Sander said he hoped a Zoom attendance option will continue to be allowed.

The board agreed that, no matter what the state’s rules on the use of Zoom will be, it will hold its annual organizational meeting in-person only in Village Hall at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, July 7, when newly elected Trustee Chris Fiore and reelected Trustee Diat will be sworn in.

New Clearing Code

The clearing code that the board approved on June 16 adds what the mayor called “pretty severe fines” for some violations of up to $2,000 a day plus misdemeanor status, which allows for jail terms. It also eliminates what all agreed was an unfair “sawtooth” effect in the old clearing-limit ratio table “so that no property of a larger size” may be cleared “less than a property that was smaller,” as the mayor put it.

Susan Edwards and Barbara Roberts, critics of the initial version of the proposal — which was aired at a hearing that began at the Village Board’s April meeting and continued in May with even more opposition — thanked the mayor and trustees for listening to their complaints and reducing the potential amount of clearing to be allowed. Nevertheless, they asked for further changes and urged the board to hold off on a vote until they were made.

Mayor Sander agreed that there was more work to be done tweaking the code — on protecting “heritage trees” and defining exactly what “clearing” and other terms mean legally, for example — but he argued it was time “to get the things that are good passed.” Ms. Diat and Mr. Saskas agreed, making for the required three-vote majority.

The new code raises the area that can be cleared of natural vegetation on smaller lots (up to 15,000 square feet in size) from 65 to 85 percent “to be more consistent with homeowner needs,” according to a summary presented by the mayor.

On lots up to 30,000 square feet, the limit has been raised from 55 to 60 percent or 9,350 square feet, whichever is greater; on lots up to 60,000 square feet, it’s up from 45 percent to 50 percent or 18,000 square feet, whichever is greater. The new code keeps the limit on lots up to 90,000 square feet at 35 percent, but adds a minimum of 30,000 square feet, whichever is greater.

Minima also have been added for lots ranging from 90,001 to 120,000 square feet. For them, the clearing limit remains 35 percent, but with a minimum of 31,500 square feet; for lots ranging from 120,001 up to 160,000 square feet, the limit remains 25 percent, but with a minimum of 36,000 square feet; and for lots ranging from 160,001 to 280,000 square feet, the limit remains 20 percent, but with a minimum of 40,000 square feet.

The new code adds an absolute cap on clearing for properties larger than 280,000 square feet (or about 6.4 acres). Under the new code, up to 56,000 square feet or 20 percent may be cleared, whichever is larger, but only up to a maximum of 80,000 square feet.