North Haven Village Board Proposes New Clearing Regulations

North Haven Village Mayor Jeff Sander

Fulfilling a pledge to clarify the village’s decades-old limits on vegetative clearing, the North Haven Village Board last week unveiled what Mayor Jeff Sander called “significant changes” to the clearing code at the board’s March 16 Zoom session.

Calling the current code “somewhat confusing,” Mayor Sander said the proposed revisions — on which Trustee Terie Diat and he have been working since her election to the board last September — “hopefully” will make the rules clearer “and a little more liberal than they were, but not a lot.”

The board voted 5-0 to set a public hearing on the proposal for its next regular monthly Zoom meeting at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 20.

According to a draft that was released by the village office after the session, the proposed clearing code would increase the maximum area that would be allowed to be cleared of natural, indigenous vegetation on undeveloped lots of a quarter-acre in size to 100 percent from the current limit of 65 percent. On half-acre lots, the limit would be raised to 10,999 square feet or 75 percent, whichever is greater, up from the current 55 percent.

On lots larger than a half-acre, clearing would be allowed up to 10,000 square feet plus 25 percent of the lot area. Current limits range from 55 percent down to 25 percent on lots up to 4 acres and 20 percent on lots larger than 4 acres.

The proposed code makes it clear there will be no requirement for village approval before removing dead trees and invasive vines or for “landscaping, planting, removal of dead trees etc. within areas which consist of established cleared/landscaped areas,” particularly on developed properties where clearing took place before any limitations were first imposed in July, 1990.

In the case of waterfront properties with pre-existing clearing and lawn all the way to the shoreline or bluff, however, the proposed code would allow the Planning Board — whenever a building permit application is filed for the property — to require “revegetation” to create the 75-foot natural buffer that is mandated under the current code and will continue to be required under the proposed code.

Mayor Sander commented at the session that protecting the bay system from fertilizer runoff was a key goal. In answer to lawyer Ed Saviano’s question, the mayor said property owners otherwise will not have to meet the requirement for a vegetative buffer if their landscaping and lawn pre-exists the 1990s regulations.

Plan for Funding Leaf Pick-Up

Also at the March 16 meeting, the board voted 5-0 to set a public hearing for April 20 on a proposal to finally resolve inequities in the village’s annual leaf pick-up program by creating a special tax assessment district to fund the program.

The special district would contain only properties on public roads, each to be charged for leaf-pick up according to lot size as a separate line on their tax bills. Because the cost of the pick-up will be eliminated from the general budget, homeowners with properties on private roads in private communities, where the village offers no leaf pick-up services — and which constitute about 75 percent of village properties — would no longer have to help fund a service they do not receive.

In other news, the board voted 5-0 to adopt a revised dock code after a brief public hearing. It limits the height of pilings except at the terminus where boats are tied up; clarifies depth requirements, and eliminates restrictions that, in effect, barred docks on the exposed beachfront of Noyac Bay, which have been ruled to be illegal in court response to a property owner’s lawsuit.

The board approved a Noyac Bay dock application submitted by Carpe North for a property on Robertson Drive after a public hearing at which the applicant’s representative, Aram Terchunian of First Coastal Corp, agreed to make minor adjustments.

Also on March 16, the board went through the formality of agreeing to set a hearing for April 20 on a proposed resolution that would allow it to exceed the state-mandated 2-percent cap on property tax levy increases.

The board takes the step every year in case it becomes necessary to balance the budget, Mayor Sander noted. The board was slated to hold its first public budget work session on March 30 at 5 p.m. via Zoom. A public hearing on the final proposal probably will set for the April 20 board meeting. The budget must be adopted by May 1.

Cell Tower Fallout

Under the “updates” section of the meeting agenda, Trustee Diat reported that a newly constituted Cellphone Service Improvement Committee would no longer pursue the construction of a cell tower in the village and instead would focus on improvements “to make calls on mobile devices within our own houses.”

She said another option, encouraging cell providers to deploy “small cell technology,” turns out to be impractical in North Haven, requiring “too many antennae” to be mounted on many telephone poles, which still would leave the village’s spotty reception problem unresolved.

Resident Joel Ross, one of 24 participants or observers who joined in the Zoom session, spoke out to criticize the board’s retreat from the cell tower option last month, after a number of homeowners vehemently opposed a plan to allow a tower to be erected on village woodland south of Stock Farm Lane.

He agreed that small-cell technology was impractical in North Haven, requiring many antennae, each costing $10,000 per unit, and “tearing down every tree”; and he said that satellite cell service — which opponents of a tower argued would be a widely available option soon — is not at all a soon-to-be widespread technology.

“There are no cell phones for satellites for personal use, period,” he said, adding, “There are no options” for improving service “other than cell towers.”

He added that the American Cancer Society had declared there was “zero health risk” to people living near cell towers after decades of widespread research, “so that issue is a non-issue”; and he charged that it constituted “gross negligence” for the village to fail to make provisions for an essential service that could prove crucial in emergencies, such as someone having a heart attack in their backyard.

“I could die and it would be the village’s fault,” Mr. Ross said.

Mayor Sander thanked him for the input.