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Planning Board to Take Up Tree Policy

Policy aimed at discouraging clear cutting.

The Ridgewood Planning Board will soon begin consideration of a policy to prevent large swaths of the village’s trees from removal by developers.

The village council is expected to pass a resolution next week formally asking the board to look into a policy that would give planning officials the ability to maintain a balance of trees in Ridgewood when significant numbers are lost to development.

A shade tree commission will be established formally in January to maintain an inventory of trees throughout the village, but the policy to be crafted will pertain only to developments pending before the planning board, according to Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh, the chair of the Ridgewood Environmental Advisory Committee.

“There has not been a policy in the planning board process to address trees at all,” Ellie Gruber, a member of REAC, told the council Wednesday night. “Over the years in this town, if someone wants to build a development, they can knock down 50 trees.”

In proceedings before the planning board, the policy would likely require developers to submit with their landscape plan a count of the trees on their property. It could require them to either replace downed trees on the site or pay a fee to help fund replacements elsewhere in the village.

“This part of the land use ordinance will be clear that if you remove 20 trees, you have to put those back or pay into a tree fund,” Walsh said.

A controversial proposal to apply the requirement to private homeowners was dismissed earlier this year.

“It absolutely makes sense to have a policy to prevent somebody from taking down too many trees,” Mayor Paul Aronsohn said. “But I’m concerned it will tell a homeowner what they can and cannot do with their own trees.”

Walsh said she anticipates the shade tree commission would not “want to police people’s property,” but rather compile information on the types and amount of trees in the village and encourage replanting.

The commission will be working on a separate policy aimed at sustainably replacing the hundreds of trees lost in recent storms, she said. Municipalities with shade tree commissions are also eligible for special grants that could aid the process of replenishing the tree population in Ridgewood.

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