Beacon Proposal Would Restrict Tree Cutting

Council also weighs waiver to affordable housing law

By Jeff Simms

The Beacon City Council has postponed a public hearing while it wrestles with how to revise a law to protect trees.

The hearing had been scheduled for Feb. 5; instead, the council will rework the proposal, which is meant to deter homeowners from taking down too many trees at once, before it asks the public for its input.

The discussion began last year after a property owner on Orchard Place cut down more than a dozen trees. Residents complained on social media, and in December several asked the City Council to intervene.

A property owner on Orchard Place cut down more than a dozen trees. (Photo by J. Simms)

“After all the trees fell, the light had changed, the noise level was higher and the sight lines into neighbor’s houses, and into mine, across the street were clearer,” said Karen Nelson, a neighbor. “The extensive work being done to the property will have as much impact on the neighborhood environment as any of the four-story buildings coming up on Main Street.”

The current tree ordinance bans residents from taking down more than three mature trees in a year, and violators are subject to a $250 fine per offense (not per tree). The Orchard Place property owner was fined on Jan. 30.

The proposed revision would increase the fine to $350 per tree and require property owners to replace trees that are removed. But at its Jan. 29 workshop, the council debated whether the proposal, as written, would be too onerous because it would also require a permit to take down a single tree.

“You’re basically telling me I can’t manage my trees, and I don’t know if I agree with that,” said Lee Kyriacou, a council member.

Tim Dexter, the city building inspector, added that his department doesn’t have the ability to enforce a law with so many restrictions. “If our issue is with the fine, we should fix that,” he said.

In other business …

The City Council will vote Monday (Feb. 5) on whether to exempt the West End Lofts development, which will be constructed next to City Hall, from Beacon’s affordable housing requirements. The law, adopted last year, requires developers of 10 or more new residential units to make 10 percent of their units available for below-market rates.

The West End Lofts project will include 72 middle-income and artists’ spaces that are funded through a state program, along with 26 market-rate units. Of its 98 units (one will be set aside for a superintendent), 50 will be available to residents making less than 60 percent of the county’s area median income, which was $87,100 for a family of four in 2017.

“I believe we’ve far surpassed the intent and spirit of the affordable housing ordinance,” said developer Ken Kearney.

At the same time, Hudson River Housing will soon begin taking applications for below-market-rate units throughout Beacon with rents starting at $1,061 per month. Anyone who meets the income requirements can apply for these units, but Beacon volunteer emergency responders who have served at least five years, municipal employees and school district employees receive priority.

An applicant’s aggregate gross annual income must be between 70 percent and 90 percent of the Dutchess County area median annual income, said Lashonda Denson of Hudson River Housing. In practical terms, that means a single person must make $56,340 or less and a family of four must make $80,460 or less.

For information, contact Denson at ldenson@hudsonriverhousing.org or 845-454-9288.

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