Scott Fairgrieve was a trustee on the village board when he and Trustee Elizabeth Conlon hatched their modest plan to help spruce up some of the more commercial sections of Mineola.
"Jericho Turnpike needed some dressing up," Fairgrieve said. "We got state permission because Jericho is a state road and planted trees along the sidewalks. It was meant to make Mineola more suburban."
New trees were planted shortly after the older, larger ones were cut down. (Photo by Richard F. Restaino)
Conlon remembers that at the time, as head of the ecology commission, she mapped out the area and chose the trees.
"Close to 14 years we've been planting trees in Mineola, and some of them were good size," she said. "We had callery pear and cherry trees."
Jump ahead to Dec. 30, 1999. Fairgrieve is driving down Jericho Turnpike.
"I was driving to a closing and I saw contractors who were cutting down trees on Jericho Turnpike, across the street from the Jericho Terrace," he said.
After some investigation, it was learned that Nicholas Leone ¬ owner of the Jericho Terrace and perhaps the biggest property owner in Mineola ¬ had hired a contractor to remove the trees, without first obtaining permits.
Local law specifies that any tree planted between curb and sidewalk belongs to the Village of Mineola. If a resident or business wants to plant a tree, they have to get a permit. If they want to take one down, a permit is also required.
Leone and the contractor, J B Landscaping out of Locust Valley, have been issued summonses by the village and the matter is before village court. Because of this, the village is not able to make any official comment on the nature of the dispute, but that didn't stop Conlon and other residents from registering their disgust.
"It's just a crime to kill a living thing," Conlon said. "Those trees are very important to me."
Fairgrieve, who notified the village after discovering the scene, was equally upset, saying, "Sometimes people think they can do what they want whenever they want."
Leone did not return phone calls for comment and it is unknown exactly why he had the trees removed. However it has been speculated that the trees were blocking signs for the businesses on the adjacent property, which Leone also owns. Shortly after the old trees were removed, new young saplings were planted in their place.
Conlon weighed this argument, saying that trimming could have been done instead of wholesale removal. "You don't kill the whole dog to get rid of the fleas," she said.
At last week's village board meeting, Deputy Mayor Warren Brinker chimed in: "No one supports the destruction of trees and no one's going to stand for it."
Although the village has taken action, some members of the community believe Leone is being handled with kid gloves.
Bill Urianek, president of the Mineola Civic Association, told the Mineola American this is not the first time Leone has been cited for removing trees without a permit. According to court records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Leone was issued 16 summonses on June 25, 1997 for removing 16 trees planted on the sidewalk in front of the Jericho Terrace on the south side of Jericho Turnpike. The case didn't make it to trial until March 23, 1999, and then Leone was convicted on only five of them. The rest were dismissed. Each conviction netted a $100 fine.
"Some people don't go to court right away; they get special treatment," Urianek said. "When somebody gets a violation in 1997 and they don't go to trial until 1999, there's something going on. It's a total disgrace what he's done to our town. He thinks he owns Mineola."