Written by Katie Piacentini Friday, 16 July 2010 00:00
Many people in Port Washington reported to Port Washington News that they were upset to see mature trees cut down in front of the Monfort Property on Port Washington Boulevard, from Campus Drive to the post office, on the morning of Monday, July 12. They were particularly upset because they expected to have notice for this type of situation, due to a town ordinance. However, Port Washington Boulevard is a state road, meaning that different rules apply, and the owner and developer of this property, Victor Musso, told Port News that he had all of the proper permits to cut down these trees.
In a press release that was printed in the April 15, 2010 issue of the Port Washington News, Victor Musso announced that renovations to modernize the Monfort Property were under way, and that this area would be called “Port Commons”. He said that the stores along the boulevard would be extended to a common depth with new entrances provided from the rear parking lot. This release also stated that the entire front along Port Washington Boulevard will receive a new classic brick façade and that the entire perimeter will receive new landscaping and lighting.
Developer Victor Musso said that he was very careful about going through the process of obtaining the proper permits to cut down these trees, and that nothing about this situation was underhanded or illegal. He explained that the sidewalk in front of this property, where the trees were cut down, is under the jurisdiction of New York State, since that area is part of the Right-of-Way of a State Road. (Port Washington Boulevard at that point is designated as State Road 101.) To do work in this area, permission from the state is needed.
Several months ago, Musso said that he received a hefty fine for removing trees at the back of the property, to begin work on the new parking lot. As a result, he said that he was extra careful to make sure that he had all of the proper permits this time. Since jurisdiction in this particular area is complicated, he set up a meeting with the town’s deputy building commissioner, Linda Brickman, and other officials in the town’s building department to go over everything that would be needed for this project.
Musso was informed that he did not need to get a town permit to cut down the trees, but that he would need approval from the New York State Department of Transportation. Once he received approval from the state, he had to file these permits with the town’s building department. He said that these state permits were hand delivered to the town’s building department before work began on removing the trees. Town Councilman Fred Pollack said that he is in the process of trying to obtain verification that Victor Musso did indeed file the state permits with the building department.
Musso explained that the state is strict about cutting down trees, and he said that there were several reasons why it needed to be done. He said that the trees were unhealthy and in poor condition, and that his contractor took photos of the trees to show this fact. A lot of the trees were hollow inside, Musso said, adding that many had not been properly pruned over the years and required a lot of maintenance.
Town Councilman Pollack said that if the trees had been under the town’s jurisdiction, the developer would have to post a notice on every tree for five days before cutting them down. Many people in Port Washington were taken by surprise because they expected to have this type of warning. Pollack believes that it was unnecessary to cut down these trees, and said, “There is no reason they couldn’t have done whatever they wanted to do and let the trees stay.”
The cut-down trees will be replaced with prettier, slightly smaller trees that will look better with the renovated facade, Musso said. He added that he is open to suggestions on the new trees, such as what type should be planted, and he said that he is listening to Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington and their concerns. Musso said that more work on this project will continue until the trees are planted this fall, adding that it is better for the health of trees to plant them in the more mild seasons, such as spring and fall. The new façade will be completed in a few more months, and he said that he is doing a lot of extra work as per the state’s request. The sidewalk is going to be improved and handicapped ramps will also be added, he said.
Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington submitted a letter to the editor, describing their point of view and beliefs on how this type of situation should be handled in the future. This letter is printed on Page 20 of this issue.
Judy Epstein contributed to this article.