Written by Carol Frank Friday, 03 July 2009 00:00
Lawyers for the Village of Great Neck and the United Mashadi Jewish Community of America reached a settlement on the trees case on 2 Potters Lane, which was approved by village justice Jerome Reisman on June 24. With all three defendants pleading guilty, the court agreed to a fine of $40,000, nearly $1,000 per tree illegally removed, and also requires that three trees be planted for every one cut down. Although the village may fine up to $5,000 per tree under the ordinance, this was the highest fine ever imposed by the village court for such an offense.
If the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) approves the parking lot proposed for the site, that board will determine where trees will be replanted and the size of the trees to be replanted. If the lot cannot contain all 123 new trees to be replanted, the remaining trees will be planted on other village sites.
Under the agreement, 41 deciduous trees and 82 evergreens would be replanted.
Further, if any of the defendants are charged with any future violations of any tree ordinances, they were warned that they would be fined to the maximum of the law with Justice Reisman adding, “I would have no mercy.”
If the parking lot is not approved by the BZA, the Architectural Review Board will carry out the intentions of the court’s decree.
Justice Reisman said, “My job is to determine if a resolution to this matter is reasonable…The State of New York has suggested that judges resolve cases, whenever possible because otherwise there would be a great backlog of cases…I do approach every case with an open mind. I do assume that every defendant is innocent until proven guilty…I think the destruction of trees is a terrible act and that the synagogue knows this…they realize they did the wrong thing and are pleading guilty…I find the resolution is reasonable… The most important thing is to have trees replanted…I hope I’ll never have a case like this again…trees are living things and what we had here was 41 deaths.”
Reactions of the ruling were mixed. While some residents felt that the amount of the fines would send a strong message that the Village of Great Neck is serious about protecting trees and enforcing tree laws, others remained worried and skeptical. Neighbors who live nearby were not reassured that re-plantings on the property will be sufficient to restore a natural, wooded look to the area. Bob Meyers, a neighbor said, “They could still put up a parking lot and put the trees elsewhere…this doesn’t feel like true restitution because there are still so many unanswered questions. How big will the trees be? What kind of trees?”
Co-president of the Mashadi Jewish Center Michael Nassimi told the Record after the meeting that he was glad this part of the case was resolved and that “we want to unite the community and go forward…because we are all Americans. By paying this extraordinary fine, we are showing we want to make amends.” He went on to add that while some might think the fine and the costs of replanting trees might not be difficult for the center, it would in fact be significant. When asked about how the situation happened in the first place, he said that “it was a terrible mistake…when you have a volunteer board sometimes things can get confused and this is what happened.”
Peter Mineo, attorney for the defendant, stated in court that his clients hope to have their application for a parking lot resolved at the next BZA meeting on Thursday, July 2.