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Tiny Town resident worries that too many trees are disappearing

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As Marcia DiTieri opened the gate to her North Merrick home one Friday afternoon, a mourning dove plopped onto the ground in front of her. The grayish bird attempted to fly off the lawn, only to spiral to the ground once again, its wing injured.

DiTieri crouched down, inspected the creature, and sighed. In the following half-hour, she made several calls to nearby animal shelters in an effort to find a home the injured bird, eventually finding one where she could drop it off the following morning.

The mourning dove’s injury, DiTieri insisted, is a result of overdevelopment in Tiny Town. Once made up of small bungalows reminiscent of its Methodist revival community, the North Merrick Campground has been updated with larger homes on subdivided parcels. The canopy of trees that once lined most streets has been chopped down, DiTieri said, displacing local wildlife.

“It’s spring, and there’s baby animals in every tree,” DiTieri, a 35-year resident, said. “Their homes are being demolished . . . the developers are buying up these properties, cutting down every tree, subdividing, building these monster houses and then walking away.”

According to Town of Hempstead code, removing any tree in the median between a resident’s sidewalk and the curb is prohibited without a permit. But on private property, there is no town regulation. For over five years, DiTieri has advocated for a local law that would require residents to file permits with the Town of Hempstead Building Department prior to removing trees on private property. She frequently attends Town Board meetings to fight property development in the area.

DiTieri is not alone. North Merrick resident Scott MacLaren said he believes the destruction of natural lands is “typical” for Nassau County. MacLaren, a 22-year resident, said he maintained the towering trees in his front and backyards when he rebuilt his home. Rumor has it that the spruce trees on his property were saplings imported from Sagamore Hill, home of President Theodore Roosevelt in the Village of Cove Neck, MacLaren said. “I always thought that was cool,” he said. “So they’re not coming down.”

In March, State Assemblyman David McDonough submitted a letter Town of Hempstead Supervisor Donald Clavin about tree preservation. McDonough wrote that in the Town of Oyster Bay, a permit must be applied for 10 days before to the proposed tree removal date. In the Town of North Hempstead, a permit must be obtained from the North Hempstead Building Department when removing a tree from a front yard that is 10 inches in diameter or larger.

“Preserving our neighborhoods and healthy living trees need to become a priority within the Town of Hempstead,” McDonough wrote. “Our neighborhoods are being decimated by the removal of older and larger trees — and the loss of canopy shade and what it does to the wildlife who inhabit these trees, must be stopped.”

Nassau County Legislator Thomas McKevitt said that developers who want to subdivide a property in the town are required to submit a tree-preservation plan to the Building Department. The county Planning Committee will be involved with a project only if it falls within county jurisdiction — for example, if it’s a home on a county road, McKevitt said.

He said he agreed that trees in the neighborhood were being chopped down with little oversight, but creating a law that is easily enforceable is difficult. “A developer will go and buy a property, and before he files the building permit and the tree preservation report, he takes down the trees beforehand,” McKevitt said. “I would like to prohibit that, but how do we prove that’s what he did?”

Under New York State Civil Practice Law and Rules section 4532-B, Google Maps and other digital map images can be used as evidence in court. Although issues could arise if images are dated, McKevitt said, this law could serve as a steppingstone to prosecute those who are bypassing town code.

After dropping off the disabled mourning dove at Bailey Arboretum County Park in Locust Valley last Saturday, DiTieri said she was hopeful about its recovery — but not so much about its home. “There are no repercussions if you destroy a historical home, cut down a 150-year-old healthy tree,” she said. “Builders will destroy everything in the name of profit, and will walk away from our neighborhood with a fortune, and the town has no laws in place to stop this.”