By Jeanne Sager
HORTONVILLE December 26, 2003 They spoke and they listened.
A public hearing that brought dozens of folks out in the cold to the Hortonville Firehouse spurred some changes in the way the Town of Delaware Planning Board is dealing with developer Andy Parsons.
The town revealed over the summer that Parsons had purchased some land atop Callicoon Mountain and begun clearing trees from his lots.
The problem with the action was a failure to approach the planning board for the necessary special use permit required by town zoning to do anything within 100 feet of the ridgeline.
Since then, Parsons has been back to the board with a lawyer and registered forester putting together plans to reforest large sections of land and bring his property back into compliance with town law.
Of about 7.2 acres cleared, 5 acres have been replanted with Aspen and White Pine, while another acre has started to regenerate through a natural process.
Left clear are two spots where a potential buyer could locate a home.
The process has been run mostly by Chris Tcimpidis of Bevan Forestry of Livingston Manor, who has directed the reforestation plan approved by the board an issue that provoked a lot of public comment Monday evening.
Jacob Billig, a Rock Hill attorney hired by a local advocacy group called the Friends of Callicoon Mountain, started the hearing by badgering Tcimpidis with rapid-fire questions, suggesting that he was essentially Parsons stooge and not an appropriate expert for the board to rely on.
With all due respect to [board planning consultant Tom] Shepstone, his expertise is not in forestry, Billig noted. At this point, youre really following the direction of an expert hired by the developer.
Billig said the town needs to hire their own expert and is well within its rights to charge the cost of said expert to Parsons.
His heavily researched questions spanning nearly an hour later prompted the board to ask Billig for whom exactly he was speaking. He then admitted he had been hired by the Friends an admission that prompted others to comment on Billigs integrity.
Dr. Tim Baker countered Billigs claims that Tcimpidis could not be held up as an impartial party for the board to rely on.
I just spent 30 minutes listening to you, and now I find out youre an attorney hired by someone, and youre telling me this man is non-professional? he asked. Clearly, there is something wrong here.
There seems to be some type of vendetta here, Baker continued.
Billig also heavily questioned Tcimpidis methods in reforesting the clear-cut area, producing plans submitted to the board in August from Bevan Forestry that did not match the actions taken.
Tcimpidis explained that memo in question had been shot down by the board, and a new plan was developed.
He also answered Billigs repeated questions about the process of determining the amount of land cleared and the proper methods for reforesting, admitting it would take several years for any substantial growth to occur.
The seedlings have not been protected from deer because no fencing has proved useful, he added, responding to a question from Friends member Marten denBoer.
Im a consulting forester working in the field for 10 years, Tcimpidis said. I know the recommendations for dealing with deer.
The problem is getting across to the public that you need to shoot more of them, he added with a laugh. If you can invent a deer-proof fence, well put one up.
DenBoers insistence that other foresters have recommended them prompted a question about aesthetics from Planning Board Chair Marshall Cowen, who countered that the Friends have made many complaints about the view ruined by the clear-cut, but a fence would be just as ugly.
Youre talking about substantial structures that will be sticking above the forest floor for several years, he said.
If it in fact did increase reforestation, then a large, rather ugly fence would be a sacrifice worth making, denBoer answered.
DenBoers concern, echoed by several other Friends of Callicoon Mountain (including Jeff Moore), were centered on the effect this has had on the environment and the extended period of time it would take to take back the mountain.
I find the natural ecology very fragile, Moore said. Were talking about a very fragile ecosystem.
Tcimpidis explained his job has not been to replace what was lost.
Were bringing a forest back in, because thats what the town wanted, he said. Its not going to be the same thing you had there.
Its NEVER going to be the same, denBoer noted.
Im very concerned that what happens here tonight will set a precedent and will open up the river valley to clear-cuts, Friends member Fran Hepburn added.
In the end, the board decided unanimously (with only board member Rosie DeCristofaro absent) to hire an outside consultant, sending letters to the Department of Environmental Conservation, Soil and Water Conservation District and the Upper Delaware Council, all of whom would review the site at no extra cost to the town.
Tcimpidis promised the board that his plans have always been to work with the board, not against them, but he admitted he was in Parsons employ.
I think the publics point is well made that youre an employee of Mr. Parsons, said board member Gerry Euker, before moving to hire an outside consultant.
The board will revisit a plan to retroactively approve the special use permit Parsons needed to do any work near the ridgeline at the January 28 meeting.
At that time, at the urging of board member Michael Chojnicki, there will also be a review of a management plan for the future of the forest.
Were trying to fix a situation here, Chojnicki said, not just say this is the best we can do and walk away.