Saturday, 15 August 2009

Homeowner lops 157 trees on protected bluff

[Conservationists and tree-lovers are as active in Cape Cod as they are in East Devon when it comes to defending the area’s natural beauty, and Brewster, as seen in the aerial picture, has even more trees to protect than Budleigh.]

A Point of Rocks Beach homeowner has a date with the Brewster Conservation Commission following the topping off of 157 trees on a protected bluff overlooking Cape Cod Bay.

Salvatore and Deborah Vasta, of Lenox, property owners at 83 Dune Road in Brewster, have submitted a re-vegetation mitigation plan to restore the coastal bank where they trimmed the trees without approval from the conservation commission earlier this spring.

Salvatore Vasta cut the trees to between four and eight feet along the crest of the 20-foot-high bank. The property shares a 1,200-foot private beach with 100 other homes around Point of Rocks. A number of the topped trees were on community beach property, the rest were on the Vastas’ property.

Under Brewster bylaws, there’s a no-disturbance zone within 50 feet of a coastal bank, where any activity requires a variance from the conservation commission. The commission’s jurisdiction extends 100 feet from the bank, and the trees were all within that zone.

The house is for sale and is listed by Kinlin Grover Real Estate. Its ad says the property features “amazing sunsets and panoramic views across Cape Cod Bay.” The two-story, four-bedroom, Cape Cod-style home is about 2,000 square feet and is listed for sale at $2.7 million. The house sits on 1.19 acres, and has been rented for $7,000 a week in the past. It was built in 1955.

Brewster conservation agent Jim Gallagher received an anonymous tip that the trees had been cut. When he arrived at the property, Salvatore Vasta was out in the yard. Gallagher showed him a copy of the septic site plan that delineated the coastal bank.

“I explained to him that vegetation removal within a coastal zone is illegal without a permit,” he said. “I asked him if any trees were pruned and with his permission we inspected the site.”

“There was older cutting there,” noted Dan Ojala of Down Cape Engineering, the firm the Vastas hired to develop their mitigation plan, “so in some ways he thought that it was OK . . . he was maintaining something that was there a long time. But that’s a big no-no with the conservation commission. He made a mistake. He thought he had the right and learned it was not the case.”

Efforts to contact the Vastas or their attorney, Duane Landreth, were not successful.

Gallagher, who received his anonymous tip in early May, estimated that 50 pitch pines, 40 oak trees and about 10 cherries had been topped and a later survey lifted that number to 157 in all.

Gallagher issued a cease-and-desist order May 13, requiring the Vastas to submit a notice of intent to the commission to meet all standards and to prepare a mitigation plan by June 19, which they did.

The notice is essentially “an after the fact permit application,” Gallagher noted.

The first hearing was held July 7, and continued to Aug. 4, when it was continued again to Aug. 18. In the meantime the Vastas, with assistance from Hamlyn Consulting, submitted another re-vegetation plan on July 30. The last continuance was granted so the commission can review the plan.

Some of the pitch pines that were cut were already dead and a number of others suffered infestations of bark boring beetles after the trimming and will have to be removed.

“Because of the time of year they were cut, beetles were attracted to the sap,” Gallagher noted.

Others, including scrub oaks, red and white oaks, beach plum and cherry eventually will grow back on their own. The latest mitigation plan will replace the cut trees with mostly smaller shrubs. Also, six red cedars will be planted, in two groups of three, along with three river birch and three sassafras trees.

The cost of the re-vegetation plan is unknown. The town bylaw enables Brewster to levy fines against the homeowner as well.

Text credit: Rich Eldred

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