Tree clearing prompts review of state, local regulations
SALISBURY » A property owner’s clearing of a large number of trees from his lakefront property recently caused concern among the Lake Wononscopomuc community, but steps are being taken by local officials to prevent a similar situation from reoccurring.
According to William Littauer, president of the Lake Wononscopomuc Association, the property owner of 209 Sharon Road, Quentin Vandooseleare, recently removed trees located within the 75-foot lake setback zone on more than an acre of his waterfront property, without first receiving permission from the town of Salisbury.
“I think he went too far,” Littauer said last week. “It’s a little extreme. But his contention was that no permit was required and he did nothing wrong. He just wanted a better view of the lake.”
Littauer said the question that remains to be answered is whether or not a law presently exists that declares the action to be illegal.
“If regulations are in place, they’re not clear,” he said.
During the lake association’s annual meeting on June 3, town officials discussed the incident at length. The conversation centered around the topic of whether the town had done all it could to properly address the matter.
The town’s actions included issuing a “Cease and Correct” order and the hiring of an outside attorney to review existing state and local regulations that could or should be applied in this case.
As part of the Cease and Correct order, the town’s Conservation Commission is “demanding” that Vandooseleare now prepare and submit an environmental plan for review, Littauer stated.
During the annual meeting, board member Mary Silks pointed out that the property owner
“I think he went too far. It’s a little extreme. But his contention was that no permit was required and he did nothing wrong. He just wanted a better view of the lake.” — William Littauer, president of the Lake Wononscopomuc Association
never presented a proposal to the commission for its review and declaratory ruling. When the commission became aware of the activity, a “Cease and Correct” order was then issued.
According to the meeting minutes, Vandooseleare sent an email stating that he understood that people may not like the esthetics of his landscaping plan. However, he said, he is hopeful that when he plants new trees, shrubs and grass they will come to accept it. He vowed that he would do “whatever is necessary” to make sure the lake is protected, including the placement of retaining walls if deemed necessary.
“He’s working with someone to prepare a plan, and he says he will correct the issues,” Littauer said.
According to the lake association’s website, the Town of Salisbury’s First Selectman Curtis Rand was in attendance at the meeting and outlined the steps the town had taken to deal with the issue.
Rand did not return phone calls seeking comment prior to press time.
Meanwhile, Littauer explained that both the association and town officials are now studying the existing laws on the issue at hand.
“From the lake association’s point of view, we are looking for ways to be more effective in order to stop people from clearing without permission,” he said. “Our concern is that he was able to go ahead and do this without any repercussions.”
According to Littauer, the lake association does not have jurisdiction in the matter, but is working in conjunction with the town to develop solutions that could be applied to prevent future incidents.
Littauer said one of the steps being taken is the creation of a document that would have to be submitted by a property owner to apply for a permit before proceeding with any major clearing efforts.
According to Littauer, the lake association has also created its own internal committee that is currently researching the issue. The group consists of three attorneys, one of whom was a land use attorney for 30 years in Florida.
“We want to try and help the town with this, and the committee is studying rules and regulations in Connecticut that apply to lakes like ours,” he said.
During its annual meeting, the association voted to budget up to $5,000 for outside counsel to determine what state or local regulations either exist or should be implemented to deal with issues that affect the environmental health of the lake.
The recent tree clearing has resulted in concern among neighboring property owners, including Bruce Palmer, who has lived on the lake since his childhood.
“The bottom line is that the health of the lake is being severely affected by severe runoff into the lake,” Palmer said.
According to Littauer, the trees were located on a fully wooded, “environmentally sensitive” steep slope.
“The potential for an erosion problem there is very serious,” he explained.
However, when the trees were removed, their stumps were not taken out. According to Littauer, because the stumps were not removed, the process “didn’t really disturb the soil.”
During the annual meeting, Rand reported that various experts had looked at the property and concluded it is now stable and not subject to erosion of sediment into the lake at this time.
Palmer explained that as a longtime resident of the lake, the recent tree clearing incident, as well as a number of other environmental issues concerning the lake, are of great concern to him.
“There are a number of lakes under threat due to development,” Palmer said. “If you don’t take care of your environment, you will soon find yourself in a bad position. Environmental issues require putting your money where your mouth is and rolling up your sleeves. You have to be engaged in the situation.”
Littauer explained that the primary goal of the lake association is to preserve the health and integrity of the lake. According to its website, the Lake Wononscopomuc Association was formed in 1988 “to protect, preserve and improve this important scenic and recreational resource for the enjoyment of present and future generations.”
“The last thing I want is an unhealthy lake,” Littauer said.
The Lake Wononscopomuc property after the trees had been cleared.
The Lake Wononscopomuc property prior to being cleared of trees.