In bat habitat, town lets developer cut trees before subdivision gets final approval

— Photo from the DEC website
A northern long-eared bat in its hibernaculum. Each bat is typically 3 to 4 inches long with a wingspan of 9 to 10 inches.

GUILDERLAND — Town officials recently gave a developer permission to take down trees to build a road before getting final plat approval for a proposed subdivision.

The reason was that the area between Hurst Road and Route 146 has been identified as a habitat for the northern long-eared bat, and the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation prohibits cutting trees in these habitat areas between April 1 and Oct. 31. Hence the developer, Ingalls & Associates, otherwise would have had to wait seven months, until November, to proceed.

Some Hurst Road neighbors had objected to the development on the quiet country road. The original plan had been reconfigured to leave a 100-foot no-cut zone of trees all along Hurst Road, which would maintain the canopy of branches that stretches across the road, prized by area residents.

Ingalls had received preliminary plat approval from the town’s planning board for Black Creek Estates, an 18-home single-family conservation subdivision on 46 acres, but would not have received final plat approval by April 1, said Kenneth Kovalchik, Guilderland’s town planner.

Consideration of preliminary plat approval was on the planning board’s agenda for its Feb. 13 meeting when it set conditions for preliminary approval. One of the conditions stated, “No construction work, which includes land disturbance of any kind, shall be started on the proposed subdivision prior to the approval of the plat unless specific permission for the start of such work has been granted by the planning board.”

The cutting of trees appeared on the Feb. 27 planning board agenda, which stated that the board had received a request from the developer to remove a portion of trees within the proposed subdivision prior to final plat approval.

The letter from the applicant requesting permission to cut the trees is on the town website. The letter states, among other things, “The main intent of the tree cutting will be to ready the site for infrastructure installation, including roadway, utilities with sanitary sewer and stormwater management areas.” It also says, “All viable trees will be preserved to the maximum extent practicable.”

A memo from Kovalchik to planning board Chairman Stephen Feeney said that Ingalls & Associates wanted to cut trees on the site in the area where Black Creek Lane will be located, as well as in a sewer easement area and some areas of the proposed building envelopes on each lot.

In response to an Enterprise question, Kovalchik said there is always a possibility that between preliminary and final plat approval, a project could fall through or could be modified in such a way that the trees could have stood. But, he said, the town felt comfortable granting permission “due to the applicant providing the Town with other items addressing conditions that had to be addressed prior to final plat approval, such as providing draft language of deed restrictions, revisions made to the preliminary plat that had to be included on the final plat.”

The DEC regulation states that it is white-nose syndrome, and not habitat removal, that is threatening northern long-eared bats in New York State. So, it says, “removal of trees from the landscape is not considered harmful unless there are potentially bats within the trees during the time they are harvested or otherwise removed from the landscape.”

 

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair
This view from Hurst Road shows the road that will wind through the Black Creek Estates subdivision and come out on Route 146. 

 

The northern long-eared bat, as recently as 2005, had a robust population of 500,000 in the state but that has declined by 98 percent because of white-nose syndrome; it is listed as “threatened” by both the federal and state governments, according to the DEC.

Sue Green, who lives near Hurst Road and is active in the not-for-profit organization Guilderhaven, which helps companion animals and wildlife, said, “If the town keeps allowing builders to take down the habitat, you’re effectively working towards depriving them of their nesting place.” She added, “You can’t wipe out their habitat from April to October, but sure, wipe it out before then, and they won’t have a habitat.”

Neighbor Gerd Beckmann of Route 146 mourned the cutting of two particularly large trees, one at either edge of the new roadway. He said that Hurst Road is known for its canopy of mature trees and that he wished those two old trees could have stood and met across the entrance to the new road.

 

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