VICTOR — A legal loophole is being blamed for activity local conservationists say is inexcusable: the harvesting of mature trees in what is about to be protected by a “no touch” conservation easement.
But officials say the Victor developer — Frank Affronti of Affronti Development LLC — broke no law by selectively felling trees on Plaster Mill and McMahon roads before easements were filed. Affronti said he was properly maintaining the woods and providing for future growth.
According to Code Enforcement Officer Alan Benedict, the Town of Victor doesn’t have any law against the harvesting of wood — pretty much anyone can do it. He said the loophole came about because, although approval had been given by the Planning Board to move ahead on the Plaster Mill Road housing development called Tuscany Hills, the town attorney had not yet filed easements — so final subdivision plans had not yet been signed.
Residents alerted Benedict to the activity on Plaster Mill Road in November. That’s when he visited Tuscany Hills to investigate and document the work, and said it appeared to be “typical of a logging operation.” He estimated a total of 200 or more trees had been taking down.
“It appeared that larger, mature trees had been harvested, leaving behind smaller ones for future growth,” said Benedict. All were in areas designated as "no touch" conservation easements, either because of steep slopes or because of the trees, he said.
“When a developer puts an application in and says they’re going to preserve areas because that’s what the town wants, you expect in good faith that nothing is going to change until everything is signed,” said Benedict.
According to Planning Board Chair Joe Logan, the Plaster Mill Road site shouldn’t have had any disturbance on it. The cleared trees went beyond the limits that were approved for site disturbance prior to having the easements filed.
“It’s certainly disappointing in the very least,” said Logan. “You would expect them to not do any work, especially in those most restricted areas.”
Affronti said he’s “not trying to ruin the property in any way,” and in fact did the harvesting “for the protection of the other trees that are there so they will grow properly.”
“I’m maintaining the woods like they should be,” said Affronti. “I had three different people look at it before I did anything, to get opinions about what should be done.”
His company, Affronti Development LLC — is based in Ontario in Wayne County — has two Victor projects in the works. The Tuscany Hills Subdivision on Plaster Mill Road will offer 27 single-family homes on 54 acres, priced between $300,000 and $400,000. The final subdivision was approved, with conditions, in May 2013.
Just around the corner on McMahon Road, Ballerina Court will feature 71 single-family homes, priced in the neighborhood of $200,000, on 59.6 acres. Phase 1 of Ballerina Court, approved in August 2013, will put 23 single-family homes on 18.8 acres.
Logan said he believed logging had been going on at both development sites.
“I am not, and never have had intention of, taking all the trees out,” said Affronti. “When you walk in, the woods looks like a woods — it doesn’t look like someone came in and cut everything down.”
The harvesting was completed several weeks ago, and the bulk of the wood has been sold, Affronti said, and at least one neighbor will be using some of the felled treetops for firewood.
Victoria Woods resident Gayle Rachford lives in a townhouse adjacent to the future Ballerina Court. She said she’s been watching trees come down for several months, and strongly objects to what she believes is a lack of “good faith.”
“As a neighbor, a conservationist and a concerned community member, I feel rather betrayed that they took these trees down,” said Rachford. “How legal it was is irrelevant. What disgusted me was that he took trees from within the conservation area.”
Rachford said she believes a developer should respect both the explicit and intended wishes of the community and its elected officials, and doesn’t believe the town “should be awarding permits to a developer who disregards those wishes.”
Affronti said he just wants his subdivisions to be the best in town, and hopes when he’s done with the job, people will say, “The man did everything he said he was going to do.”
“I’ve got a long ways to go in Victor — I’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Affronti. “I want both my subdivisions to look great — and they will look great.”
He hopes to start construction as soon as possible, having originally hoped to have both developments completed in 2013.
The next step for the town, according to Benedict, will be to codify limits, or better controls, over a developer’s activity once they submit an application. That will most likely involve preparing an update to the town’s approval process so that easements are filed prior to developers being able to touch the property, said Logan.
Conservation Board Chair Donna Clements said to her knowledge this is a situation that has never come up before.
“Hopefully this will be the last time,” she said. “There’s not much you can do now — the trees are cut.”