Hamptonites to developers: Leaf our trees alone

Mayor of North Haven stumping to reduce clear-cutting

(Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal with Getty)
(Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal with Getty)

Some Hamptons residents are stumping for an arboreal cause.

One week after a Bridgehampton neighbor sued developer Joe Farrell, claiming he cut down her trees without permission, a neighboring village is proposing stricter rules for clearing mature trees.

Chris Fiore, Mayor of North Haven, in Southampton (Village of North Haven)

Chris Fiore, Mayor of North Haven, in Southampton (Village of North Haven)

The mayor of North Haven, in Southampton, Chris Fiore, said most of his trustees support his idea to prevent unnecessary arborcide.

“I’m not a tree hugger,” said Fiore. “I just think a tree that’s been there for 75, 85, 95 years has the right to exist, if possible.”

To limit the amount of land a developer can clear, the mayor pitched changing village code to protect trees 16 inches or more in diameter, or 10 inches in the case of red cedars.

He said the idea germinated six months before Farrell’s alleged arboreal indiscretion.

“I drove by a site on State Route 114, which goes right through North Haven from Sag Harbor to Shelter Island, and a contractor had just clear-cut everything,” he said. As the village’s newly minted mayor, Fiore says he was able to obtain a stop-work order on the property.

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Jaine Mehring, Founder & Chair, Build.In.Kind/East Hampton (LinkedIn/Jaine Mehring)

Jaine Mehring, Founder & Chair, Build.In.Kind/East Hampton (LinkedIn/Jaine Mehring)

The impulse to scale back development in the Hamptons, with its mix of year-round residents and those who helicopter in for benefit dinners, is shared by some East Hampton residents, according to Jaine Mehring, who leads a local group of activists.

In early 2022, the town amended the building code to require a land survey showing how much native vegetation would be cleared, according to Mehring, who recently spoke against Farrell’s proposed demolition of 175 Atlantic Avenue in Amagansett, a beach-facing cottage that he bought in 2017 for $2.3 million and has listed for $5 million.

“What you see is a 1,200 square-foot home turning into a 12,000-square-foot home,” Mehring said. “Spec developers want to build the biggest flipping house possible and don’t care about the bees, breeze and trees.” (Yes, she was an English major at Yale.)

In a NextDoor post, Fiore called for locals to attend a Jan. 18 hearing in person or by Zoom. “Unfortunately not every trustee is supportive, so we need to hear from the community,” he wrote.

Mehring said even second home owners have come to see the need for more resilient building in the last five years, citing rising groundwater and the transformation of the East Hampton airport into an global air traffic destination.

Fiore, who plans public hearings beginning in January on his idea of protecting older trees, said he likes his chances.

“There will be little opposition because a developer won’t have the balls to come to a meeting and say, ‘Clear cutting trees is a great idea.’ So maybe we will protect trees up to eight inches.”

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