Trustees, harbor commission clash over bamboo

The debate over whether or not to ban certain types of bamboo in the Village of Mamaroneck has intensified. File photo

The debate over whether or not to ban certain types of bamboo in the Village of Mamaroneck has intensified. File photo

By PHIL NOBILE
Questions of authority, procedure and balance between the village’s elected officials and volunteer coastal board has extended to a battle over bamboo.

The latest conflict between the Board of Trustees and the Harbor and Coastal Zone Management Commission comes from a proposed ban on certain types of bamboo in the Village of Mamaroneck. Under the plan, residents would be barred from planting bamboo in their yards within 20 feet of village or an adjoining property.

The proposal, which was recommended by the village’s tree committee, was originally brought forward before the trustees this past January, but subsequently referred to the Harbor and Coastal Zone Management Commission for approval at the commission’s March 19 meeting. According to board members, the impact of bamboo on wetlands was in front of the HCZMC for consistency questions on preserving the wetland areas from bamboo planting.

During the meeting, Cindy Goldstein, chair of the HCZMC, wondered why the matter appeared before her commission in the first place.

“We’ve had situations like this in the past and we scratched our heads and wondered ‘why are we getting this?’” Goldstein said. “We’re struggling with ‘why are we picking on bamboo?’”

Commission member Clark Neuringer described the proposal as banning of a “human behavior,” and not something that should be before the commission.

“My question was based on the fact it seemed to me there was a proposal outlawing certain behavior of people,” Neuringer, the village’s 2013 Democratic mayoral candidate, said. “To me it had zero to do with bamboo, but had to do with an action or activity that was being prescribed to be non-beneficial to a community.”

Neuringer, an architect, said the Board of Trustees failed to provide any insight on the legislation, and simply sent a “piece of paper” to the commission.

“There was no document submitted from the board outlining the rationale, the research or the reasoning. None of that was submitted. It was a piece of paper asking to make a determination,” Neuringer said. “There was zero background.”

As a result, the seven-member commission had a majority of three votes for abstaining from making a decision on the matter. Two other commission members voted for “yes” on consistency and another two voted for “no.”

Since the HCZMC voted to pass on rendering a decision, the matter will automatically be determined consistent after a 30-day mandated period, according to village code.

Village Mayor Norman Rosenblum, a Republican, expressed disapproval of the HCZMC votes to abstain on the matter, calling them a “shame.”

“There’s no reason to abstain,” Rosenblum said. “If you can’t make a decision, perhaps you should think about why you’re sitting on a board. It’s a disservice to the village.”

The 30-day delay from the commission to pass the law also sparked extreme criticism from Trustee Andres Bermudez Hallstrom, a Democrat, who accused members of the coastal commission of violating the state constitution.

“The Harbor and Coastal Zone Management Commission blocking of this law, even for 30 days, violates the state constitution and state law, violates municipal home rule law and violates village law,” Bermudez Hallstrom said. “We cannot abide by an open and knowing violation of the constitution. To do so is to invite ad-hoc law and all the chaos that brings. For example, Venezuela and Syria, where the law is not respected and they have constitutions and chose not to adopt them.”

Bermudez Hallstrom described the HCZMC’s declaration of consistency as “veto power” because the Board of Trustees cannot pass a law if a matter is found inconsistent by the coastal commission.

In January, Village Manager Richard Slingerland requested a legal opinion from the New York Department of State regarding consistency determinations by the commission.

According to William Sharp, a principal attorney for the department of state, the village code “impermissibly delegates legislative authority to the Harbor and Coastal Zone Management Commission,” and the village should consider amending the portion of the code “to address the problems associated with the consistency review.”

Although Rosenblum denied any constitutional conflicts on the part of the Harbor and Coastal Zoning Management Commission, he added the recent delay on the bamboo law was proof of the commission’s power.

“The Harbor and Coastal Zone Management Commission delaying the vote on the bamboo illustrates exactly why no board should have veto power over elected officials,” Rosenblum said.

The opinion from the state does conclude that “fault is not found with the work of the HCZMC,” and that, over the decades, the commission’s advice on policies “has proven very valuable.”

Goldstein dismissed the comments from the elected officials, calling them “disappointing.”

“To accuse commission members of illegal conduct or violating their oath of office in their performance of official duties is reckless and mean-spirited,” the commission chairwoman said. “The Harbor and Coastal Zone Management Commission is comprised of seven hard-working and conscientious individuals who give generously of their time and expertise to the Village
of Mamaroneck.”

The comments from village officials at the trustees meeting weren’t well-received by some members of the community either, including village Democratic chairwoman Elizabeth Saenger, who said commissions like the HCZMC were not receiving the recognition and respect they deserve.

“We have boards and commissions made up of volunteers with staggered terms who work very hard developing positions and researching on these kinds of issues,” Saenger said. “They’re really the pride and glory of our village, in my opinion, and we should pay more attention to them and let them have their proper role and not accuse them of being anti-democratic.”

The tension over the bamboo law isn’t the first time the trustees and the village’s commissions have been at odds in the past month.

At a March 3 work session, Rosenblum, voiced disapproval of the HCZMC’s decision to refer to the Department of State for additional training without consulting village officials. The mayor described the commission’s actions as “egregious.”

Despite the exchange of harsh criticism, Rosenblum denied any rift between the village’s volunteer committees and the Board of Trustees.

The public hearing on the bamboo law remains open and will appear on the April 16 Board of Trustees agenda.

CONTACT: phil@hometwn.com