A Divided Community in the Battle over Bamboo

Posted on 12 October 2011

Carl Peterson takes a pick ax to the bamboo in his yard.

Carl Peterson takes a pick ax to the bamboo in his yard.

By Kathryn G. Menu

Carl Peterson has been battling bamboo on his Garden Street property for over 20 years. He fights back new shoots each spring and drives down barriers around one particularly dense bamboo stand to prevent it from crawling even closer to his foundation, which is also protected by barriers.

“The roots are like a cancer,” added Peterson Tuesday morning in his backyard. “The roots intertwine with all the other vegetation, and it is virtually impossible to control.”

While Peterson has fought the bamboo crop that originally was planted by a tenant 30 years ago on the property next door, he, along with several other village residents, expressed concerns this week over a proposed village law that would virtually outlaw most of the bamboo in Sag Harbor.

The proposed law is a scaled back version of an original law that sought to banish all invasive plant species within the village. The new version addresses only bamboo.

According to the draft law, residents would not be allowed to have bamboo “planted, maintained or otherwise permitted to exist within 10-feet of any property line, street, sidewalk or public right of way.”

At Tuesday night’s Sag Harbor Village Board meeting, a host of residents turned out both in favor and against the proposed law, although most said it needed to be more specific.

Before a public hearing on the proposed legislation was even opened, Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride said he had received a number of phone calls from residents concerned about the law.

“I have received a couple calls on this also,” said trustee Ed Gregory. “One person had bamboo on their property for 10 years and did what was necessary when it was installed to prevent it from migrating on other properties. They were concerned it presented a nice screening, but also to remove it and replant other plants would be quite expensive.”

Trustee Bruce Stafford wondered if instead, the village board should look at requiring property owners with bamboo to install barriers to prevent it from encroaching on neighboring properties

Former mayor Pierce Hance said that rather than outlawing bamboo altogether, he believed the village should look at requiring property owners who have bamboo encroaching on a neighbor’s land to take responsibility for its removal if the village hears a complaint.

Peterson wondered if it was something the village should legislate at all, or if it should be left as an issue handled neighbor to neighbor.

“Bamboo often comes back after supposed removal and the removal is extremely expensive,” said Peterson, adding adopting the law was tantamount to reducing the property values of anyone who has bamboo on their parcel. The properties containing bamboo could be viewed in the same light as a one with an underground fuel tank or termites, he said.

Peterson added that while the bamboo on his property is a result of a planting that occurred on his neighbor’s property, if he ran into property damage issues, he would reach out to his neighbor or in the worst case scenario consider litigation.

“It would never occur to me to come to the village trustees and ask them to address the situation,” he said.

Resident Mary Falborn does not have the same relationship with her neighbor as Peterson. She said after returning to her Sag Harbor home in July she discovered bamboo from her neighbor’s property had traveled some 30-feet into her yard, with 190 stalks visible on her property alone.

“Am I responsible,” she asked. “Do I have to put the barrier in for his bamboo?”
“Honestly, I think whoever planted the bamboo should be responsible,” said Mayor Gilbride.

Diane Schiavoni’s Oakland Avenue home has an established bamboo stand that has been there for two decades. If she is forced to remove it, Schiavoni said she would be left with a view of an unpainted garage.

“I think this is a neighbor to neighbor problem,” she said. “The answer is containment.”

Pat Field — who originally requested the village address encroaching bamboo — said she believes the law should focus on future plantings of bamboo, unless it is traveling over a property line, in which case the responsible party should install barriers.

“That was my idea,” she said. “I don’t want to change all of Sag Harbor.”

Sag Harbor Garden Center owner Phil Bucking’s business is surrounded on three sides by an enormous stand of bamboo that stretches across several properties. One property owner, said Bucking, has been responsible and contained the bamboo, which has prevented it from weaving its way onto Bucking’s property. The rest of the bamboo is not contained.

Bucking added that grandfathering in bamboo stands would be complicated because the plant spreads to other properties so quickly.

At the close of the hearing, Mayor Gilbride said he was unsure if this was something the village should legislate, but agreed to hold the hearing open through December to allow residents to continue to comment, while the village board weighs its options.

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