Town warns local farm owners: Tree cutting issue spurs tough letter

FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh town attorney has sent a certified letter to the owners of the Vorsteveld Farm threatening legal action “for the cutting of shade trees within the public right of way of Arnold Bay Road without prior approval,” unless the Vorstevelds respond to the letter by Jan. 1.
In the Nov. 22 letter, attorney James Carroll wrote, “I further ask that you ask your attorney or any identified insurance claims representative to contact me to discuss the contents of this letter and a possible resolution of this matter.”
The Ferrisburgh selectboard met behind closed doors on Nov. 21 and voted, 4-1 (with Selectman Jim Benoit in dissent), to ask Carroll to write the letter. Area residents have complained to the board since the Vorstevelds had the work done in April.
Carroll had been researching the issue for weeks, and Carroll references state statutes that he alleges the Vorstevelds violated by hiring a contractor to remove, per the letter, 306 shade trees with trunks at least 6-inch diameters and another 1,870 trees and shrubs along Arnold Bay Road.
According to the letter, the Vorstevelds “as individuals and partners of Vorsteveld Farm, LLP, are subject to a fine of not more than $500 for each tree so injured or removed, as well as an award of damages … for the trespass and removal of the shade trees, as well as other injunctive relief to assure that the damage caused is mitigated through a replanting plan.”
Carroll’s letter alleges the contractor “essentially clear-cut” a 0.75-mile stretch on the east side of the road, starting on the Panton town line and running north. The Vorstevelds own farmland in both Panton and Ferrisburgh, with most of their holdings in Panton.
The letter concludes, “If I do not hear from you or your representative on or before January 1, 2018, Ferrisburgh will take immediate steps to pursue this matter in the appropriate judicial jurisdiction.”
Ferrisburgh Selectboard Chairwoman Loretta Lawrence last week described the letter as an attempt to trigger an exchange of ideas on how to resolve the situation. She said the selectboard has discussed possibilities in executive session, but would not make them public.
“The goal is to settle this without going to the court. So we’re giving them the opportunity to at least come back with something,” Lawrence said, adding, “We want to open up the talks and start up the discussion … We’d like to hear how they plan on resolving the issue.”
Farm co-owner Hans Vorsteveld said on Tuesday, “We’ll probably have to” talk to the town, but said it was too early to make any further comment on the letter. 
“We have not really looked into it yet,” Vorsteveld said. “We’re planning on talking to our attorney and seeing what our approach is. We’ve just called our lawyer and he hasn’t gotten back to me yet.”
The Vorstevelds bought the land a little more than three years ago.
In June Hans Vorsteveld said the work was done to improve drainage for the farm fields that lie behind what he said was an “overgrown hedgerow” along that side of Arnold Bay Road. He said the finished product would look attractive and hoped that town officials and neighbors would appreciate its appearance.
Vorsteveld also told the Independent then he and his family farm co-owners believed they owned the land to the middle of the road, were simply making improvements to better farm it, and did not believe their use of the land interfered with the town’s right of way.
Although in his letter Carroll cites statutes and cases that set precedents favoring the town’s position, in June he told the selectboard and a gathering of neighbors at the town office building a case might not be cut and dried.
“These statutes are very open-ended. There is not a lot of case law that has been developed around them,” Carroll said back then, adding that the statutes “have gray about them.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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