Wilton homeowner defends unauthorized tree removal: 'the dead trees were a danger'

WILTON — Although they said they have no intention of deforesting their property, a Deforest Road couple is defending their unauthorized removal of 16 trees from their yard due to safety concerns.

After issuing cease-and-desist orders earlier this month, the Inland Wetlands Commission held two separate show cause hearings on Jan. 26 about two local properties, including 134 Deforest Road and 573 Nod Hill Road.

The Nod Hill Road property, owned by Jorge Valentin, was brought to the town's attention after a neighbor complained about the unauthorized removal of nine trees.

"When we look at these properties, we typically look at trees that are cut that are above a 6-inch diameter, so we're not just looking at each little sapling," said Michael Conklin, director of the town Environmental Affairs Department.

Valentin was unable to attend the meeting due to work commitments, but Zen Herter, an environmental analyst, said the homeowner did not realize a permit was required for the work.

"They were under the assumption that it was something they were allowed to do," he said.

Also, while making his rounds, Herter discovered that trees had been removed at 134 Deforest Road — a property he identified as having "a little bit of history" with the town after the previous homeowner applied for a permit to build a new garage last year.

While he said the town originally thought the trees would be removed as part of that project, the previous owner pulled the permit and sold the house last summer before any work got underway.

"In driving past and knowing the history of the property, I noticed that more trees had been cut down on the property since the last time I had been there," Herter said. The homeowners were cooperative and let him enter the property to take photographs, he said.

Property owner Feliks Krut said he had tried to get the town's approval to remove trees in the fall — and made an appointment for a property inspection Oct. 7. But the official failed to show up, he said.

Several of the trees at the back of his property were dead, or close to dead, and were dropping branches to the ground in windy weather, Krut said. His young son enjoys playing in the backyard, but he and his wife were limiting his time outside due to concerns about falling branches, he said.

After moving in last summer, "we found the trees just falling all the time," he said. 

Krut said he marked the trees he wanted to remove and contacted Town Hall for an inspection.

He said he was told that someone would be out to inspect the property. But it turned out to be the wrong department, so Conklin's department was never notified — and the other official neither kept the appointment nor forwarded the message to Conklin.

"My neighbors already started noticing that the dead trees were a danger to their house. ... Suddenly one tree fell down (on) our barn and destroyed it completely," Krut said.

"It was really, really scary," he said, with the tree branches hitting up against their house when it fell.

"So I called the contractor and said I could not wait anymore," he said.

"I'm really sorry that you think I'm a bad guy, but I tried to be good," he told the commission in the Zoom meeting. "I really love nature and we moved to this place because of the nature," with the family planning to plant new trees in the yard.

Conklin said that although he believes the tree warden went to mark trees on the property and remove some along the public right-of-way, his department was not directly contacted.

"We had never heard of this, just so everyone knows," he said, stating that his department would not ignore a request for a visit.

Inland Wetlands Commission Chair Rick Stow said he appreciated that Krut had tried to do the right thing. But he said that in order to be consistent, Krut — as well as Valentin — would be given until Feb. 21 to each submit a corrective wetlands application.

"We expect an application and an explanation," he told the two residents.