Bamboo Vexes Orangetown Residents

Town Board undecided on remedies




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Can homeowners plant Japanese bamboo on their property, especially to form a hedge along a neighbor’s property, and then claim naivety when that bamboo invades the neighbor’s yard against their wishes? And what remedies do the offended residents have to remove the bamboo, or force the planter or the town to do it for them?

These are some of the questions Orangetown Building Inspector John Giardiello has been grappling with recently, as residents have forced him to scour code and law books and confer with legal and zoning experts in the field in order to come up with answers that will hopefully satisfy them.

Bamboo issues had come to light over the past few weeks when the aggrieved homeowners suddenly showed up at Town Board meetings, complete with photographs, advertisements and literature, and demanded that the five-member council “do something” immediately to halt the spread of bamboo.

Councilmen said the issue had never come up before, and they weren’t aware of any laws governing bamboo growth. Uncertain at to how to proceed, they turned both issues over to Giardiello for study and a recommendation on a future course of action, which he did at last week’s tumultuous three-hour council session.

Giardiello reported that complaints began reaching his office last year about bamboo creeping from one resident’s yard to that of a neighbor. His cursory investigation led him to the conclusion that there are no town, county or state laws, codes or other enforceable rules that would allow him or any other agency of town government to ban bamboo, or force someone to remove it or curtail its growth.

Realizing that would satisfy no one, Giardiello said he asked deputy Town Attorney Louise Sullivan to prepare a draft ordinance that would ban the planting of bamboo in Orangetown, require its removal, and impose fines for violations.

He has given that draft to the board, he said, but is reluctant to urge their adoption of the document because of what he called the “unforeseen consequences” such a law could create.

Restricting specific types of plants from being planted in Orangetown would open “Pandora’s box,” the inspector said, because once you list one or several specific varieties of plants that are illegal in town, anyone can seek an amendment to the law to include their least-favored plant as well. If you outlaw poison ivy, for example, he said residents could appeal to add the famously named Wandering Jew plant, Japanese ivy and any other variety disliked by even a handful of people.

Similarly, he said his research showed there are two major kinds of bamboo planted in this region of the county. One is called “clumping bamboo” and does just that: it grows thick roots and stems, but does not spread. The other is called “spreading bamboo,” and also does just that; spreading all over the place, through its root system, and essentially cannot be controlled.

If you outlaw “bamboo,” you outlaw both types, Giardiello said, even though clumping bamboo is both beautiful and beneficial in landscaping.

And if you outlaw certain species of plants, does that automatically include all varieties?, he asked rhetorically. If a lot of people petition to ban the planting of red roses, can others then clamor to add white, pink, yellow and other varieties, And if you outlaw bamboo, can others then push to ban certain species of pine trees, or chestnuts because they drop their unwanted fruit on neighbors lawns?

After considering all of the ramifications of such a law, Giardiello urged the board to proceed with caution, and added that he was not giving it his stamp of approval yet because there were too many ramifications he could envision that would cause grief and headaches for his employees trying to fairly enforce such a law.

Speaking in support of the woman who first brought the matter to him, Giardiello did acknowledge that New York State has recently listed spreading bamboo as an undesirable “invasive” species, and has prohibited its transportation within the state. There is no law banning its planting, however, he added, as long as you do it within your own property.

If it creeps onto a neighbor’s property, he said the only current remedy is for the aggrieved neighbor to go into his own yard and cut down the offending plants and dig out those roots that are on his land. That will only prove to be a temporary fix of a year or less, however, the inspector warned, because the roots are virtually indestructible and will immediately start growing back, and he will have to repeat the process continuously for the remainder of his ownership of the property.

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