MAHWAH, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A homeowner is accused of cutting down hundreds of trees on his neighbor’s property to get a better view of the landscape.
Charged is 47-year-old Jay Patel, who said nothing after his case was moved from municipal to superior court on Thursday. Last March, he allegedly had 221 trees chopped down, but they were on adjoining property owned by Debbie Cantow and her husband.
“It’s shocking. What can you think when you look at property and 221 stumps are in the ground? It’s a shocking event,” she told CBS 2’s John Slattery.
While the Cantows live a couple of blocks away, they own nearly two undeveloped acres behind Patel in the exclusive Rio Vista section of the township. It’s charged that he clear-cut trees worth $1 million to have better view of the Ramapo mountains.
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“I can’t get into the state of mind of Mr. Patel, but I think reasonably we all know where our property lines are. I think it’s a stretch to say that you could go several hundred feet beyond what is your property line and not know where your property line exists,” said police chief James Batelli. “If this was something where he went three or four feet over his property line, then I could think you could reasonably agree that he may not have known exactly… But if you see the site there, it’s pretty apparent that he went a considerable distance beyond his property line.”
“He hired a worker and workers. They made the error,” said Ken Porro, Patel’s attorney.
Patel’s attorney indicated the mistake was made because, visually, it looks like part of Patel’s property. Cantow’s lawyer doesn’t buy it.
“You know you have neighbors next door. You make sure you cut down your trees,” said lawyer Arthur Chagaris.
Patel had already been issued code violations because in Mahwah you can’t chop down more than five trees a year without a permit. Now, criminal charges have been filed for theft and criminal mischief.
“It’s not criminal. It’s just negligence. We should be in the civil court looking at curing the problem, not in criminal, trying to get blood out of this man,” said Porro.
Land attorneys said there’s an old adage: before you do anything to property, you have it surveyed and staked.
Patel is a millionaire owner of many Dunkin Donuts franchises. His attorney said it was only 54 trees, and Patel has offered to replace them.
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