A former Aquinnah homeowner has been fined $15,000 for topping approximately 20 large-growth trees in and around his property, including four on town land, without a permit.

The tree-topping occurred in early November, according to documents filed with the town, less than two weeks before homeowner Alan Slatas sold his property at 7 Rose Meadow Way for $2.7 million.

After the town planning board denied a retroactive special permit request from the property owner to approve the tree cutting, town officials and Mr. Slatas agreed to the $15,000 settlement.

The Aquinnah selectmen signed a release acknowledging the payment at their meeting last Tuesday, with the approval of town counsel Michael Goldsmith.

“That’ll put this issue to rest, rather than to litigate further,” town administrator Jeffrey Madison said at the meeting.

The 0.7-acre property, which includes a 3,000 square foot home built in 2018 as well as a smaller structure, was assessed at $1.3 million and sold on Nov. 19, according to land records.

According to documents provided by the town, the issue dates to Nov. 7, when Mr. Slatas and another individual topped between three to six feet off approximately 20 trees, including four on the town cemetery lot.

The cutting occurred 12 days before the sale, when the house was still on the market, according to a letter from Mr. Slatas to town officials.

On Dec. 11, 2020, town tree warden Steve Yaffe issued a clearing and cutting violation to Mr. Slatas for “pruning for views with no permit on town land,” as well as in wetlands. He said the violation applied to approximately 20 trees.

The violation was followed by a citation from building inspector Lenny Jason on Dec. 18, informing Mr. Slatas that he could be subject to fines.

Violations of state conservation regulations can result in a $300 daily fine for each tree over three inches that is cut, topped or aggressively pruned without a permit. Fines can be assessed until the violator submits a special permit application and restoration plan to the town planning board, according to state law.

With its townwide district of critical planning concern, Aquinnah also has town bylaws that strictly limit building and development on land in the town to preserve historic viewsheds and rural character.

Town records show Mr. Slatas filed a retroactive special permit application for the tree cutting in early 2021. The issue infuriated abutters, who sent lengthy letters expressing concern with the tree cutting, as well as prior construction, land clearing and home building on the property.

The town discussed the special permit request at a public hearing on March 16. In a follow up hearing on April 13 the planning board voted 7-0 to deny the permit, according to meeting minutes. “The committee did not feel that they could approve a permit for property that the violator does not own any more or approve topping on town property,” minutes state.

In a lengthy May 14 letter to Mr. Jason and the town planning board, Mr. Slatas apologized for the cutting, calling it a “serious mistake” and saying he agreed with the decision not to issue a permit. He said he hoped for a timely resolution.

“I knew better that I needed to meet with the tree warden to get the approval to do this work,” Mr. Slatas wrote. “I was not thinking clearly and skipped this important step.”

After back and forth between town officials, lawyers and Mr. Slatas, the two sides agreed to a $15,000 fine.

No remediation work will be required, and current homeowners have stated they were not aware of the cutting until the violation was issued, according to planning board minutes.

Mr. Madison said last week the settlement was far less than the potential fines Mr. Slatas could have faced in court.

“The fines that he would have to pay, were we to win litigation, are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Mr. Madison said. “So, you know, he’s getting off pretty cheap.”

Kate Dario contributed reporting.