THIS WEEK'S TOP STORIES
By Charles Swenson
Hardee's faces $15,000 in fines for pruning 7 oaks
Revisions to the tree ordinance are still months away, but Georgetown County is already taking a tougher line with violations of the existing rules.
The planning and zoning staff last week cited Hardee’s for 14 violations for the radical pruning of seven oaks along Highway 17 in front of its Pawleys Island restaurant.
The trees, identified as pin oaks, were planted after the restaurant was built, and won praise from a local garden club for improving the highway landscape.
But the tops of the trees have been routinely cut in the past. Hardee’s recently asked to remove the trees, said Joanne Ochal, the county zoning administrator.
Ochal said she turned down the request and a request to cut the limbs from the trees to provide a better view of the restaurant from the highway.
A proposed revision to the tree ordinance would prohibit “tree topping.”
But Boyd Johnson, the director of planning and zoning, said the current ordinance protects trees such as those in front of Hardee’s from “trunk and crown disturbance.”
“One of the problems with this ordinance is that it’s hard to find the language,” he told the Planning Commission at a workshop on the new ordinance last week.
But he found enough reasons to cite the restaurant chain for two code violations for each tree. The maximum fine is $500 for each violation, but with state fees the total could exceed $15,000, Johnson said.
Ochal met with an arborist at the site this week.
“I think he’s going to recommend that because the trees have been so improperly pruned over the years that they be taken out and new ones planted,” Johnson said. “It’s sad.”
He said Hardee’s representatives were “cordial,” and said they didn’t intend for the trimming to be so extreme.
The current ordinance requires replacement trees with trunks at least 2 inches in diameter. That would increase to 3 inches under the proposed revisions.
At last week’s workshop, commission member Tommy Edwards questioned whether the fine is a deterrent to illegal cutting.
“If I wanted it down, I would go ahead and pay the $500,” he said.
Edwards also questioned the ability of the county to enforce the ordinance.
The same issue arose with changes to the roadside vending ordinance, Johnson said, and that has County Council considering whether to let the zoning staff issue tickets on the spot rather than send notice of violations.
Also new to the ordinance is protection for longleaf pine trees on commercial property on Waccamaw Neck.
“We’ve had a good many people ask why we don’t protect pines,” Johnson said.
The protection is limited to longleaf pines, but he said the commission may want to consider loblolly pines, too.
The protection is limited to commercial property because, “people still remember [Hurricane] Hugo and all the pine trees that came down around their houses,” Johnson said.
While commission chairman Jeff Kinard said the existing ordinance goes too far in spelling out how trees should be planted and cared for, he questioned whether it goes far enough in achieving its goal.
“The whole point of the ordinance is to ensure you’ve got trees, and trees where you want trees,” he said.
Kinard suggested the ordinance require property owners be required to plant live oaks on a scale tied to the size of their buildings.
“The whole point is aesthetics,” he said.
The planning staff proposed creating a tree fund that would pay for plantings on county property if a property owner couldn’t meet the mitigation requirements on their own land.
“If you’ve got a piece of commercial property and you can’t plant a tree on it, then you’ve got the wrong land use,” Kinard said.
The planning staff will revise the proposed ordinance, and the commission will hold another workshop in October.
“I really want to get this going,” commission member Glenda Shoulette said.
Kinard said his goal is to have a public hearing by the end of the year, and perhaps as early as November.
The commission is also at work on revisions to the sign ordinance.
Johnson said he received a request from a property owner on Highway 17 to cut a tree because it blocked his sign.
“Move the sign,” commission member Brian Henry said. “This has got to stop.”