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Second business cited as tree rule revisions continue

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A hearing in magistrate’s court over alleged violations of Georgetown County’s tree regulations at the Hardee’s in Pawleys Island was postponed last week so the restaurant could be represented by an attorney.

But the case has already raised awareness of the tree rules, a county official said. And the Planning Commission will review changes that would toughen the rules at a workshop today.

Hardee’s faces up to $15,000 in fines for “trunk and crown disturbance” of seven oaks in front of its restaurant on Highway 17. They were pruned last month after the county zoning administrator denied a request to remove limbs to improve the restaurant’s visibility.

Over the years, the trees have been topped to limit their height.

In addition to the county’s $500 fine for each violation, the state would add fees that would raise the cost to more than $1,000, said Boyd Johnson, the county’s director of planning and zoning.

“We have a letter from an arborist that says they’ve been pruned so incorrectly they have to be replaced,” he said.

Hardee’s managers said they didn’t intend the pruning to be so extreme, according to Johnson.

“I’m sure that they didn’t know what the fine would be,” he said.

The restaurant chain now has an attorney to represent it. Johnson said he has spoken with the county attorney, Wesley Bryant, but said zoning staff have represented the county in previous enforcement actions in magistrate’s court.

Since the Hardee’s citations, the zoning administrator, Joanne Ochal, has also cited Tidelands Chrysler Dodge for improper pruning of an oak on its property on Highway 17.

“The main trunk is gone,” Johnson said.

He showed the Planning Commission a photo of the tree at a workshop on the tree regulations last month. Without identifying the owner, he said there was a request to prune the tree to improve visibility of the business sign.

“Tell them to move the sign,” commission member Brian Henry said.

The tree, on the south side of the dealership, had three trunks. One was cut.

“I thought I was doing everything right,” said Bob Paglio, an owner of the dealership. “I had a professional tree company give their expert advice on it.”

A hearing in magistrate’s court on the citation is scheduled for next week.

The zoning office is asking for a $500 fine and the planting of a replacement tree, Johnson said.

He could only recall one other time the county went to court over tree regulations. That was for a tree cut on Bypass 17. The owner was fined $50 and told to plant a new tree, Johnson said.

Regardless of the outcome of the pending cases, Johnson says the enforcement actions have been effective.

“I look at it as we’ve won already because we’ve increased the awareness,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of people calling and asking” before they cut.

Proposed changes to the tree regulations, which are part of the county zoning ordinance, would require a permit to cut hardwoods with a trunk 8 inches or more in diameter. The ordinance currently requires a permit only to cut trees of that size if they are within the building setbacks of a parcel.

Those trees are considered “significant.” Trees with 30-inch diameter trunks are considered “landmark” trees.

The proposed rules would also require permits to prune trees, except for those on single-family lots.

On Waccamaw Neck, it would require a permit to cut longleaf pines with a diameter of 12 inches or more on commercial or multi-family property. No other species of pines would be protected.

Permits will be issued if the trees are diseased or damaged, if they are a hazard to structures or other trees, and if there is no “reasonable use” for the property without removing the trees. Trees that are cut must be replaced.

And trees growing in waterways outside “certified property lines” can’t be cut unless there is no viable option for installing a dock.

The commission will review the revised ordinance at 4 p.m. in County Council chambers. Commission members say they want to pass the new ordinance along to County Council by the end of the year.

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