THIS WEEK'S TOP STORIES
Judge says rules unclear, tosses out citations
By Charles Swenson
Tree regulations in Georgetown County are ambiguous, a magistrate ruled this week, finding a car dealer not guilty of two violations in cutting part of an oak tree along Highway 17.
Bob Paglio, an owner of Tidelands Chrysler, said he thought he was following the law when he had a tree service remove one of the three trunks on the oak that sits on a corner of his lot.
“It’s safe now. It’s a healthy tree,” he said.
County zoning officials said Paglio needed a permit to do any work on the tree. Although he submitted an application to prune the oak, no permit was issued before the work was done, said Barbara Mayfield, a code enforcement official.
But the county permit form says “tree removal permit.”
“It is somewhat ambiguous,” Magistrate Dan Furr said after hearing testimony Wednesday.
That included hearing from the man who did the work, John McCarthy, who owns a tree service. He testified that he didn’t consider the work pruning, but said it wasn’t a tree removal, either. He said he knew Georgetown County requires a permit to remove a tree, but said after 15 years in business he wasn’t aware a permit is needed for pruning.
“I wouldn’t put myself in a position for a few hundred dollars to put myself on the wrong side of the legal system,” McCarthy told the court.
“The court has issues with that tree being cut the way it was,” Furr said.
But he said the county did not meet the standard of showing beyond a reasonable doubt that a violation occurred in bringing a criminal charge against Paglio.
“This is not giving you or anyone else a free hand in starting to destroy oak trees,” Furr told Paglio. “It was partially removed. That’s why you’re getting this determination.”
Joanne Ochal, the county zoning administrator, said after the hearing the county knows there are ambiguities in the tree rules. The Planning Commission is at work on revisions to the rules, which are part of the zoning ordinance.
The verdict was not a disappointment, she said, because the case has raised awareness of the tree rules.
In September, the county cited Hardee’s for 14 violations in pruning of seven oaks in front of its restaurant on Highway 17.
That case is due to be heard later this month. Violations carry a maximum fine of $500, but with state fees added on, the cost can top $1,000 for each violation.
That’s because Hardee’s is claiming that the trees it has are turkey oaks, and not included in the current list, said Boyd Johnson, the county planning director.
Simply listing oaks creates “a possible loophole,” said Bob Schumacher, a Sierra Club member who has worked on proposed changes to the county’s rules. “A good lawyer can get around that.”