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County strikes deal over oaks pruned at Hardee's

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County will drop 14 citations issued to Hardee’s for pruning trees outside its restaurant at Pawleys Island in exchange for an agreement that will restore the trees, according to the county’s planning and zoning director.

The zoning administrator cited Hardee’s in September after seven trees bordering Highway 17 were pruned to allow a better view of the restaurant from the road. The 14 violations each carried a maximum fine of $500, but with additional state fees, the restaurant chain faced $15,000 in fines.

A hearing on the violations scheduled for Wednesday was cancelled after the county and Hardee’s reached an agreement Tuesday afternoon.

“They maintain that they can save those trees,” said Boyd Johnson, the county planning and zoning director. “Their arborist says the trees can come back if they deep-root feed them.”

The cost will be about $1,200, he said.

“They’ve agreed that any tree that dies they will replace,” Johnson said.

The citations were issued as the Planning Commission started work on a revision of the tree rules contained in the county zoning ordinance. The current rules require a permit to remove or disturb certain species of hardwood trees with trunks greater than 8 inches in diameter. Joanne Ochal, the zoning administrator, said Hardee’s was turned down for a permit.

The county hired an arborist who said the severe pruning made it unlikely the trees would survive.

“They have an arborist who has a different opinion than our arborist,” Johnson said.

Hardee’s claimed that the trees were not one of the seven species listed in the county’s rules, he said.

After a magistrate’s decision in another case that the county’s tree rules are ambiguous, Johnson said he was willing to negotiate.

“There were some holes in our ordinance,” he said.

The Planning Commission is due to continue its discussion of the tree rules today.

But Johnson said more property owners are calling and asking about the existing regulations. “I think it’s because of the publicity,” he said. “I feel like we’ve gained an awful lot just by writing the tickets.”

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