THIS WEEK'S TOP STORIES
From 1 project, 1,290 saplings take root
By Charles Swenson
Changes to the Georgetown County tree regulations won’t go to County Council this year because the Planning Commission is still wrestling with a formula for replacing trees cut to make way for development.
Under the current rules, someone who cuts a large oak would be required to plant three saplings with 2-inch diameter trunks.
The commission seemed ready to embrace an idea from the local Sierra Club chapter that would require owners to maintain their property’s tree cover by replacing cut trees with smaller trees whose trunks add up to the same “basal area.” The rules apply to “significant” trees, which are generally defined as hardwoods with trunks at least 8 inches in diameter.
But when planning staff applied the concept to an actual development plan, it found that the developer of a 2.4 acre lot with an 18,000-square-foot building would have to plant 1,290 saplings to mitigate the loss of two large live oaks and 69 other hardwoods. There is only room on the lot for 39 new trees, so the owner would pay into a “tree bank.” At $300 a tree, which an arborist said is the actual cost, the property owner would owe the tree bank $372,300.
“County Council isn’t going to charge somebody $300,000,” commission member Glenda Shoulette said.
And there is the larger question of whether developed property should be expected to have the same amount of trees as vacant land.
“You can’t have the same number of trees,” commission chairman Jeff Kinard said.
“It has to be a reasonable number they replace,” Shoulette said. “After that they go into the tree bank.”
Holly Richardson, a senior planner, looked at alternatives using the same proposed development. By replacing the small trees at 10 percent of their basal area, larger trees at 20 percent and the live oaks at 50 percent, the developer would have to come up with 283 replacement trees. Giving him credit for the trees that are left and cutting the tree bank contribution to $50 a tree, the developer would owe the bank $11,700.
“It makes sense to give a greater value to the bigger trees,” she said. And with other changes to the tree rules “it gives the zoning administrator a lot more authority to save landmark trees.”
Another factor is the availability of replacement trees. They’re already hard to find under the current replacement schedule, Richardson said.
“Maybe what we have today is appropriate,” Johnson said.
Under the current rules, the developer has to plant 51 replacement trees of at least 2-inches in diameter.
“There should be some sticker shock,” commission member Brian Henry said. “At some point, we have to discourage taking down trees.”
Henry thought the graduated replacement scale worked best, and pointed out that the replacement trees will grow larger. Kinard agreed. “You need to scale this more for the bigger trees,” Kinard said.
The commission agreed to look at the replacement options at a workshop next month. That will move a public hearing back to January. The changes will need three readings from County Council.
Other changes specify the need for permits to disturb trees. A magistrate this month tossed out two citations for trimming at Tidelands Chrysler Dodge, saying the rules are ambiguous.
The new rules will also specify that all species of certain hardwoods are covered. That follows settlement of 14 citations issued to Hardee’s for radical pruning of oaks in front of its restaurant at Pawleys Island. The chain argued that the trees are turkey oaks, and not mentioned in the current ordinance.
The proposed rules include longleaf pines as a “significant” species on Waccamaw Neck. No pines are covered by the current rules.
That could affect the replacement rules, commission member William Frasier said. “If you leave one pine tree, it will replant itself,” he said.