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POAs seek exemption for 1-family proerty

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

There is growing concern from property owners groups on Waccamaw Neck about the way revisions to Georgetown County’s tree regulations will affect owners of single-family lots.

But members of the county Planning Commission, which is due to send the revisions to County Council this year, say exempting single-family properties would undermine the purpose of the regulations because most of the property that will be developed in the future will be residential.

The Pawleys Plantation Property Owners Association wrote the commission to object to expanding tree protection on single-family lots.

The current rules only require a permit to cut protected trees in the building setbacks of single-family lots. The revision would extend the permit requirement to the entire lot, but still exempt single-family lots from the tree replacement requirement.

The rules would be hard to enforce and the association “doesn’t wish to be placed in the untenable position of either assisting Georgetown County in enforcing an ordinance that our residents will find particularly onerous and unenforceable in the county at large, or looking the other way if one of our residents violates the ordinance,” Mike Finley, the association’s vice president, wrote.

Commission Member Glenda Shoulette said she has heard from another association, which she declined to name, that also objects to the revised tree rules.

It’s important to maintain the tree cover in commercial zoning districts along the major highways because that’s the public face of the community, she said.

“A single-family lot is a different thing,” she said.

But other members said they don’t see a difference. They suggested that single-family property owners should also be required to replace landmark species, such as live oaks, if they are removed.

Before real estate development came to a halt during the recession, thousands of residential lots were approved for tracts in the western part of the county.

“If you look at the [developments] that are on hold right now, they have some big trees,” commission member Larry Fox said.

Shoulette said developers need to abide by the replacement policy, but not individual lot owners.

“You’re saying the tree on Highway 17 has more value that a tree on a single-family lot,” commission member Brian Henry said.

Henry and Jeff Kinard, who chairs the commission, dismissed the idea that enforcement should be a factor. “We’ve got to do what we think is right from a planning point of view,” Kinard said.

At a workshop last week, Todd Stephenson, a certified arborist and owner of Total Tree Care, told the commission he often gets requests from people to remove trees around their homes. They are concerned about storm damage, and the cost of cutting the tree down is less than the deductible they will have to pay under their insurance policy to repair any damage caused by the tree, he said.

But Stephenson urged the commission to require replacement trees on single-family property. “When a bird flies over Georgetown County, it needs to see more green than black,” he said.

Boyd Johnson, the county planning director, pointed out that pine trees aren’t included among the protected species and that some species of gum trees, known for dripping sap and dropping seed pods, will be removed from the list.

“We do hear that nuisance argument a lot,” said Holly Richardson, a senior planner.

The commission did agree that single-family property owners shouldn’t be required to get permits for root and limb pruning.

They also agreed on a replacement schedule, something that proved more difficult than members expected when they started work on the revision last year.

Under one scenario, a 2.4-acre lot with an 18,000-square-foot building would have needed to plant 1,290 saplings to replace 71 protected trees, including two live oaks. Since there wasn’t room on the lot for the new trees, 39 would have been planted and the owner would pay have paid $372,300 into a “tree bank.”

The commission rejected the idea.

The current proposal links the new plantings to the size of the trees that are removed and caps the number of replacement trees at 45 per acre. For that 18,000-square-foot building on 2.4 acres, the owner would have to replace the 71 cut trees with 90 saplings. He would plant 39 and pay into the tree fund for 51. That would cost $15,300 at $300 a tree, which was the cost first considered.

Kinard said he isn’t sure that is a realistic figure. And Henry questioned whether the county should charge someone once he has planted as many replacement trees as possible.

“These oak trees have value,” Shoulette said.

“Just as much on my neighbor’s lot as on Highway 17,” Kinard said.

Work on the tree rule will continue at the commission’s annual retreat next month.

The commission initially planned to present the revisions to County Council by December 2009.

“Every time we have one of these meetings we go backwards,” Kinard said.

But Shoulette said the continuing debate is important. “We’re just making sure when it goes to County Council it doesn’t blow up,” she said.

Henry reminded the commission that they interrupted a revision of the sign regulations last year to take up the tree rules. After seeing the sign at the new Dollar General store at Pawleys Island, he said they need to get back to signs as soon as possible.

“That sign is nasty,” he said.

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