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Tree rules: Revisions now face public comment

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Tougher tree protection laws could be in place in Georgetown County by the end of May, according to county planning officials.

The Georgetown County Planning Commission has been working for about six months to revise the tree protection rules in the zoning ordinance. Members said in a workshop last week that they’re ready to see a final draft of the revised document. That will be presented at the commission’s April 15 meeting.

A public hearing on the changes is also scheduled at that meeting.

If the amended ordinance is approved, it will go to County Council on April 27.

“Unless there are some surprises, it should go very quickly from here,” said Boyd Johnson, the county planning director.

He said he’s pleased with the revised ordinance, calling it “balanced.”

The measure extends protection to large hardwood species, and requires a permit to remove protected species. It also includes a new formula for planting replacement trees.

“I think it addresses all the concerns, maybe not perfectly, but it does a good job of protecting the trees without putting onerous requirements on a businesses and shutting down development,” he said.

The current rules “hard to interpret and very difficult to enforce,” Johnson said.

During a workshop last week, commission members made only a few minor changes. Under one, a “tree fund” made up of fines for violations of the rules, will now be able to be use to install landscaping.

Commission member Tommy Edwards suggested taking a closer look at rules for tree replacement in the event of a disaster. Using a major hurricane as an example, he said replacing all the trees covered under the ordinance within a year could be unrealistic.

If there’s another storm like Hurricane Hugo, “it could take a couple of years to rebuild and be in a position to replace trees,” he said.

The commission decided to extend the time frame to three years.

Another late change will prevent a property owner from rezoning land to a forestry district, cutting the trees, then changing the zoning again to allow for development.

With work complete on the tree regulations, the commission will turn its sights to the sign ordinance.

The commission started work on that ordinance last summer, but shifted to trees because members thought they would be able to revise those rules quickly.

“I think the signs will probably be more controversial than the trees,” Johnson said. “Everybody has an opinion on signs.”

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