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Broader rules for tree protection not likely to get past council

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Revised tree protection rules proposed for Georgetown County are “overreaching,” said Council Member Glen O’Connell.

They put too many restrictions on residential property owners and are so extensive that county staff wouldn’t have the time to enforce them, he said this week at a meeting of council’s Land Use and Tourism Committee.

The result of a six month review by the Planning Commission and staff, the proposed rules went to council for approval in May and were sent to committee.

But O’Connell, the committee chairman, said he thinks it’s unlikely the committee will take on the task of trying to fix the revised rules.

“I suspect it will either be voted up or down,” he said. He wouldn’t vote for the ordinance as it is written, he said.

The committee will meet Aug. 10 to make a recommendation.

One of the major problems, O’Connell said, is the new rules would require residential property owners to get a permit to cut down protected trees, which are generally hardwoods with trunks at least 8 inches in diameter. He said the list of protected species is too extensive and he doesn’t understand why some trees were included.

County Administrator Sel Hemingway told the committee to consider the number of people who would be likely to seek permits under the proposed rules.

“Do you want every single resident of a mind to cut a tree to come get a permit?” Hemingway asked.

The current rules only apply to some trees on single-family lots.

O’Connell said he favors going back to the existing regulations, which are part of the zoning ordinance, and making less extensive changes to make them more effective. He isn’t convinced the county needs all the new rules being proposed.

“Personally, I think there’s a disconnect between what is being proposed and how the problem is being defined,” O’Connell said. “We do have instances where people have abused the trees, but those are relatively seldom.”

Boyd Johnson, the county planning director, said the county deals with 10 to 12 violations of the tree rules a year.

Council Member Jerry Oakley, who also sits on the committee, said he hasn’t decided yet whether he supports trying to fix the proposed revision.

“Whatever we do,” he said, “what we come up with needs to be realistic, reasonable, enforceable and have widespread support. Otherwise, we won’t change anything.”

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