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Environment: County takes second look at protecting live oaks

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

It looks like Georgetown County might be on the way to restoring protections to some trees on single family residential properties.

When the county Planning Commission meets Dec. 15, it will consider a proposed amendment to the county’s tree ordinance that puts limited restrictions in place to protect “landmark” oak trees on Waccamaw Neck. After review by the commission, the amendment will go before County Council for approval.

Council removed all tree rules from occupied single family residential properties last year during an overhaul of the ordinance. It happened without much public outcry, as the changes to the ordinance also had some benefits according to environmentalists, such as creating protections for trees in waterways.

But when an oak tree estimated to have been 200 years old was cut down in Murrells Inlet in October, a number of local residents were outraged to find there were no permits required for that type of action.

“I guess between the staff and the administration, they decided to take another crack at it because of the tree in Murrells Inlet,” said Holly Richardson, the county’s senior planner.

The proposed amendment, which Council Member Jerry Oakley has been quietly working on over the last several weeks with support from Council Member Bob Anderson, will address trees at least 35 inches diameter (measured at a point 4 feet up from the base).

“So we’re talking about a pretty large tree,” Richardson said.

It hasn’t been decided exactly what types of trees will be included, but Oakley said he expects all types of oaks will be covered, keeping enforcement simple. The county doesn’t want to find itself in a position where it has to call in an arborist to determine if a tree is protected.

Oakley is careful to point out the proposal is “a minor amendment to the existing ordinance. It would likely contemplate only very large, very old, landmark oak trees, and would apply only to a very limited geographic footprint ... Obviously, only a very small number of very significant trees would be affected.”

While a number of people have called for protections to be restored to oak trees, arguing their aesthetic appeal is part of the area’s attraction to tourists, there are still plenty who won’t want county government regulating what they can do with trees on their property.

Personal property rights are a major concern for Oakley and Anderson. Anderson said he has his reservations about the proposed amendment, but he’s willing to consider it and “if it makes sense I’ll probably vote for it to protect landmark oaks and only landmark oaks.”

Oakley came to Anderson and asked him to consider an amendment that would restore very limited protections, Anderson said. “I am hard headed, but if somebody comes to me and asks me to consider the reality of it, I’ll do my due diligence.”

Anderson said he would like the amendment to look at the circumference of trees rather than the diameter.

Protections on single family residential property would be restricted to Waccamaw Neck “because of the high density there and larger threat of removal,” Richardson said.

Related stories

Oct. 27: No permit required as owner cuts down live oak

Nov. 3: Groups may press for live oak protections

Nov. 24: POA group backs residential tree protection

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