082417 Environment: County will make revisions to tree ordinance
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Live oaks are trimmed at Holy Cross-Faith Memorial Church.

Environment: County will make revisions to tree ordinance

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Revisions to land use regulations are needed to preserve the trees that help define Georgetown County’s landscape, according to County Council Member Steve Goggans. But for now, those changes will focus on the Waccamaw Neck, the source of growing complaints about the ordinance and the loss of trees to development.

At Goggans’ request, the county planning staff reviewed the ordinance, which was last updated in 2011. Although it was changed to exempt trees on occupied single-family lots, Boyd Johnson, the county planning director, said the ordinance was also strengthened to protect trees along waterfronts and longleaf pines on Waccamaw Neck. “The big problem that we have is now that the economy has returned the tract builders are back,” he said.

Last week, the Planning Commission was asked to approve a plan for a 13-lot subdivision on Waverly Road that calls for cutting a 48-inch diameter live oak and a “twin oak” with trunks totalling 50 inches. The engineer for the project said one needed to be cut to make way for a stormwater retention pond. The other had to go because of the way the prospective buyer, a homebuilder, drew the lots and street. “Seems like we could fix that,” commission member Lee Shoulette said.

The commission conditioned its approval on the developer “making every effort” to save the two oak trees.

Johnson said at another housing tract, which he didn’t name, the ordinance protected the live oaks from being cut but didn’t prevent the developer from adding 4 inches of fill dirt, which will eventually kill the trees.

“That is the No. 1 problem,” he said, tract development. At No. 2, he placed the stormwater ordinance, which he said is sometimes at odds with the tree ordinance.

“There are several issues we can look at to make it a better ordinance,” Johnson said. “I think we can do some things without being overbearing.”

The ordinance comes with a $500 per tree fine for violations, but Johnson said the goal is to prevent cutting trees. “You can fine them, but you’re not getting the tree back,” he said.

Goggans asked County Council this week to endorse the revision. “Our county has fallen behind some other communities,” he said.

But Council Chairman Johnny Morant questioned the need to change a countywide ordinance when the concerns are located on Waccamaw Neck. He said he would support changes for the Waccamaw Neck along the lines of the “overlay zone” that limits big-box retail stores on Highway 17.

Goggans said he didn’t object to creating separate rules for the Waccamaw Neck. “Trees obviously add a lot of character to the community,” he said.

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