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Environment: Live oak protection wins approval

Protection for large live oaks on residential property was approved by a cautious Georgetown County Planning Commission this week. Members said that while the Waccamaw Neck Tree Protection Overlay Zone is needed, it needs to be limited in scope to win approval from County Council.

The commission hearing drew 14 people, all in support of the proposal, which was prompted by the cutting of a live oak at a home in Murrells Inlet. Permits were required to cut large hardwoods on occupied residential lots until 2010, when County Council approved an exemption for those properties.

The council also rewrote a revision of the tree regulations that the commission had worked on for several years. Memories of that reversal are still fresh with commission members.

The measure passed by the commission this week requires a permit to cut live oaks with a diameter 30 inches or greater. The planning staff recommended 32 inches, based on their sense of what County Council would approve, said Boyd Johnson, the county planning director.

Speakers at the public hearing recommended 24 inches. They also recommended protections for a wider range of hardwoods and want to extend those protections county-wide. (A permit is already required to cut hardwoods on commercial and undeveloped residential property.)

Amy Armstrong, head of the S.C. Environmental Law Project, told the commission that the proposed 32-inch limit would still make trees such as those that cover the historic district in Georgetown exempt from permit requirements. She showed the commission a series of photos with a tape measure held up to the trunk of towering oaks, none of which met the 32-inch threshold.

Commission member Larry Fox suggested Armstrong show the photos to County Council, when the tree protection zone comes up for the next round of approvals.

Commission member Glenda Shoulette said she was reluctant to alter the staff recommendation and risk another rebuff from County Council. But she also noted that the 30-inch limit was the one that existed before council created the exemption. Her motion to approve the zone with the lower limit passed unanimously.

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