Tree protection laws in county closer to update

  • Friday, April 11, 2014

It’s likely tree protection restrictions will soon be loosened for single family residences and tightened for land developers within Dorchester County.

The county Planning, Development and Building Committee, and later County Council, approved a second reading for two ordinances amending the county’s current tree laws.

At the April 7 meeting, the committee held a public hearing for an ordinance to delete and replace the current Zoning and Land Development Standards Section 12.4. The ordinance defines the county’s tree protection requirements for developers and property owners.

According to the ordinance, certain trees in the county are protected, including “significant trees” and “great trees,” which are of 15 inches or greater diameter, collectively. Previously, real estate developers were required to either design site plans around these protected trees, or replace them after the fact.

Replanting is easier said than done though, according to Planning and Zoning Manager Alec Brebner, which is why the new ordinance will add “stronger, clearer language for real estate developers.”

Part of the stronger language includes implementing a new “tree bank” system, which will provide a mechanism for the county to receive payment for required trees that are not mitigated through replanting.

The public hearing concluded with no comments from the general public.

Councilwoman Carroll Duncan, one of three committee members, proposed several amendments to the language of the new ordinance, all of which were unanimously approved.

The single family residence exemption in the ordinance “Applicability” section, 12.4.3 A-6, was amended to delete exemptions for pine trees, meaning property owners are only required to protect trees of a certain size, not of a certain species.

She also proposed an amendment to the same section that would add an exemption, A-7, for rural home sites. The exemption stipulates any single family residence on a parcel of land in rural zoning must follow the same exemption requirements as tree harvesters and foresters, which is looser than that of suburban single family properties.

Councilwoman Duncan explained she proposed the rural home exemption because “we shouldn’t be treating suburban areas the same as rural areas. It’s not one size fits all.”

Her final amendment was to change the stipulation for significant trees from 15 – 24 inches in diameter to 12 – 24 inches in diameter. The councilwoman said the change is to be more consistent with town protections, which reflect the smaller size.

The committee also held a public hearing at the meeting for an ordinance to adopt the 2014 Dorchester County Tree Planting Plan.

The plan stipulates the county will plant trees on public lands and along public corridors, schools, parks and in public transportation right-of-ways.

The plan also outlines the new “tree bank” system, as referred to in the previous ordinance, which will handle funds for the Tree Planting Plan.

When a developer cuts down a protected tree and does not replant as mitigation, the developer will be charge a fee. Once adopted, the fees will be deposited into the tree bank account to be used only for implementing the Tree Planting Plan.

The public hearing closed with no comment from the general public.

“This will put money into a specific fund so all it’s used for is to replant trees, especially in the areas where they’re needed,” committee Chairman David Chinnis said.

Councilwoman Duncan said she was in full support of the plan.

“This is something we’ve needed for so long. It’s something so many of us have wanted for such a long time.”

The committee unanimously voted to recommend second reading of the two ordinances to the full council.

County Council unanimously voted, with Councilman Jay Byars absent, to give second reading to the ordinances with amendments.

The council has to give third and final reading to the ordinance before it is officially adopted.

Councilman Chinnis said he will request third reading at the next council meeting, on April 21 in St. George.

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