After three months of debate, North Charleston City Council has made it easier and less expensive for people and development companies to cut down pine trees.

Essentially, pine trees smaller than 20 inches in diameter will no longer count, under rules that otherwise require people to plant trees or pay into a city tree fund when trees are cut down.

For developers, the change will reduce both the potential payments to North Charleston's tree replacement fund, and the up-front cost of conducting tree surveys.

Mayor Keith Summey first proposed the change in January, saying that existing rules are unfair to developers.

His plan bounced back and forth between the city's Planning Commission - which recommended rejection of each version - and the City Council, as changes were made to the proposal.

Notably, the mayor's initial proposal would have exempted all pine trees from protection. The 20-inch rule was added later.

Still to come is an amendment to the freshly-approved regulations that will reinstate protection for Longleaf and ornamental pine trees.

The common Loblolly pine, a staple of the timber industry that tends to drop limbs and snap in high winds, was the target of the ordinance.

"They are not nice trees," Summey said at one meeting.

Pressed by Councilman Ron Brinson to make a public pledge Thursday night before the vote, Summey promised to make the changes involving Longleaf and ornamental pines in the coming months.

The council did not amend the ordinance Thursday, because that would have meant it had to go back to the Planning Commission again, prolonging the process.

The new pine tree regulations were approved on a 7-3 vote, with Councilman Bobby Jameson absent. Voting against the changes were council members Bob King, Ed Astle, and Todd Olds.

Olds wanted the standard for pine trees deserving of some protection to be 16 inches rather than 20. King and Astle said current regulations did not need to be changed.

"I think you know in your heart that we should not pass this," King told the mayor.

"I can assure you that, in my heart, I do not feel that way," Summey replied.

Olds said he thinks the rule changes will be good ones, once the protection for Longleaf and ornamental pines are added back in, but he said he wouldn't vote for the rules presented Thursday without those provisions.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552