For years the city of Charleston was the object of many James Islanders’ wrath. Let others become part of Charleston if they wanted to, but these folks wanted to do things their way — the James Island way.
Now some of those same people who live in the town of James Island believe their government is poised to sacrifice one of the things that makes their town special: trees.
Big trees of a variety of species. Trees that distinguish James Island as a green, appealing suburban destination.
At issue is a revision of the town plan to be considered by Town Council on June 20.
Planners are recommending no change in the tree ordinance — only trees at least 24 inches in diameter at breast height (DBH) are protected.
Many residents reasonably want it more in line with other municipalities: Charleston and North Charleston don’t allow trees eight inches DBH or larger to be removed. Mount Pleasant protects almost all trees 16 inches DBH or larger.
Leonard Blank, James Island town councilman, thinks these residents are rushing things. He plans a workshop in the fall with an arborist and other specialists to advise council on an appropriate ordinance. If changed now to 18 inches DBH or less, and revised again after the workshop, people will be confused.
At this point, what is confusing is why the planning commission didn’t get that kind of advice while making its recommendations. But since it didn’t, any decision is going to be somewhat arbitrary.
Logically, it is likely arborists will advise James Island that 24 inches DBH is not a high enough standard. And it seems prudent to make the adjustment now when the opportunity is presented. Who knows how many trees might be protected in the months before the workshop takes place?
It seems the fundamental difference of opinion has to do with development and annexations.
Planners voted on the side of keeping things easier for developers. Opponents believe that the trees provide their own attraction to sensitive development and the kind of growth that residents — current and prospective — support.
The fact is developers and residents regularly find ways to adhere to the laws in other municipalities, or they obtain special permission to remove protected trees and replace them on the lot or elsewhere.
Twenty-four inches DBH is a large tree, and chopping down trees of that size would change the character of the area significantly.
Is this the best way for James Island to make a decision?
No. The experts should have been consulted before the recommendations were made. But if council errs in favor of trees all it will have to do is reconsider the ordinance.
If it errs in favor of developers, there’s nothing it can do to bring back the large trees that its constituents value and that make James Island ... well, James Island.