They carried bright green signs that read "Save Urban Forests." They delivered a tree-themed prayer.

They also warned other communities to be on the lookout for the sort of dense zoning on James Island that easily could come their way, too.

About 20 people lined Maybank Highway on Thursday morning to protest the scheduled removal of hundreds of trees needed to make way for a 280-unit apartment complex and a six-level parking garage.

Attendees, who came from several neighborhoods in the area, said wildlife was destined to disappear because of the project. They also lamented that hundreds more cars a day would be added to an already busy road system.

"This is a parking lot in the morning," said Lucy Glenn of the nearby Wappoo Creek area.

Martha Bryson, also of Wappoo Creek, said the apartment concept may have looked good on paper years ago but the new reality is that Maybank already is cluttered. Adding apartments and the hundreds of cars that go with them will make it that much worse, she said.

Still, their protest seems destined to gain little traction. The city of Charleston says the developer has all the approvals needed to build the four-story complex known as "The Standard Apartment Homes" on about five acres of a 22-acre parcel. The project also includes some first-floor retail.

Mike Schwarz, of Woodfield Developments, which is in charge of the site, said Thursday that he misspoke last week when he said the tree removal would begin the day after Christmas. The new target date is Jan. 6 or 7, he said.

The project, adjacent to Bethany United Methodist Church and behind the James Island Shopping Center, is considered significant in local development circles because it is the first major effort built under Charleston's Gathering Place zoning category.

The relatively new classification is designed to encourage more pedestrian, bicycling and public transit by allowing a denser mix of homes, shops and offices in certain centrally located suburban areas.

While the apartment project has been in the works for years, some locals have spoken out against it as being too large and out of character for James Island.

Others fear the long lines of cars that could add to the traffic snarl that occurs when the nearby drawbridge opens over the Intracoastal Waterway.

The developer said there are plans to add a right-turn lane into the apartments from Maybank.

Cathryn Zommer, who helped organize the protest, said her group will return to the site when the tree removal begins. "We very much would like to be there when it happens," she said.

All construction work on the project is expected to be completed by July 2015.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.