North Charleston's Planning Commission has rejected a modified plan by Mayor Keith Summey to exempt most pine trees from the city's tree-protection ordinance.
Summey has said the current rules are unfair to developers, who must survey trees on property they plan to develop, and plant trees or pay into a city tree fund to make up for trees they cut down. Pine trees shouldn't count, the mayor has said.
An earlier plan to exempt all pine trees from city regulations was unanimously rejected by the Planning Commission, whose votes are recommendations to the City Council. City Council members also balked at exempting all pine trees, and in a divided vote agreed in January to exempt pines less than two feet in diameter.
The Planning Commission didn't like that idea either.
"I just feel it's not the right thing to do," said commission member James Kramer, at a meeting Monday night. "I feel like we need to really rethink this and maybe keep it as it is."
Kramer said the pine tree exemption also would make no distinction between Loblolly and Longleaf pine trees. The former is a fast-growing tree known as a staple of the pulp-and-paper industry, while the later is valued as wildlife habitat.
Planning Commissioner Joseph McIntyre said both types of pine are worthy of protection, unless they are creating a hazard for homeowners. The city rules include exceptions for trees that are endangering homes.
"Pine trees are part of the Lowcountry," McIntyre said. "We feel (the proposed exemption) is detrimental to the community - to the whole state, really."
None of the commission members supported the revised ordinance Monday. Commissioners Suzanne Thigpen and Anna Montgomery were not at the meeting.
Currently, any tree eight inches in diameter at breast height is covered by North Charleston's tree protection rules. However, the replace-or-pay requirement is halved when pine trees are cut down.
At a mid-January City Council meeting, the council voted 8-3 to support the mayor's revised plan, to exempt pine trees less than two feet in diameter, but a second vote would be needed to make the rule change.
One opponent, Councilman Bob King, suggested during the January meeting that the change was being proposed "for some particular properties" that he did not name.
Summey denied the accusation.
With the Planning Commission's recommendation, the pine tree ordinance will return to City Council for a final vote, tentatively scheduled for March 13.
"The mayor is aware of the (Planning Commission) vote and looks forward to continuing discussions with City Council on the issue," city spokesman Ryan Johnson said Tuesday.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552