As North Charleston officials continue to debate a developer-friendly rule change for cutting down pine trees, the city is pursuing separate deals that would reduce tree-cutting restrictions for two large developments.
The largest of those deals involves more than 440 acres of land where Boeing plans to expand operations near Charleston International Airport. The other involves 57 acres along Cross County Road that's now home to the Paintball Charleston business.
While the city Planning Commission has opposed several versions of a plan to change the city's tree protection ordinance that would remove protection of most pine trees, the commission supported a development agreement for the Paintball Charleston land that calls for "extreme cut and fill" of the land.
The Boeing agreement could result in hundreds of acres being cleared, in exchange for agreements on buffer areas and a payment to the city. The Boeing agreement has been approved by the city Zoning Board of Appeals, but like the Paintball Charleston plan, it has not been reviewed by City Council.
"I think there has to be a fair balance, and I don't think you can do that when you clear-cut," said Councilman Todd Olds, who represents neighborhoods abutting the Boeing expansion land. "But I will say, there are case-by-case scenarios we have to look at."
Olds said he hadn't learned about the Boeing agreement yet. Neither had Councilman Ed Astle, whose district includes some of the Boeing expansion property.
The proposed deal calls for Boeing to leave 100-foot buffer areas along some parts of the property's edge, landscape along proposed roads through the properties, and contribute $200,000 to the city for tree mitigation on and off the properties.
Without a special agreement, developers must survey the trees on property they plan to develop, and either plant new trees or pay into the city's tree fund for every tree removed that's larger than 8 inches in diameter at chest height. Also, trees that are two feet or more in diameter are considered "grand" and protected from cutting in many circumstances, under the usual city rules.
"We believe the city ordinance, as written, was never meant to cover such a large amount of property," said Boeing spokeswoman Candy Eslinger. "Surveying the property alone would have been both a significant time and cost impact on site expansion plans."
The proposed $200,000 contribution would be a windfall for the city's tree fund, which had collected $650,000 over an 11-year period.
"That would buy a lot of trees," said city spokesman Ryan Johnson. "It's obviously a reduction from what they would otherwise pay, under the ordinance."
Eslinger said the plan would "provide a robust undisturbed buffer area to neighbors and add tree preservation areas and streetscaping that would not otherwise exist in the area."
Olds said he'd be curious about how much money Boeing will make by selling the timber, if the company clears the land. Roughly 300 acres of the more than 440 are woods and wetlands.
In the case of the Paintball Charleston property, the agreement does not call for any extra contribution to the city's tree fund. Instead, the agreement would allow any tree less than 24 inches in diameter to be removed without replacement if the tree is within the footprint of proposed buildings, driveways or drainage ponds.
In addition, the developer is seeking a change from city tree protection rules, to allow the clearing of any pine or gum tree without having to replace them or pay into the city's tree fund. The land is owned by L-J Inc., a grading contractor based in Columbia.
Olds said he couldn't think of any similar deals during his time on City Council.
As those two proposals work their way through the city's review process, Mayor Keith Summey has been urging City Council to change the tree protection rules to exempt most pine trees. The issue has been bouncing between City Council and the Planning Commission since early January.
The proposed change would save developers time and money, by reducing the need to survey pine trees and by eliminating tree-mitigation fees and tree-replacement costs for cutting them down. An initial proposal would have exempted all pine trees, while the latest version would apply to those less than 20 inches in diameter.
Astle and other members of City Council and the Planning Commission have opposed the change, saying that it's not needed. The pine tree rules come up again for discussion at a City Council committee meeting March 20 at 5 p.m. at City Hall.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552