North Charleston has always had the reputation of a good place for business and industry. Now, it's as well regarded as a family friendly city, and is burnishing that image with new residential developments and by targeting derelict property.
To that end, City Council should be very careful this afternoon as it considers a more lenient ordinance regulating the removal of pine trees.
What is on the table is a compromise. Business-friendly Mayor Keith Summey would like to stop protecting pine trees altogether. He says they pose problems and increase costs for developers.
Every member of the city's Planning Commission disagrees. They say the current ordinance works well. It protects all trees, including pines, that are eight inches in diameter at chest height, or larger.
Council this afternoon will continue debate on an ordinance that falls somewhere in between the two. Pine trees 20 inches in diameter at chest height, or larger, would be subject to mitigation rules.
The current law doesn't hobble developers, but it can cost them some time and money. If one wants to cut a 14-inch pine tree, he can get permission to do so by planting another tree or paying into the city's tree fund. Both are reasonable options.
A good place for today's discussion to begin would be whether a change is even appropriate. City Councilman Bob King says no.
"The public wasn't dissatisfied with the ordinance we have now. ... There was nothing wrong with the ordinance to begin with."
But Mayor Summey says developers have complained to him. Council should insist on some specific examples of when the ordinance was overly burdensome.
Then there are the details of the proposed ordinance. Planning Commission member James Kramer and Councilman Ron Brinson have both noted that the ordinance does not distinguish one kind of pine tree from the next. It should. A fast-growing loblolly pine often used in the pulp-and-paper industry is easier to replace than a lovely, endangered longleaf pine. The ordinance should make such distinctions.
And Council would do well to call for information about similar ordinances elsewhere and the benefits they did, or didn't, deliver.
If those questions can't be answered today, Council would be wise to postpone a vote until they can.
The very purpose of a tree ordinance is to balance the interests of developers and the interests of residents. Developers are in business to make money. Residents care about aesthetics, clean air and shade. They like to open their windows and hear birds chirping.
North Charleston City Council plays a key role in ensuring that the city is appealing to businesses that bring jobs and boost the economy - but not to the extent that it compromises residents' quality of life.
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