Businesses cutting trees in Dorchester County will now have the option to pay for the county to replace them rather than doing it themselves.

Dorchester County Council unanimously approved a "Fee in Lieu of Planting Trees Requirement for Mitigation" ordinance at its meeting Monday.

The fee will allow businesses an alternative method for mitigating tree removal during the construction process. And it will give the county some leeway in where to replant trees.

Previously, if a property developer cut down a protected tree during construction he was required to replant a tree on the property as mitigation.

The motion to adopt the fee was one of three changes in the county's tree protection policy.

At the April 7 council meeting, the Planning, Development and Building Committee voted to amend the current Zoning and Land Development Standards section under the Tree and Canopy Protection Standards, to loosen restrictions on single family residences and tighten restrictions on developers.

As a part of changing developers' restrictions, the updated ordinance implements a new "tree bank" system as part of its Tree Planting Plan.

According to the plan, when a developer cuts down a protected tree and does not replant as mitigation, the developer will be charged a fee. The fees will be deposited into the tree bank account to be used only for replacing trees in public county spaces.

Protected trees are 15 inches or greater in diameter at breast height.

In a unanimous vote, the fee was set at $200 per caliper-inch at the Monday meeting, as recommended by the planning and zoning department.

The council also unanimously voted to give third and final reading to the updated Tree and Canopy Protection Standards, with one additional amendment, and the Tree Planting Plan ordinances.

Councilman David Chinnis, chairman of the PDB Committee, said the new fee would ensure new trees would be replanted by developers and the county.

Councilman Jay Byars said he approved of the changes.

"Before, they might have replanted in an industrial park where not many people will see (the trees), but if we replant we'll be able to put treescaping on roadways and other public right-of-ways."