A proposal to exempt most pine trees from North Charleston’s tree protection rules moved ahead Thursday, with Mayor Keith Summey saying the change was needed to remove an unfair burden faced by developers.
Several City Council members said they saw no need to change the existing rules, which generally require that new trees are planted, or payments can be made to a city tree fund, when trees are cut down. There are numerous exceptions to the requirement, and the replace-or-pay requirement is halved when pine trees are cut down under current rules.
“What’s wrong with the ordinance we have now?” said Councilman Bob King.
Summey said, and some council members agreed, that pine trees are generally undesirable, and the mayor said it’s burdensome for developers to include every pine tree at least 8 inches in diameter in the tree surveys they are required to produce, and then replace or pay for each one they cut down.
“They have to pay into the tree bank,” which I think is unfair,” said the mayor.
The city’s tree fund has collected more than $650,000 over roughly 11 years, and the city uses the money to plant new trees.
In a concession to opponents since the rule change for pine trees was first proposed last week, pine trees at least 24 inches in diameter would still count toward tree replacement or payments.
Councilman Ron Brinson said the property owners association where he lives, in the Coosaw Creek development, decided years ago that pine trees were a threat to homes and shouldn’t be protected. Brinson said the city of Charleston also exempts smaller pine trees from protection.
“If they are close to buildings, they can be very destructive,” he said.
The city would still protect pine trees if they are in buffer areas between developments, and diseased or dangerous trees could be cut down without penalty.
Like King, Councilman Dwight Stigler also saw no need for a change.
“I think the (proposed ordinance) is just flat out wrong,” he said. “We don’t have anything that’s broken, now.”
King suggested that the regulatory change was being proposed “for some particular properties” that he did not name.
It’s common knowledge, however, that the largest development plan under way in North Charleston is the Ingleside Plantation development, covering about 1,500 acres between Interstate 26 and Palmetto Commerce Parkway. The mayor’s son, Elliott Summey, is heading up that development plan as a vice president for Weber USA.
“There is no ordinance being proposed for any particular piece of property, I can assure you of that, sir,” Summey told King.
The council voted 8-3 for the rule changes, with King, Stigler, and Councilman Ed Astle opposed. The ordinance next goes back to the city’s Planning Commission, which has unanimously opposed the earlier version of the proposal.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552