James Island trees prevail

James Isl tree

Leroy Burnell

Seventeenth century historian Thomas Fuller said, “One that would have the fruit must climb the tree.”

He wasn’t talking about residents of the town of James Island, but he might have been. It took citizens a lot of time and energy, but this week they got the fruit they were after: an ordinance to protect more of the island’s grand trees.

Their “climb” involved researching tree ordinances in other municipalities (James Island’s was the weakest), petitioning town councilmembers (some of whom still need convincing) and rallying the troops (more than 25 appeared at Thursday’s town council meeting to support toughening the ordinance in order to protect more trees).

Their success is a victory for the people of James Island, who value their home for many reasons, including the beauty of its trees.

Town Council was correct to heed their pleas. It is the citizens’ town, after all.

James Island Mayor Bill Woolsey liked the more lax tree ordinance that allowed people to cut down any tree that was smaller in diameter than 24 inches at breast height (dbh). He contends that stiffening the ordinance to 18 inches dbh will make it more difficult for people to use their land and will infringe upon property owners’ rights.

He was outnumbered. And it is just as likely that people wanting to buy or build on James Island choose to do so in part because of the island’s trees.

It is certainly possible to have change that is compatible with the island. For example, at the same meeting this week, Council approved, 3-2, a plan to widen Harbor View Road after years of contention.

The plan that passed saved green space and trees along Harbor View that initially were to be eliminated, while providing for improved traffic flow. Both sides won.

James Island is a place struggling with its identity. It’s part town, part city of Charleston; mostly suburban, a bit rural; part historic and part brand new.

There is no reason that its grand trees can’t be a key element of each of its disparate personas.