Friday, March 14, 2014
Georgetown County’s tree ordinance protects significant trees while building on a property, but not afterward, when a property owner can cut down any tree.
That is the problem addressed by Pawleys Island resident Tom Stickler during the public comment period of Tuesday night’s Georgetown County Council meeting.
“This has created a schizophrenic situation,” Stickler said. “That makes it difficult for the people in the planning department to enforce the ordinance.”
He added that many people are not even aware that Georgetown County has a tree ordinance.
No action was taken on this topic at the meeting.
The reason Stickler addressed Council about the tree ordinance was because a property owner in the Hagley community recently clear cut four lots with no regard for the law.
Stickler happens to be the head of the Hagley Estates Property Owners Association and the president of the Waccamaw Neck Council of Property Owners Associations, although he was speaking on his own behalf during the Council meeting.
Stickler said the property owner said he did not know there was any tree ordinance.
“People were calling me saying what a shame it was that the beauty of Hagley had been attacked,” he said.
When asked what he would like the tree ordinance to do specifically, Stickler said he would like to see property owners with occupied parcels required to apply for a permit to cut significant trees.
“I think there should be some kind of limitation on occupied parcels,” Stickler said.
“We have to be able to protect significant trees, including larger live oaks and long leaf pines.”
Boyd Johnson, Georgetown County’s planning director, said he understands Stickler’s concerns about the tree ordinance.
He said right now, the day a property owner receives a Certificate of Occupancy, the building permit dies.
He said one possibility to fix the problem addressed by Stickler is to make the building permit valid for a period of time.
“What if the permit was valid for five years?” Johnson said. “That would solve that problem.”
He agreed that the current ordinance is difficult to enforce and the only penalties for cutting down significant trees are fines.
He added that he doesn’t know when the Planning Commission might discuss the issue or make any recommendation to County Council.
Johnson said people are very emotional on both sides: Those who think trees come before anything and those who say it is their property, they can do what they want.
County Councilman Bob Anderson, who represents parts of Pawleys Island including Hagley Estates, said he agrees with the property rights folks.
“At end of day it’s your land, so you should be able to do what you want,” Anderson said. “Trees are a renewable resource.”