LELAND — The Town of Leland currently has no tree protection requirements. Property owners have free rein to clear-cut lots, regardless of tree type or size, without worrying about a permit or fine.
Soon, the town could implement staff-suggested code changes that would create tree protections.
Regulating tree removal can create tension between property owner’s rights and protecting the environment. Still, most municipalities in the area have some tree retention policies in place to disincentivize clear-cutting or removing significant trees.
Recently, Leland’s Planning Department drafted a comprehensive set of new tree-related codes. In April, Council asked the planning staff to come up with recommendations for the town to consider adopting. Ben Andrea, Leland’s Planning Director, told Council at an April agenda meeting tree retention requirements are common at the municipal level.
“There’s a spectrum of how it could be approached,” Andrea said in April. “How far does the town want to go with it?”
The planning department’s recommendations include regulations that would prevent property owners from clear-cutting lots. “Properties shall not be clear-cut prior to undertaking development activities,” the proposed code states.
The code includes a classification for defining “significant trees,” which require specific protective measures.
Leland’s Planning Department proposed to define “significant trees” as any hardwood or coniferous tree at least a 24-inch diameter, and flowering trees with at least an 8-inch diameter. This language is borrowed from New Hanover County to be used as a starting point, according to the department’s comments.
Significant trees could not be removed without prior approval. Under the proposed changes, significant trees could be removed via an emergency waiver, within a landscaping plan, or outside development activity by submitting a Significant Tree Removal Application. Removal could be granted if “essential site improvements cannot be accommodated” otherwise.
New requirements for significant trees may only apply to lots larger than .45-acres. This size threshold is meant to exclude most single-family residential lots, according to the planning department’s summary. (Meanwhile, in Wilmington, the city has established a distinguishable pattern of imposing tree removal fines on individuals of small lots, while waiving big fines for developers that violate code).
For projects that require site plans, landscaping plans could also be required. When landscaping plans are required, Leland’s Planning Department proposes applicants map the location of significant trees.
Prior to development, applicants would also be required to install physical tree protective measures (for example, a silt fence). These measures would require protections for trees set to be retained before and over the course of construction activity.
Significant trees removed must be doubled with at least 2-to-3-inch diameter trees, under proposed mitigation requirements. If the site can’t accommodate new trees, Leland staff could allow the applicant to pay a mitigation fee. The payment would go toward the Parks and Recreation Department’s budget to plant trees in public spaces.
Failing to obtain a permit before removing a significant tree in Leland could mean a three or five-year delay in obtaining a building permit in town limits. Clear-cutting prior to forestry or development activity without leaving a 50-foot vegetative buffer could also result in a building permit freeze.
Leland’s Planning Board will review the proposed changes, which are still subject to change, at its upcoming meeting on Tuesday, June 25.
View the proposed changes in full below:
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