NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Last month during a New Hanover County Board of Commissioners meeting Michael Werner, a resident and conservationist address the board and voiced his concerns with plans for a new carwash that would destroy several massive oak trees in Ogden.
Between that and a social media post, residents across the county started fighting to save the historic oaks.
Within a matter of days, the developer had agreed to change plans and county commissioners called for a revision of the county’s current tree ordinances.
The county’s tree code was already going under the microscope as part of an update to the county Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). But thanks to the commotion caused by the carwash plans, Commissioner Woody White asked for that timeline to be expedited.
At an upcoming commissioner meeting, county staff will present the board with a comparison of their own regulations as well as some neighboring communities including Charleston, Savannah, and Hilton Head.
While New Hanover County, Wilmington, and Savannah have no special regulations for large live oak trees, both Hilton Head and Charleston do — in these cities, only an appeals board can authorize the removal of live oaks through a variance.
In Wilmington and New Hanover County, staff approves the removal of these historic trees. When it comes to the allowance of the removal of large trees both county and city permit it in order to “accommodate essential site improvements.”
What’s being done?
Since trees and landscaping are set to be discussed during the UDO update process in the winter, staff is suggesting a possible short-term solution to prevent any more trees from being razed: a code amendment.
Suggestions for this amendment including adding “staff flexibility to accommodate saving large trees — reduce street yards, landscape islands … or setbacks to retain significant and specimen trees.”
The amendment could also help staff define what exactly a “specimen tree” is — any live oak with more than a 36-inch diameter at breast height (DBH).
Commissioners could also change the code to require a variance to remove these specimen trees, according to county documents. Staff is also suggesting the simplification of mitigation fees for those who do remove trees.
For trees that cannot be replaced that is $200 per inch of diameter — there would also be a fine double that for developers who clear these trees without permission. If these changes are something the board would like to move forward with official regulations would not change until November at earliest since the Planning Board would have to hear the changes first followed by the Board of Commissioners.
The possible changes will be presented to the Commissioners on Sept. 16 at 4 p.m.
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