CAROLINA BEACH –– After more than 1,500 people signed their name to a petition that sought to save a large live oak, the Town of Carolina Beach has agreed to revisit creating a tree ordinance.
Monday, the old oak that prompted the petition was razed, making way for a triple-story duplex on a tiny beach-adjacent lot on Ocean Boulevard.
While the oak was cut down, the movement it inspired still has momentum.
Local tree control
At its regular Tuesday meeting Carolina Beach Town Council unanimously passed a resolution opposing House Bill 496. The town joined a growing number of local municipalities pushing against the legislation, which would strip local control over tree-removal regulations absent existing specific statutory authority.
Kure Beach passed a similar resolution June 21; Bald Head Island passed its own June 18; Oak Island did so earlier in June.
New Hanover County and all municipalities within it (Wilmington, Kure Beach, Carolina Beach, and Wrightsville Beach) already have a specific statutory exemption, passed in 1987, that grants the local governments local authority to regulate tree removal. (So even if the bill advances as written, it doesn’t threaten New Hanover County.)
It may impact Brunswick County and municipalities in areas that don’t have existing bills on the books already carved out for them.
Regardless of whether Carolina Beach is covered, elected officials sided with calls from the audience and the petition to pass the resolution anyway.
“[W]e’d prefer for the state to not tell us what to do,” Councilman Steve Shuttleworth said at the meeting. “They already dictate 90% of what we can do –– whether its revenues, streets, just so much.”
Councilman JoDan Garza urged council to also lend its support to Senate Bill 436 –– the antithesis of the House version of the bill –– which would authorize all counties and cities to enact tree ordinances (local municipalities already do this without specific approval without issue).
Garza also gave a couple shoutouts to a bill that would authorize open containers in set social districts, which he said could be beneficial to the town; council didn’t pick up a discussion on either of his propositions.
Revisiting the tree ordinance
Though it has considered various tree regulations in the past, Carolina Beach doesn’t regulate tree removal, except in specific circumstances that call for a buffer line along the perimeter of a property for most non-residential uses. Council last considered establishing a tree ordinance in 2018 but eventually passed on the proposition.
“I make [geographic information system] maps,” Britt Evans, whose petition sparked the discussion, told council. “I know we can measure canopy coverage. I know we can gather numbers to efficiently preserve and plant trees.”
“I don’t know if we can measure the value of trees,” she said.
Cindy Dunn, chair of the town’s beautification committee, suggested the town become a member of Tree City USA, a designation granted by the Arbor Day Foundations to communities with an established platform of preserving trees.
Carolina Beach resident Virginia Holman assured council while crafting a tree ordinance may seem daunting, it’s achievable. As founder of Island Wildlife, a chapter of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, and board member of the Alliance for Cape Fear Trees, Holman was in favor of the resolution and spoke to the community’s overwhelming support for tree preservation.
“Trees are the living heart of our community,” she said.
At the most recent planning and zoning meeting, Holman said she heard board members reluctant to regulate what private property owners do with their land.
“I understand that sentiment and that reticence,” she said. “However, part of planning and zoning is specifically about recommending to council what people can and can’t do on their property. P&Z makes recommendations to council all the time about fence heights, retaining walls, how high lots may be filled over adjacent lots, even which direction a gate may swing in a gated community.”
After passing the resolution, Shuttleworth stopped Mayor LeAnn Pierce before she moved on to the next item on the agenda.
“We’ve done this dance three or four times. We’ve talked about replacement, preservation, the type of trees, canopy, we understand quite a bit of it,” Shuttleworth said. “If we don’t put a timeline on it, we’re just not going to get it done.”
Councilman Lynn Barbee agreed. “In my opinion doing nothing is unacceptable,” he said.
Garza suggested altering the town’s landscaping contract to encourage planting more native species; Shuttleworth said he’s after a more holistic approach to the issue.
Pierce instructed the town manager to prepare a draft tree ordinance for council to consider by September, with a review due in August ahead of any decision. The town’s beautification committee may also make a presentation at an upcoming council meeting to brief council on the steps involved in earning the designation of becoming an official member of Tree City USA.
Mayor pro-tem Jay Healy made it clear adopting an ordinance is a top priority: “There’s nothing more important right now in Carolina Beach than preserving our trees.”
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