Town’s treatment, definition of grand trees at center of hot political topic
By Charlie Morrison | Community Editor
The issue of how municipalities serving James Island should preserve the island’s natural environment has bubbled, boiled, and simmered under the surface of the political pot of soup being cooked across the island.
Occasionally the issue has boiled over, with some politicians sensing it as politically radioactive. But summed up, the topic of trees —specifically what the current Town administration defines as a “Grand Tree” — has emerged as one of the hottest topics of an unseasonably cool summer here on James Island, politically and meteorologically.
The issue most recently bubbled over at the Aug. 8 meeting of the Town’s Planning Commission. The body ultimately voted by a 3-2 margin to change the Town’s definition of a Grand Tree from that the status quo definition of all trees with diameter breast heights (DBH) exceeding 24 inches, to that of 18 inches, excepting those of the pine, sweet gum, and Chinese tallow species.
The close vote sends the matter back before Town Council. Against the wishes of Mayor Bill Woolsey, the main governing body of the Town will again reconsider the Town’s official definition of a grand tree in future meetings.
Before those meetings are to convene, however, the Town’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) will vet the matter of another such grand tree, a 26-inch Live Oak tree that Charleston County RoadWise program requested a variance to remove as part of their Harbor View Road improvements project.
On Tuesday (after press time) RoadWise’s Molli LeMin presented her case to remove the Live Oak, which will allow the footprint of the project to progress past the intersection of Harbor View Road and Stiles Drive, the intersection at which the tree is located, unimpeded.
Regardless of LeMin’s arguments, area residents like Stiles Drive homeowner John Lowe have taken the issue of Harbor View Road and traffic personally.
“There’s no way that road’s going to interfere with this tree. They’re saying it’s going to block the view, but in reality it doesn’t block anything but this,” said Lowe, pointing to a SCE&G installation tucked neatly behind the massive tree before turning to the root of the problem on Harbor View Road, the existing traffic situation.
“That being said, the people who currently use this road as a cut-through to Stiles Point Elementary need to slow down,” said Lowe. “I’ve got grandchildren that live here and it ain’t going to take but one kid to fall over on a bike when a parent’s running late before it’s all over.”
Last week, the tree issue bubbled up at the Thursday, Aug. 15 meeting of James Island Town Council where a number of speakers addressed a resolution that was on the agenda that would exempt trees within the footprint of a home.
In the end Town Councilman Leonard Blank, who’d suggested the change to the agenda, had it the resolution removed in the hours leading up to the meeting. Blank, knowing he hadn’t the votes to see it passed, pulled back his resolution for the time being. But that didn’t stop a number of James Island activists from expressing their views during the meeting’s public commentary section.
Former Town Councilwoman Robin Welch addressed the issue. “This resolution is a slap in the face to all who have sought compromise for our grand trees,” said Welch, who stated that for she and the many she represents, officially or otherwise, the Town’s acceptance of the 18-inch DBH standard of grand trees is necessary until further workshops on the issue could be convened.
“There can be no fairer compromise between our Town’s original, 12- inch definition and the existing definition of 24 inches and we are grateful to the three members of Council who supported this stop-gap solution,” said Welch. “Sadly, (this) resolution would take the teeth out of the small victory we have managed to obtain.”
For more information on the issue or to voice your opinion, go to the Mayor’s blog at mayorbillwoolsey.blogspot.com/2013/07/stricter-tree-controls-what-do-you-think.html. Alternately, you can call Town Hall at 795-4141 and ask to give your views on tree control, or send an email to email@example.com.
© 2013 Wiser Time Publishing, Inc.