The City of Charleston’s Board of Zoning Appeals – Site Design (BZA-SD) is responsible for approving or denying requests for impacts to or removals of grand trees with the city’s boundaries. The BZA-SD meets on the first Wednesday of the month at 5:00pm in the Public Meeting Room, First Floor, 2 George Street (Gaillard Center Municipal Building). At each meeting, there is an opportunity to comment on requested impacts or removals.
So what is the best way to get involved, voice concerns, and protect the trees?
Check the agendas for the BZA-SD here, attend the meetings, and comment on whether or not these tree removals adhere to the City’s tree protection regulations, because this is what the BZA-SD will be looking at in making their decision! Here is a brief explanation of the regulations and how you can tailor your comments to be the most effective.
Some of the trees removals require a variance while others require a special exception (this is stated on the agenda)—this distinction depends on whether the tree fits within a certain category based on species and a rating.
A fact-finding test is applied for special exceptions, where the BZA-SD looks to whether the grand tree is in poor health, that removal of the grand tree will allow protection of a specimen tree, or that the grand tree is located within a proposed building footprint, street, road, driveway, drainage way, or parking area and no other reasonable design or economically reasonable alternative exists to save the tree.
A variance is a more stringent standard, usually referred to as the “hardship test” and requires the BZA-SD to make the following findings:
(a) there are extraordinary and exceptional conditions pertaining to the particular piece of property;
(b) these conditions do not generally apply to other property in the vicinity;
(c) because of these conditions, the application of the ordinance to the particular piece of property would effectively prohibit or unreasonably restrict the utilization of the property; and
(d) the authorization of a variance will not be of substantial detriment to adjacent property or to the public good, and the character of the district will not be harmed by the granting of the variance.
This variance test requires the developer to show that these trees put them in a unique position so as to make it unfair to them if they are not allowed to remove the trees. This involves comparing their property to neighboring property and the surrounding area and asking, is it uniquely unfair to make them save the trees? Further, this test asks if removing the trees will detriment the neighboring properties, the public good, or the character of the area—if you think removing the trees will do this, then explain how!!
Relating your concerns to these tests will help the BZA-SD act within its authority to decide whether or not the landowners are lawfully able to remove the grand trees from their property.
Note, City staff is working diligently up until the meeting to uphold the tree protection regulations and therefore the number of trees stated on the agenda may not reflect the final number requested for removal. For more information on the City’s BZA-SD or to contact city staff, click here.