Beaufort County Tree Ordinance
Beaufort County Planning Commission is revising its tree ordinance. A public meeting was held July 12, 2016 with over 50 people in attendance and several offering comments supporting a stronger tree ordinance, protecting for existing forest cover and understory habitat. The Planning Commission will consider additional recommendations at their August 2016 meeting.
Why does this matter? Tree ordinances are a county-wide tool used to protect trees as development and redevelopment occurs.
Trees are both an environmental and economic resource, contributing to Beaufort’s sense of place. A strong tree ordinance will be comprehensive in nature, help buffer incompatible land uses, absorb heat, reduce soil erosion and stormwater runoff, contribute to wildlife habitat and diversity, and preserve an identity for Beaufort County.
We believe the tree ordinance should be consistent, encourage wildlife corridors, and be appropriate for the scale of development.
Consistency: Trees and local forests do not know which jurisdiction they’re in, so the Beaufort County tree ordinance should be consistent with neighboring rules in the Beaufort, Port Royal, Town of Bluffton and Hilton Head. The Beaufort County tree ordinance also needs to be consistent with neighboring rules in the Beaufort, Port Royal, Town of Bluffton and Hilton Head. This is especially important in the T3 and T4 transect zones when a patchwork nature of city and county properties along municipal edges is most common.
Examples of where improved consistency can occur:
- Longleaf Pine – a native keystone species – is considered a specimen tree at 16 inches DBH in City of Beaufort, County says 24 inches DBH
- Red Cedar is absent from County list, but present on municipal lists
- Bluffton requires tree removal permits for all trees over 8 inches DBH on property to be developed and over 14 inches (individual or combined) on single-family residential property.
- Live Oaks are considered specimen trees at 12 inches in City of Beaufort; 16 inches is specimen tree in Beaufort County
Habitat connectivity: Trees should not be isolated. Rather, they shoud serve as large buffers, and habitat corridors should be encouraged. property buffer size and species of focus should be consistent, if not greater in the county, as properties move from more urban to more rural and buffers signal and represent that transition. This help creates connectivity between properties and create more usable habitat corridors. Ecologically speaking, it is important to maintain wildlife habitat not just in isolation, but in larger connected swaths of land.
Examples from other jurisdictions that promote connectivity:
- Removal of trees 6 inches DBH or greater along Scenic Highways require variances for removal (Charleston County)
- Requiring some percentage of immediate shading of the built environment, using existing vegetation (Town of Bluffton)
- Incentives to design around natural features, including density bonuses (Natural Assets Working Group, from the Southern Beaufort County Regional Plan)
Scale of Development: Redevelopment on an individual property is different from large builders who can buy, bulldoze, and development many acres at a time, so the regulations should be different for individual lots and large development properties. For tree removal, we encourage you to consider language that adjusts the penalty for tree removal according to number of trees to be removed, relative to the existing conditions. Similarly, the incentives can also be adjusted.
Specific examples that address scale or severity of removal:
- Fines or incentives for tree protection can be incorporated through improving the “Existing Forest Preservation” definition, addressing open space and encouraging clustered development.
- The City of Beaufort recommends distinguishing between specimen and landmark trees (of a larger size) and the penalty for removal, with and without permission, increases as the size of the tree increases.
- For trees removed without permission, replacement should be increased to 2x the cost of trees removed with permission
The staff recommendations can be found here.