S.P. Tree-Protection Measure Studied
Southern Pines hopes to deter the illegal removal of trees from the town’s public rights of way.
At a work session Monday, the Town Council discussed and suggested changes to an ordinance amendment submitted by the Appearance Commission that would require residents to apply for a permit to remove trees from the town’s rights of way.
Town Manager Reagan Parsons said the main philosophy behind the amendment is that people should have to pay a fee if they want to remove a tree from areas that are considered to be a part of public domain.
“Trees in the right of way are in fact owned by the public,” Parsons said. “If an individual is going to choose to take that away from the public, then the fee would end up being attached to what it would cost to get a tree and plant it either back in that right of way or somewhere else so we’d be replacing those trees.”
The current ordinance allows residents to call the town and ask for permission to remove a tree, with no fees attached.
After discussing the amendment, the council suggested that the permit system would require residents to pay an application fee of $200 per tree for trees with trunk widths of 3 to 6 caliper inches and $300 for any tree with a width greater than 6 caliper inches. The original draft suggested $200 for trees 4 to 6 inches in caliper.
The council also suggested that any tree less than 3 caliper inches would not require a permit or permission from the town for removal.
A tree’s caliper is the diameter of its trunk at chest level on a person.
Residents would not have to pay to replace any trees that were removed if they have a permit from the town.
The money from the application fees would be placed into a special account to be used for planting trees in town rights of way and on town property.
Residents who illegally remove trees from rights of way currently have to pay $75 per caliper inch and are also required to replace the tree.
For example, if someone cuts down a 3-inch caliper tree without permission, that individual would be fined $225 for the removal and be required plant a new 3-inch caliper tree.
Council member Mike Fields said he agrees with the overall purpose of the amendment.
“It’s more of a situation where we don’t want to encourage people to take trees down, but we want to encourage the planting of more trees,” Fields said. “I understand why they would want to do this — to have some money available to plant more trees — because we want to have as many trees in our right of way townwide at all times.”
Fields added that the amendment would hopefully make people consider other options before removing trees in public rights of way.
“I think about it as maybe people will think a little more, ‘Maybe I can save that tree if I shift a little bit instead of just bulldozing it,’” Fields said.
Aimed at Developers
Some council members expressed concern about residents potentially having to pay a significant application fee just to put in driveways leading to their homes.
“If it’s something they can’t avoid, I don’t think there should be a fee,” Council member Fred Walden said.
Walden said that he receives complaints all the time from residents about the high cost of town fees.
“This just adds to the cost,” he said.
Mayor Mike Haney said that the town has to walk a fine line when considering the issue, but this case sets aside funding for a specific use, not extra revenue for the town.
“The reality is that we’re not normally talking about the individuals as much as we’re talking about developers,” Haney said.
David White, assistant town manager and director of public services, said that the town normally gets between six to 12 requests to remove trees from existing property owners each year and that roughly half of those requests are approved.
Parsons said that most significant removals occur when large development projects have to take out a significant number of trees in the right of way for a driveway entrance or a sewer line
“That’s where this really becomes a major player,” Parsons said. “We’re not going to build much of a tree replacement fund through the individual requests for getting the right of way.”
Council members also questioned a section of the amendment that says the application fees do not apply to major projects it approves.
Parsons said that this section of the amendment applies to projects that receive council approval through conditional-use permits, which already specify what trees can come down. He said that the section could be reworded to make the intent clearer.
Parsons added that the town staff does try to save more trees by suggesting alternatives for plans for sewer line installation in major development projects.
Council member David McNeill said the council should move forward on the amendment when the final draft comes back and re-evaluate the amendment’s effectiveness a year from now.
The council also adopted a resolution requesting en-hancement funds from the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to fund a planting project for the roundabouts at the intersection of N.C. 22 and Airport Road and for the intersection of Knoll Road and Voit Gilmore Lane.
The resolution requests that NCDOT representatives work with the town’s Public Services Division and Appearance Commission to develop plans and install planting plans that will enhance the beauty of the community.
The council also discussed increasing the monthly lease of space on a water tower at Weymouth Center for Verizon Wireless to add six additional antennas and related coax cables to the tank on its existing mounts.
Verizon currently pays $3,380 per month. The board is considering increasing the amount by $120 to make the amount $3,500 per month.
The council also discussed the formal adoption of a conservation easement plan for the Raw Water Reservoir Project.
The council will hold its business meeting at 7 p.m. Aug. 10 at at the Douglass Community Center.
Contact Hannah Sharpe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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