Few Pinehurst residents stepped up to speak for the trees during a public hearing on new rules the village is proposing to help preserve and enhance its tree-lined motif.
The Village Council has now sent that proposal back to the staff for a retooling after in-depth critiques from residents and home builders.
Everyone who spoke or sent letters to be read during the hearing nominally supported the objective of preserving Pinehurst’s objective appeal. But most of them objected to the specifics of the proposed amendments to the village’s residential development ordinances.
As written, the proposal would apply to new subdivisions and homes built on vacant lots, as well as the modification of current properties that are expanded by more than 50 percent of their current square footage.
The changes under consideration would replace the current standards for trees on residential lots, which specify a minimum number ranging from four to 16 based on the zoning district and lot size. The new ordinances proposed would instead outline front, rear, and side buffer zones on each lot with guidelines for the number of trees to be planted in those areas.
“Our proposal is a development standard. It applies to development. It applies when a development permit is being triggered,” said Darryn Burich, Pinehurst’s planning director.
“When you look at some of our standards, when we say maintain tree-lined streets, you’ll see the ratio that we have for that street yard planting and buffering is a little bit heavier than the side and rear, and it’s to meet those goals for the tree-lined character of the community.”
Pinehurst’s existing planting requirements will continue to apply to current residential properties and home additions that fall short of that 50 percent redevelopment standard.
For new development, finished lots will be required to have one specimen tree for each 15 linear feet of street frontage in the front buffer area, less 20 feet allowed for a driveway.
The proposed requirements allow for less sparse planting in the side and rear buffers, with one tree per 35 linear feet on each side and one tree per 25 feet in the rear.
Specimen trees are defined as holly, longleaf pine and magnolia trees with a trunk diameter of at least 12 inches, or any tree 24 inches or more in diameter. That definition would remain unchanged as the proposal is written.
“Tree removal can still occur with this ordinance, but if what you’re doing is considered development, then we’re going to look at it and you could potentially trigger those buffering requirements,” said Burich.
The proposal also introduces a permit process for clearing and grading activity. Applications for clearing and grading will have to be accompanied by a tree survey of the property in question.
The new rules would come with a system of incentives to encourage developers to retain larger existing trees where feasible.
Critics of the proposal include several past presidents of the Moore County Home Builders Association. One of them, Bob Van Houten, said that the proposed requirements are “at best confusing and cumbersome,” and suggested that in some cases grading requirements and installing proper drainage developers will prevent developers from “saving” existing trees.
The association’s executive director, Paula Nash, requested that the Village Council hold off on implementing any changes to the existing requirements until they can further collaborate with Pinehurst’s staff.
“We appreciate our working relationship with the current staff and the Village Council. We have met and discussed the proposed ordinance at length,” Nash wrote.
“We would like to request that the ordinance be placed on hold to allow the Village of Pinehurst staff to work with our association to come up with a solution that will prevent broad-stroke clear-cutting of lots, mainly by large developments, and not place the burden on our builders developing single lots. We understand that most of the issues come from major subdivisions, and those are few and far between in our Pinehurst area.
“The single-lot development will suffer the most, when we do not feel this is the intent of the ordinances. We stand with staff on saving trees and preserving the appearance of Pinehurst.”
Homebuilder Bill Reaves said that the proposed ordinance would further complicate the task of building the large, modern homes now in demand on many of the village’s smaller “infill” lots once carved out for vacation cottages.
“Common best practice of building would be that large trees within 10 to 15 feet of the foundation of a home should be considered to be removed due to potential damage to the foundation of the home,” Reaves said. “Your proposed tree ordinance makes many of these practical considerations very difficult to achieve.”
Densel Williams, another past president of the home builders’ association, objected to the “one size fits all” approach of a single set of rules for all residential development.
“There may be some merit to delaying any vote and giving all affected parties time to study if the real intent is to provide aesthetic buffers on our streets,” Williams wrote. “On the other hand, I would suggest the horse is already out of the barn if the desire is to slow or restrict growth.”
Councilmember Kevin Drum agreed that parts of the proposed changes could be rewritten for clarification, but pointed to “tree credits” introduced in the proposal that would help offset the requirements in cases where larger trees of 16 inches or more are left in place. So a tree 24 inches in diameter, if left in place, could account for four trees that otherwise would have to be planted there.
The proposal also provides Pinehurst’s staff the latitude to provide credit for existing trees between three and eight inches in diameter where there’s a limited selection of trees on the lot. As it’s written, it won’t allow for trees in public rights-of-way to be counted toward the requirements.
“I think that we’re using a carrot more than a stick here, and that’s almost getting buried in this. There’s potential to never have to plant a tree by managing and using this credit program effectively,” said Drum.
“There’s a lot of talk about having to do stuff, but let’s talk about how maybe you don’t have to do stuff. If you manage your lot properly you might not have to do anything.”
The Village Council left further discussion of the proposal and public input for its March 23 meeting. Councilwoman Judy Davis agreed that some of the new standards it would introduce might be too stringent, including the requirements for street frontage buffering.
“I don’t have five trees in front of my house and I don’t want them,” she said. “I think it makes it easy, there’s a calculus to your decision-making, but I think we’ve got to really look at that. If you do plant trees in your right-of-way, but heretofore there’s not been any credit for that but you’re getting the ambiance that we want when you do have trees in your right-of-way, I think that’s something else we should look at.”