CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – Charleston County Council will hold a public hearing Tuesday to discuss a change to its tree ordinance.
Specifically, they will discuss which government body approves requests from the Public Works Department to remove large trees.
“The Public Works Department is seeking an exemption from our BZA requirement in part because you have to be the owner of land to file a BZA application, which means in a public works project we have to either condemn or purchase that land, or we can begin the process before we can begin the process of seeking a variance,” explained Charleston County Councilwoman Jenny Honeycutt.
Right now, if public works is seeking to cut down a large tree, they have to get the Board of Zoning Appeals approval. The council is considering changing that to require those requests to be approved by the county council.
“Then we move forward with design land acquisition and ultimately construction of the project,” Honeycutt added.
More than 7,000 people have signed a petition against the change. Ashleigh Dane is a developer who helped start the petition.
“To exempt our own government process from the process that they decided was important, seems contrary to what they’ve been elected to uphold,” said Dane, who is concerned about the changes. “In the same breath, that they are asking for this exemption for public works in the code, they are actually looking to make the code tougher for you and I.”
Dane went on to say, “County council, with five votes out of their board, would be able to decide which trees stay and which trees go. And for me, people under political pressure shouldn’t be making those decisions.”
“Our biggest concern with that is the lack of consideration that we think Public Works will have in future road projects, having this exemption,” said Emma Berry with the Coastal Conservation League.
Honeycutt says she believes the change adds public accountability.
“Providing this accountability to elected leaders, putting it in their hands provides a greater level of accountability. Because if a voter doesn’t like what that elected official has done – in either voting for or against the project to go forward – they can vote that elected leader out,” she said.
Honeycutt says upon hearing concerns, she does plan a make a change to the proposal.
“One of the revisions that I intend to put forward to the current amendments is that we do require a limited review process by our zoning department,” she said.
Councilwoman Honeycutt said if the council approves the ordinance, it would take at least eight weeks from now for the ordinance changes to be passed. Tuesday’s public hearing begins at 6:30.