LELAND – Officials in this Brunswick County town are proposing new rules to protect trees from clear cutting during land development and ensure that the right kinds of trees are planted where required.
Benjamin Andrea, director of planning and inspections with the town, told Coastal Review Online Tuesday that Leland does not have any tree removal or retention regulations nor does the town provide guidance on tree species for plantings for landscaping and buffers required by landscape standards in its code of ordinances.
“We have requirements for landscaping for parking lots and also requirements for landscaping for screening/buffering between land uses, but the ordinance currently doesn’t dictate what types of species can be used,” Andrea said, adding that proposed language would mandate that trees used in required landscaping be from an approved species list.
“These types of regulations have been discussed over the years, and shortly after I began with the town in December, town council brought the idea back up and asked me to look into it. I gave a presentation to them in April about different types of tree regulations and how Leland’s ordinances are deficient in most regards for tree preservation or mitigation,” Andrea said.
According to the meeting minutes, council members were worried about the large number of trees lost during Hurricane Florence and the need for the town to recover from that vegetative loss, as well as preventing new vegetation planted in rights-of-way to avoid infrastructure issues.
Andrea also told the council that ordinances should include language about indigenous trees and plants and address in the nuisance code trees that intrude upon power lines.
The town council directed staff to draft regulations for tree retention and planting requirements. Staff researched ordinances from other jurisdictions and drafted the regulations, according to the information in the agenda packet for the June 25 meeting, “to prevent clear cutting of lots, require trees defined as significant to be retained or mitigated, and require trees that are planted as part of required parking lot or screening plantings be from a new Landscape Species List.”
The planning board is to review the staff recommendations during a meeting set for 6 p.m. Tuesday.
“Leland is growing incredibly rapidly. We permit over 40 new single family houses per month. We have around 9,000 residential units approved in planned developments that haven’t been constructed yet,” Andrea said. “The town regularly sees voluntary annexations for residential development. We lost a lot of tree canopy in the area as a result of Hurricane Florence, and that and the rapid pace of development have culminated (in) the need for tree retention regulations.”
Andrea said clear-cutting lots, which is common for development projects in the town, is not wrongdoing by developers. “They just did what was allowed by the town’s code,” he said.
New language would prohibit clear cutting, define “significant” trees and require approval for their removal, either as part of a development plan or as a standalone application if the site is already developed or no development is proposed.
Andrea said that the significant tree removal regulations, as drafted, would apply to lots larger than 20,000 square feet, with the intention to exclude the typical residential subdivision lot and tailor the retention requirements to larger lots that have potential for development or redevelopment.
The language as drafted would also require mitigation for removal of significant trees based on twice the total diameter of significant trees removed, Andrea explained.
Mitigation would consist of either replanting onsite or, if new trees can’t be accommodated there, making a payment to the town. “The payment in lieu would fund tree plantings in public spaces such as parks or street rights-of-way near the site where they were removed,” Andrea said.
Protective fencing would have to be installed around trees that are to be retained onsite during the development project.
Andrea said the approved landscape tree list mostly includes trees native to the region that offer habitat benefits while requiring less irrigation and maintenance to thrive.
According to planning board documents, other recommendations include creating regulations that would make approval of significant tree removal a part of the site plan approval process or as an independent application if there is no proposed development. Language would clarify that the landscape plan is required for site plan review or when a significant tree is proposed to be removed.
Andrea explained that the draft language will go first to the planning board for discussion Tuesday and, after revisions based on feedback received, staff will present the proposal again during the board’s July meeting. If approved, the town council could consider adopting the changes during its August meeting.