COLUMBIA, SC — Richland County has bolstered a law designed to encourage developers to preserve the largest trees.
Revisions went into effect this month that expand the definition of whats considered a grand tree worthy of protection to those 24 inches in diameter or larger. A developer who chooses to cut down a grand tree is required to plant six replacement trees.
The law does not apply to homeowners but to new commercial developments and new subdivisions of 50 homes or more, said Carroll Williamson, a county land planner.
The amendments came out of the countys development roundtable, a group of environmentalists, developers and county staff meeting since 2009 to hash out updates to laws affecting development and stormwater. Their work has produced new standards on such things as green space and parking lots, sidewalks and trees quality-of-life issues that also affect water pollution in the urban environment.
Environmentalist Carol Kososki said developers showed a willingness to compromise on grand trees.
It will help to conserve our beautiful trees in Richland County, she said.
Williamson said the most significant change was to add a protective zone required around a grand tree to make sure its root system is not damaged by trenching, the storage of heavy materials or vehicles parking or driving across the property.
Having a wide protection area one foot away from the tree for each inch of the trees diameter could have a side effect of protecting groves, Williamson said.
Williamson said the previous law was not as effective as we would like. It defined grand trees as those 29 inches in diameter or larger and required a developer who cut one down to plant three trees in its place.
With the changes, Richland Countys definition of a grand tree is the same as a trophy tree in Lexington County.
It remains to be seen whether strengthening the law will discourage the destruction of grand trees.
Williamson said he tracks the treatment of grand trees, which must be noted on an engineers site plans, when he visits construction sites. When a developer removes a grand tree, Williamson said he works with him or her to ensure the replacement trees are included in a landscaping plan.
He said the county does not keep an inventory showing how many of the big old trees are saved or removed.
At least one member of Richland County Council is not impressed.
Councilman Bill Malinowski said the county should require developers to build around old trees and lodge hefty fines if they dont.
You could have a 100-year-old tree that you cut down, and you replace it with six little saplings, he said. To me, thats not protecting your grand trees.
Homebuilder Stewart Mungo said he tries to save big trees on development sites because theyre assets.
We try to design around them if we can, he said.
But he said its not always feasible to keep big trees. Unlike live oaks, the big trees here do not live forever.
Cecil Meetze, who lives in Chapin, lost two old pecan trees in front of his house on Mount Vernon Church Road because of a utility project last year.
Big old trees have a special place in the community, said Meetze, 84. His daddy planted the trees when he was just a boy.
Theyre part of the landscape. Theyre beautiful, he said.
There ought to be a way they can be kept.
The county continues to research a proposal that would protect more trees, starting with an inventory of the current tree cover.
Planning director Tracy Hegler said she did not know when that measure might be ready.
Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.