THE GRAND DEBATE
New Development Calling for Tree Removal Stirs Up Concerns
By Hannah Dockery
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An unexpected surprise came to the February 6 City Board of Zoning Appeals – Site Design meeting when several West Ashley residents showed up to express concern over a request to receive a variance allowing for the removal of 20 Grand Trees for an apartment complex development in the works at 1885 Ashley River Road.
The applicant hoping to receive the variance is HGBD (Hussey, Gay, Bell, & DeYoung), a consulting and engineering firm based in Savannah. The proposed apartments will span across 9.57 acres and consist of five separate 55-foot tall buildings with 172 units cumulatively. There are also plans in place for a 270-space parking lot, and a community center and pool. In the process of developing the complex, though, several Grand Trees stand in the way.
According to Chapter 9 of the County Zoning and Land Development Regulations Ordinance, “Grand Trees” are defined by any tree measuring 24 inches or greater in diameter breast height, with the exemption of pines. All Grand Trees are prohibited from removal unless a variance permit is issued.
Eric Schultz, Principal Planner for the City’s Zoning Division, feels that the plans for the tree removal for this development are within reason. “I’ve been out and looked at the site several times,” he said. “We recommended that the board go ahead and grant the requests at the February 6 meeting.” The majority of the trees that will be removed if the variance is granted are tulip poplars. Thirteen, to be exact. The other trees consist of two black gums, one southern oak, one water oak, one cherrybark oak, and two live oaks. Schultz adds that even considering the number needed to be removed, most of the trees on the property, especially the live oaks, were preserved and will provide greenspace throughout the apartment complex.
Despite efforts to protect as many of the trees as possible, opponents in the West Ashley area feel that the destruction of greenspace is unnecessary and harmful to the community. Leaders at Ashley River Creative Arts Elementary School, which borders the planned property development, addressed Schultz and the Design Review Board in the form of a letter, arguing that it is imperative to preserve the greenspace as a part of enhancing the overall learning experience for the kids at Ashley River. Plans are in place for a 25-foot landscape buffer to border the County School District property and the new site, but opponents feel that a buffer will not make up for the destruction of so much land.
Others in opposition to the three removal feel like wildlife in the area, such as the Bald Eagles that have been sighted off of Wallace Road, will be severely impacted during and after the development process. One West Ashley resident commented that the variance was originally set in place to provide property owners a bit of leeway when it comes to personal development and landscaping concerns, adding that the request to remove 20 trees takes advantage of the variance’s original intent.
Because of the opposition, the Board of Zoning Appeals decided to postpone the issue and take it up again at the March 6 meeting, after garnering more information and speaking with an arborist. If the variances are granted, the proposed plans will undergo further scrutiny through the Technical Review Committee.
The City’s Board of Zoning Appeals – Site Design will continue to discuss this issue at the March 6 meeting, at 5 p.m. Meeting takes place on the third floor of 75 Calhoun Street, downtown and is open to the public