Rincon city council members are trying to balance the value of private property rights and the city’s desire to preserve its canopy of tree shade.
Council members went over the tree ordinance during a workshop Monday aren’t ready to sign off on the lengthy document.
“My concern is the individual lot owner or home owner cutting a tree or two,” said council member Paul Wendelken. “I get very uncomfortable when we start talking about private property.”
Council members issued their worries over commercial developers and subdivision builders who remove nearly all or all the trees on a parcel of land.
“My vision was stop the clear cutting that’s going on and keep some of the old trees we have,” council member Ken Baxley said.
“I never had concerns with the tree ordinance until the old Wal-Mart came in and started clear cutting,” said council member Levi Scott. “I’m not so concerned about the private owner of a half-acre lot, but the developers here and the subdivision clear cutting. Our main problem has been the big developers.”
Baxley said there needs to be a distinction between a home owner wishing to cut trees down on his property and piece of property that is about to be developed. He also said he wants to see people maintain the trees they have.
Wendelken countered that some people, particularly older residents, either can’t afford the cost or the energy required to do that.
“Some people cut down trees because they’re tired of the maintenance,” he said.
City manager Donald Toms said he reviewed tree ordinances from several other cities and noted that historic preservation experts view trees in the same manner they consider such things as Rincon’s old post office.
“Like those trees on West Ninth — I’d hate to see some of them come down,” Baxley said.
But Wendelken said the city shouldn’t be in the business of telling individual home owners which trees they can or can’t cut on their property.
“We’re using a shotgun approach to take care of our issues when our problems are commercial developers and subdivisions,” he said. “We have private property rights. Unless it’s a historic tree, I should be able to cut it.”
Mayor Ken Lee said the city may want to approach the problem in two steps.
“I think we are all in agreement we want to do something about the clear cutting,” he said.
Toms said most of the other tree ordinances are written to protect hardwoods.
“At least it gives us the authority to say, ‘Why are you cutting this tree?’” he said.
But Wendelken replied that a private property owner shouldn’t have to ask if it’s OK to cut a tree on his property.
City planner LaMeisha Hunter said that a number of trees along Weisenbaker Road had been cut down, and a homeowner in Lost Plantation had cut down trees that eventually damaged the city’s storm drain.
“We’re doing what we can to address it before it becomes a problem,” she said. “I feel more comfortable with a blanket policy for everyone.”
Council members and city staff also weighed how to properly define clear cutting.
Lee said the city won’t see a rush of people wanting to cut down trees, namely because of the cost.
“But as quickly as we can, we need to address clear cutting,” he said.