The ability of North Carolina municipalities to regulate the removal, replacement or preservation of trees on private property within their jurisdictions could be eliminated if a new bill emerges from the spring 2014 short session of the North Carolina General Assembly.
The general assembly’s Agriculture and Forestry Awareness Study Commission voted April 30 to recommend a bill that would strip that ability from local municipalities.
In response, elected officials from Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach, Burgaw and Shallotte gathered Tuesday, May 13, to voice disapproval of the recommended bill.
“This action came without warning and without input from local government,” said Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo. “The city of Wilmington has locally enacted ordinances designed to protect trees, encourage developers to maintain trees or plant new trees if they are removed during construction.”
Saffo argued the protection and preservation of trees is especially vital for the health and vitality of Wilmington and surrounding coastal communities.
Wilmington Tree Commission chairman Bill Jayne said tree preservation should not be left to the discretion of developers.
“Most of the developers in the Wilmington area have some appreciation for the environment because they understand that is part of what brings people here,” Jayne said. “But still, sometimes trees conflict with their development goals.”
Wilmington City Councilman Kevin O’Grady called the bill another move by the general assembly to centralize control in the state.
“The issue is control; this is an effort to have central government control rather than citizen control,” O’Grady said. “Local government is the government closest to the citizens. We should be making the decisions for the community, not the central government.”
Town of Wrightsville Beach Manager Tim Owens said the town has a tree protection ordinance to protect large native species like the live oak and red cedar.
The Wrightsville Beach ordinance states if one of those protected trees is removed or altered, the party responsible has to replace it on a one for one basis.
“Our town ordinance allows for ample development opportunity while preserving trees as well,” Owens said. “The elimination of the ability to have a tree ordinance basically eliminates the possibility for a community to achieve its vision and could be detrimental to the quality of life at Wrightsville Beach.”
The co-chairs of the Agriculture and Forestry Awareness Study Commission are Rep. Jimmy Dixon, R-Duplin and Wayne; Rep. James Langdon, R-Johnston; Senator Andrew Brock, R-Davie, Iredell and Rowan; and Senator Brent Jackson, R-Duplin, Johnston and Sampson.
The spring 2014 short session of the North Carolina General Assembly began Wednesday, May 14, and the adjournment date is yet to be determined.