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Leland Planning Board to discuss proposed tree regulations that would restrict clear cutting

Wilmington WECT logo Wilmington WECT 1/25/2021 Michael Praats
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LELAND, N.C. (WECT) - As the Cape Fear region continues to grow at an unprecedented pace criticism from residents has led local governments to reevaluate their tree policies and regulations. In Leland, new developments can be seen cropping up across the municipal limits, and now, the town is considering new tree regulations that would, among many things, prohibit clear cutting of lots.

It’s something the town has been considering for more than a year, and after town staff decided to stop the process, town leaders have requested they move forward with it. The town’s Planning Board will discuss the proposed changes at its upcoming meeting which will be held on Jan. 26.

“In June 2019, Staff presented as a discussion item to the Planning Board a set of draft regulations for tree retention and planting requirements. After internal discussion, Staff paused on pursuing the amendment further. In December 2020, Town Council directed Staff to revisit the set of regulations and move forward with a text amendment to modify the Code of Ordinances,” according to the Planning Board’s agenda.

Since then town staff has updated the proposed amendment that was presented in 2019.

“This update incorporates changes to the ordinance that have occurred since then, including the tree retention, mitigation, and protection requirements adopted in Section 66-314 for Performance multifamily developments,” according to town documents.

[New Hanover Co. commissioners pass protections for large trees]

There are a number of proposed changes but one of the most significant ones would be new restrictions on clear cutting of lots; the proposed regulations for clear cutting would apply to lots greater than 20,000 square-feet. Essentially, the town would restrict clear cutting and require a 20-foot-wide area inward from the property line to remain undeveloped. These rules are to ‘maintain the visual character of the site...’

The proposed regulations would also impose a $5,000 penalty per acre clear cut by developers if they were to ignore the regulations.

Another one of the proposed changes would be the addition of language protecting so-called significant trees.

“Significant tree means any tree that is a species on the Landscape Species List in the Administrative Manual with a diameter at breast height equal to or greater than eight inches,” according to a new definition proposed.

These significant trees would not be able to be removed without prior permission, along with mitigation requirements if such a removal were permitted.

According to the Planning Board agenda, “The following summarizes the draft language:

  • Create regulations to prohibit clear cutting of lots.
    • Adds regulations prohibiting clear cutting of lots in three scenarios: with forestry activities, prior to development, and during development and imposes a penalty for clear cutting not compliant with the section.
  • Modifies the definition of “significant trees” and adds regulations requiring approval of such trees and mitigation for removal.
    • Sets threshold of applicability to lots greater than 20,000 sq. ft., excluding most platted single-family residential lots.
    • Requires approval of for removal of “significant” trees, either as part of site plan approval or as a standalone application if no development is proposed.
    • Sets criteria for when a significant tree can be removed. o Establishes waivers for the required approval in certain situations, such as in an emergency. o Requires mitigation for removal of significant trees; can be through replanting or payment in-lieu of plantings to fund tree plantings in nearby public areas (street rights-of-way, parks, etc).
    • Imposes a penalty for unauthorized removal of significant trees.
  • Clarifies that a landscape plan is required for site plan or subdivision review or when a significant tree is proposed to be removed.
  • Expands the requirements for tree protection fencing or similar and regulates tree protection areas to protect retained trees during development and construction to all development and not just Performance Multifamily Developments.
  • Creates requirement that trees planted for screening/buffering and parking lot landscaping requirements must be from Landscape Species list in the Administrative Manual.”

The Planning Board meets Tuesday, 6 p.m. in Council Chambers at Leland Town Hall, a full breakdown of the proposed changes can be found online. This is just one step in the process and town staff is requesting feedback from the Planning Board on the proposed changes, eventually, it will be up to the Town Council to approve the final changes.

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