Cutting down trees in Beaufort would become a punishable offense if the teeth a board seeks are added to the city's landscaping and tree conservation rules.
"What we're doing amounts to a slap on the wrist," city landscape architect Liza Hill said. The city's Tree Board could recommend fines for cutting or trimming performed without permission. The group is reexamining the city's Unified Development Ordinance, which was adopted in 2003 and periodically revised.
Changes that would close loopholes and protect significant trees were discussed at the board's monthly meeting last week. It was prompted in part by Beaufort County's decision to revisit its tree ordinance, Hill said.
Should the city's board recommend changes to the ordinance, they would require the City Council's approval to be enacted.
City approval is needed to cut down trees with diameters greater than eight inches, according to the code. If one must come down, trees at least one-third the diameter of the original tree must replace them. If a tree is cut down without permission, the replacements must equal the original tree's diameter.
That's not enough, Hill and board vice chairman Derrick Wells said. They pointed to a recent incident in the Islands of Beaufort, where a tree had to be cut down because it was in the way of plans for a house. Hill said the construction project was so far along they had no choice but to grant approval to cut it down.
"Our ordinance, dear tree board, has no meat in it," she said.
All she can do is keep tabs on who is supposed to plant trees and check up on them. The board discussed levying fines, the way cities such as Atlanta do. Last summer, a man received a $52,000 fine for trees removed from his property.
Fines could go into a tree-planting fund, board members suggested.
"It's the cost of doing things in the city," Wells said. "We like our trees."
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufort.