A representative of the developer hoping to bring a Starbucks to Beaufort poses an interesting question: If a business fails because it is not allowed to cut down a tree to provide adequate parking, what's more important to the city -- the business or the tree?
We have an answer, one the developer probably didn't expect and probably won't like.
History and natural beauty are the calling cards of the charming city, and sizable live oaks are emblematic of both. As such, it would be penny wise but pound foolish for Beaufort to allow 303 Associates to take down a 37-inch live oak for the sake of additional parking at the site of a proposed Starbucks. A city planner believes a 32-inch live oak could also be saved in an area where 303 Associates wants to place parking spots.
This is not to say a tree can never be toppled to accommodate development, only that there should be clear parameters for doing so.
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Neither is it to say a Starbucks wouldn't be welcome here -- the market will determine that. The coffee chain surely didn't get to be so successful by brewing coffee people don't like.
What's more, Dick Stewart, a principal in 303 Associates, has raised several valid points in recent weeks about design requirements for the Boundary Street Redevelopment District, where the Starbucks would be located. Mandates that new buildings be two stories, have facades containing 75 percent glass and colonnades of a prescribed width entail expense that might discourage redevelopment of this important corridor.
Planning committees and City Council are expected to consider easing Boundary Street Redevelopment District rules in coming months and should take Stewart's points to heart. These rules are, after all, less a reflection of nature and history than a trending aesthetic.
However, efforts to protect trees are the proverbial line in the sand, the rules on which city officials should stand firm. It seems clear that residents want it this way -- from reaction to garish cuts along utility rights-of-way, to the city's self-guided tree walk, to Beaufort's designation as a Tree City, USA.
As Courtney Worrell of 303 Associates implied by asking rhetorically if Beaufort really favored trees over business, there is a price to be paid for this preference. Strict adherence to rules designed to protect trees might indeed mean some businesses cannot afford to build or expand.
If city officials begin buckling for one or two developers, it becomes more difficult to justify not buckling for all of them. Before long, swaths of the city, stripped of history and natural beauty, become concrete expanses -- in other words, less like Tree City, USA and more like Anywhere, USA.
Most Beaufortonians seem to prefer living in the former. City government should help ensure that they do.