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A Hickory tree dropping small nuts on a car and walkway in Sea Pines has caused $500 in damage in the past six months, according to the owners of the property where the tree sits.
Deb and Doug Murphy want to cut down the tree, and their POA at Ocean Course Villas has approved the move.
But on Hilton Head Island, which values its trees enough to put them in the land management ordinance by name, these residents first must take their case to the town’s government — and their chances don’t look too good.
Because the Hickory tree is a species protected by the LMO, the Murphys have to apply to the town’s board of zoning appeals to get an exception to the ordinance.
“Hickories are considered uncommon and unique on the island, typically occurring geographically on the tops of old dune fields on barrier islands,” Sally Krebs, town sustainable practices coordinator, wrote. “Hilton Head’s remnant old dune fields have not substantially survived development of the island, so most of the older stands of hickories have long been removed.”
The board will hear the case Monday, but town staff has recommended they deny the removal.
Why do they want it gone?
The tree — which is about 26 feet tall — is producing nuts that Murphy says create a tripping hazard on her property and that of others.
“The nuts pose a human personal hazard as we leave and enter our villa. In the evening they are hard to see, and I have personally stepped on one and fallen,” she said. “Luckily, I caught myself and ended up with only skinned hands instead of a turned ankle or broken hip.”
Her neighbor, Jay Alls, rents out his property and “fully supports” the removal effort.
“Not only is it causing damage to vehicles, it is a safety risk at night,” Alls wrote in a letter to the board of zoning appeals. “Some of the nuts are hard to see when it’s dark and they are large enough to cause someone to twist an ankle or fall ...”
So what can they do?
The board will decide on Monday what happens to the tree, which is neither dead nor dying according to horticulturist James Ellis.
Per the town’s LMO, if the board approves its removal, the Murphys will have to plant new trees in its place.
“The hickory tree shall be mitigated as per LMO requirements at one tree per ten-inches removed,” according to the staff’s presentation. “Specifically, mitigating this hickory would require two ... trees be planted in the property common area that are at least ... 10-feet in height.”
The removal of the tree begs a bigger question for preservation on an island that values “environmental stewardship,” according to town staff.
“Specimen tree removal because a resident finds it a nuisance is a precedent that could be detrimental to the natural environment and character of the island,” town staff wrote in a letter to the board.