Beaufort News

Bluffton community mourns impending loss of two live oaks

A tall live oak stands on the edge of the 7th hole of the community golf course in Moss Creek Wednesday evening in Bluffton. A plan to remove the tree was approved by the Beaufort County Development Review Team.
A tall live oak stands on the edge of the 7th hole of the community golf course in Moss Creek Wednesday evening in Bluffton. A plan to remove the tree was approved by the Beaufort County Development Review Team. Sarah Welliver

Moss Creek residents are mourning the impending loss of two live oaks on the community's south golf course after management gained Beaufort County's approval Wednesday to remove the trees.

The oaks are 44 and 52 inches in diameter and stand near the 7th and 16th holes, respectively.

Because of their size and proximity to the holes, the trees block sunlight on portions of the two greens, which disrupts grass growth.

A proposal to remove the trees stirred protest in the greater-Bluffton community, and more than 250 residents signed a petition against removing the oak near the 7th hole.

When Beaufort County's Development Review Team discussed the issue Wednesday, about a half-dozen residents spoke in opposition.

The residents said they had a professional arborist examine the tree, which he estimated is more than 200 years old.

They suggested trimming the oak's crown might provide 30 percent more sunlight to the green without harming the tree.

They reminisced about playing that 7th hole and said the oak contributes to its uniqueness.

Mitchell Wilkerson, director of golf and grounds for Moss Creek, said managers settled on the trees' removal only after they examined alternatives, such as moving the greens, and found them unfeasible.

"No one wanted to take a tree down," he said.

DRT member Arthur Cummings said he wasn't sure on what grounds the group could object, because Moss Creek met the requirements and approved the plan through the community's governing bodies.

"The board of directors has unanimously approved this; the greens committee has approved it; they've presented the technical information we've asked for," Cummings said. "So I know there's a lot of emotion tied to this, but we don't have any other scientific information to deny it other than hearsay."

A motion to approve the plan passed 3-1, with zoning administrator Hillary Austin dissenting.

Delores Frazier, assistant planning director and DRT member, said after the meeting that Wednesday's vote was the final round of approval for the tree work. However, Moss Creek still needs to meet several procedural requirements and must obtain a permit before removal can begin.

That delay might leave time for residents to appeal the decision to the county's Planning Commission.

But at least one of the residents who spoke Wednesday said he thinks the DRT weighed the evidence fairly and considered both points of view.

"I think we're sad about the tree, but now we have to go out and be neighbors and live together," said Gilbert O'Connell. "And I think we'll do that well."

Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.

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