A Bluffton committee tasked with preserving trees and green space is concerned the town is paving paradise to put up a parking lot.
As part of the ongoing Oyster Factory Park improvement project, overgrown shrubs, brush and several large shade trees were recently removed to make room for more vehicle, boat and trailer parking.
“We’re just sad about (losing) the trees at the expense of boat (parking),” town Beautification Committee chairman David Waugh said last week.
You can’t efficiently put in boat parking … without some tree removal.
Town planner Pat Rooney
Committee member Regina Banis said she “cried when (she) drove by and saw the devastation.”
Town planner Pat Rooney said construction crews and arborists “try to do to the best they can” to preserve as many trees as possible, but the addition of parking spaces inevitably results in “less area for green space.”
“You can’t efficiently put in boat parking … without some tree removal,” he said.
Banis questioned the need for more parking, saying that she doesn’t “ever remember driving by the park and there not being enough parking.”
In addition to more than doubling the number of spaces in the lot, the park improvement project involves adding sidewalks, building an observation deck and courtesy dock, and widening the boat launch ramp to two lanes.
When the roughly $900,000 project wraps up in April, town officials are expecting more activity in the park, which would necessitate additional parking, Rooney said.
But Rooney said he understands the committee’s concerns and suggested money from the town’s tree fund could be used to replace some of the lost foliage.
“I think this would be a good a use of our tree funds,” he said.
There are some places on the perimeter of the lot and within the islands of green space left standing “where I think we can put some shade trees back in,” Rooney said.
Small ornamental trees could also be added to serve as a visual buffer between the lot and Bridge and Wharf streets, he said.
The committee voted unanimously last week to recommend that Bluffton’s Town Council consider allocating money to plant more trees at the park.
Just how much would be needed for the tree replacements is unclear at this time, but as of last year the town had about $81,000 in its tree fund, according to a financial report.