Lengthy tree ordinance causes controversy in Surfside Beach

SURFSIDE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – A tree ordinance is the talk of the town in Surfside Beach. At Wednesday’s town council meeting, residents and council members debated the topic for nearly an hour.

“We have a pretty strict tree ordinance in effect right now,” said Surfside Beach Mayor Bob Childs. “There were some that thought maybe it was too restrictive and that’s why it came back up and that’s why council is trying to deal with it.”

Mayor Childs says right now if a town resident wants to trim or cut down a tree on their own property, that community member would have to get a permit.

“That’s one of the sticking issues to try to come up with something that everybody’s comfortable with,” the mayor explains.

Some residents said the current ordinance is too restrictive and they support the amended ordinance, which gives people more freedom to cut and trim trees on their own property.

“The reduction in the number of permits for homeowners is a much needed change, as well as the modifications regarding the fines and penalties,” said resident, Carol Holt.

Other neighbors who live within town limits say they like the regulations, and they also spoke up at Wednesday evening’s council meeting.

“By not requiring a permit to remove a tree, the homeowner doesn’t know if the person removing the tree has proper insurance,” argues Carrie Johnson.

Another argument is that if there is less regulation, more trees will be cut down and therefore more flooding and erosion will occur throughout Surfside Beach neighborhoods.

“Trees are not expected to absorb all water of the storm,” said Betty Lowery. “We’ve got a great storm water system but it can’t handle everything. Something’s got to hold the dirt in place.”

Lowery’s argument was also disputed.

“There’s no way that water is going to be affected by trees. Not going to be affected at all,” said Laurence McKeen, who worked for DuPont for over 30 years.

The planning commission has spent months revising the ordinance, which is now 17 pages long. It gets as specific as to regulate the size of a limb a resident can cut, as well as which types of trees are protected. Read the full document here.

After a lengthy debate last week, council could not make a decision. Many of the council members said they were too confused to vote to pass or deny the ordinance in its current state.

The decision was made to create a new committee made up of Councilman Johnson, Ott and Stevens as well as Planning, Building and Zoning Director, Sabrina Morris and Town Administrator, Micki Fellner.

That special committee will meet Friday to try to come up with a solution to the lengthy tree ordinance in Surfside Beach.