In todays guest column on Page 5, Columbia County Commission Chairman Barry Fleming outlines a series of goals for commissioners this year.
Several of the items deserve not just public attention, but enthusiastic support. Chief among these is the long-overdue passage of a tree-protection ordinance.
Planning and Zoning Chairman Steve Brown, a forester and developer, has long called for tighter restrictions on clearing trees as commercial and residential property is prepared for use. Embarrassingly, he notes Richmond County has new rules that actually are environmentally friendlier than Columbia Countys.
Such an ordinance, which currently is being researched by Planning and Development Director Jeff Browning, would require a tree survey before a site could be cleared. The builder would need to preserve trees larger than a specific size, or replace those trees with comparable species after the project is completed.
At least that gives us a place to start, says Brown, who adds that the Evans Town Center District includes a model for such an ordinance.
Naturally, there will be critics. Some in rural areas will worry that their timber harvest will be impeded; it wont. The ordinance wouldnt apply to agricultural areas. And some developers, more concerned about short-term monetary gain than the long-term health and beauty of Columbia County, will claim saving trees will make homes and businesses more expensive.
ven if the latter claim is true, so what? Just ask the residents of Chimney Hill or Forest Creek if they would have paid a few more dollars for their homes if theyd had some assurances that nearby trees could have been saved, instead of being bulldozed for prospective development.
Besides; by working with the developers on a system that gives credits for saving trees, the county can promote a partnership that saves trees at little cost to builders.
No matter how many crepe myrtles and Bradford pears are planted in parking lots and new yards, the spindly saplings just cant replace the older native species that are rapidly disappearing under encroaching development.
As county commissioners move to protect the older trees, here are a couple of suggestions:
Place special value on the large old pecan trees in the Martinez-Evans area. Back when most of the countys highways were just dirt paths, huge pecan orchards dominated the landscape. The trees can be untidy, but theyre a significant part of the countys unique identity and should be preserved.
Work with the Georgia Forestry Commission to survey and catalog the countys significant trees by species and size to ensure additional protection for heritage trees.
Its an election year, and any issue that can be portrayed as anti-developer or anti-private property rights can get a rough reception. A tree ordinance is pro-Columbia County - and it deserves swift approval.
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