From: Jessica Vanegeren, The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C.
Published May 12, 2005 12:00 AM

Developers Going out on a Limb for Trees

It may be rare for developers to chop money-making housing units out of a plan, but that's what owners of 244 acres off Bees Ferry Road in West Ashley have done during the past year.

The reason? To save trees.

The heavily wooded land, nestled between Bees Ferry and U.S. Highway 17 near Main Road, held more than 800 grand trees. Grand trees are those with diameters, at chest height, of more than 24 inches. Some typical examples are southern magnolia, red maple, pecan and live oak.

Last week, the city of Charleston's Board of Zoning Appeals-Site Design committee finalized the plan for the tract owned by BAKBAR LLC. The city will allow 38 of the more than 190 grand trees there to be removed. Property owners will spend roughly $500,000 in tree mitigation and replant 125 trees to offset the loss of those grand trees.

The committee meets again June 1 to decide whether to allow the removal of 25 grand trees on the side of the lot owned by Beazer Homes.

Billy Barnwell, and other members of BAKBAR, said they dropped single-family homes from 170 to 137 and townhouse units from 70 to 60. In addition, lot lines were shifted; ponds planned with oak trees in the middle; and grassy medians with oaks planned.

The property also includes 288 apartment units and 5 acres of neighborhood-commercial space.

Barnwell said that mitigation costs coupled with the loss of potential revenue from the eliminated housing units amounts to about $1 million. But he's not upset. He said times are changing.

"We never paid attention to things like that before. All we looked at back in the 1970s was density and cost," Barnwell said. "We looked at how many lots we could cut up and how much money we could make. Now, we realize the aesthetic value of retaining the trees will increase the value of the remaining lots."

Barnwell and the other landowners opted to annex into the city of Charleston to take advantage of a new zoning classification that allows for more traditional-looking neighborhoods with sidewalks and varying street designs. Additionally, the neighborhood zoning allows flexibility so landowners and developers can build around trees.

"We worked for many months trying to figure out how to fit the homes in without removing all the trees," said Lee Batchelder, the city's zoning administrator.

Still, Sue Schweikart, an engineer with the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, said trees have a direct effect on air and water quality. Removing any grand tree can be seen as one too many, she said.

"It's my personal opinion that trees are more than just something to look at," Schweikart said. "I don't think many people know how many grand trees, over time, are lost because committees grant variances."

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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

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