Hammering out a tree ordinance for St. Simons Island has not been as easy as it seems like it should have been, but it is done. The Glynn County Commission recently took an important step toward preserving not only the trees on St. Simons Island, but also the character and charm of the place.
A special committee and the two planning commissions have been working out the details of the new ordinance since 2015. It was not always smooth sailing. It looked like the ordinance would pass in April of 2017. It did not.
From then, it took more than a year and several more meetings to get something together that commissioners agreed would do what is necessary to save roughly 50 percent of the remaining tree canopy.
Even then, the Islands Planning Commission had recommended to deny the measure. The county commission does not have to take that recommendation — as they showed — but approval shows again that the county commission is at odds with the island planning board.
As we saw in a closer look at the rest of the state and places like Hilton Head, tree ordinances can be vary greatly in how strict they are. Savannah, for instance, has one of the strictest set of rules around. Head to the city’s historic district and you will see the fruits of that effort. Age-old live oaks spread their long branches over centuries-old squares and homes all around the city. It is illegal to take down one of those trees without special permission or special circumstances.
While other trees are included in our new local ordinance — which requires keeping 25 percent of the land in a new development open so that the trees can spread out and cover roughly 50 percent of it — live oaks are the prize the new rules are most intended to protect.
They should be protected. If developers want to come in and build a new subdivision or condo complex, they should be required to maintain the aspects of the island that make it so attractive to people. The beautiful live oaks are a major factor in that.
Some developers may not like the new rules, but they will get used to it. Soon, they will be the new norm and it will simply be the way business is done. Tree plans will be part of every proposal and local arborists may find themselves with a bit more work.
For private property owners, healthy live oaks 38 inches or wider must remain standing, another measure meant to save the trees that are part of the fabric of the island.
The ordinance could have gone farther, but as it is, it seems like it will strike a balance that we will all get used to and that will go a long way in saving St. Simons Island’s trees.