On March 17th (Sunday) a local resident began removing trees from his private property…the property is adjacent to Heritage Park. Several people saw this and thought the town was removing trees from municipal property. Residents began to call Commissioners, who then called town manager Melissa Adams at home.
Adams called the resident and determined that it was in fact his private property. That should have been the end of the conversation. It wasn’t.
During the March 18th board meeting town attorney Dan Hartzog addressed the board…
“I’ve been asked to look into 1, what sort of ordinance we have in place now and whether that would have applied and 2, whether we can strengthen our current ordinance to cover something like that in the future.”
“The answer is no. Our current ordinance only applies if someone is developing the property or selling the property….in that situation we currently have no ordinance that would prevent, or require a permit for cutting trees on private property.”
“The General Power Ordinance allows us to regulate acts that are detrimental to public health and safety and I can see an argument that cutting down trees could be detrimental to public health and safety…air quality and storm water runoff…it seems to fall within that class of things.” -Hartzog
Commissioner Legge referenced C. Wayne Collier Elementary in his comments. The school clear cut all of the trees adjacent to Rockfish Road and the road has consistently flooded every time it rains. He said the cart was before the horse and urged the board to work on something which would ‘solve a problem once and for all.” Later he warned ‘we’re gonna run out of oxygen’. He didn’t indicate if he meant Hope Mills, or the whole planet.
Commissioner Mitchell added”We don’t wanna go to a Communist state of affairs here but we do get some control.” He predicted an erosion problem in Heritage park and a need for a retaining wall.
Commissioner Larson said “I don’t think anybody wants to say you can’t go in your own property and cut two trees down…It’s more for when someone’s taking – uh – a large sum of trees.”
Commissioner Larson wants to prevent residents from removing a ‘large sum of trees’ and Commissioner Mitchell referred to a ‘significant number’ of trees in his discussion. But neither term is quantifiable. The number of trees you consider significant may be totally different than the number the board considers significant.
The board is not qualified to make that determination.
In fact, no one on the Board or the staff is trained to make that determination…so once again we’ll be stuck with an ordinance based on the whims and personal preference of the board.
But what will they be stuck with? Let’s say I ask the board for permission to cut down 20 trees on my private property. The board determines 20 is too ‘significant’ and denies my permit. Three days later one of those trees falls on my car. Or my house. Or my child. In assuming responsibility for determining what trees can be cut down and which ones can’t, they’re assuming responsibility for the consequences for those decisions. The legal consequences.
Ultimately the board tasked the attorney with drafting an ordinance for them to review.