A 6.5-foot variance protects an oak 6.5 feet around
The proposal to protect a pair of live oaks with trunks more than 6 feet in diameter was met with a silence that seemed to stretch as wide as the trees themselves.
Meghan and Logan Barnes asked the Georgetown County Board of Zoning Appeals for a 6.5-foot variance to the setback on their acre lot at Hagley so they could build their “forever house” without impacting the oaks. The architect they hired, “was the only one who said I wouldn’t have to cut down the tree,” Meghan Barnes told the board.
The county planning staff recommended approval, but after board member Eileen Johnson made the motion to approve the variance, it looked like the architect might have been wrong. Her colleagues just looked straight ahead.
Finally, Will Moody, who chairs the board, offered a second. The measure passed 3-2.
The board was also faced with deciding the fate of a hickory tree on Highway 17 between Pawleys Island and Litchfield. Its trunk measures more than 2.5 feet in diameter. It was the first appeal since the county amended its tree ordinance to reduce the size of protected trees and restrict cutting on commercial property.
William Calloway, who plans to build an office for his real estate company on the lot, said he will be able to create a loop driveway by cutting the hickory. If he has to build a conventional driveway, two trees will need to be cut.
“I’m trying to save every tree on the lot,” he told the board.
The board decided it needed more information before it could vote on Calloway’s request.
The future of the live oaks on the Barnes property is also uncertain because even with a variance from the county, their plan does not comply with the setbacks laid out in the deed restrictions for Hagley Estates. The lot is on the corner of Old Waccamaw Drive and Joseph Isaac Way. While the county’s setback on Joseph Isaac is 16.5 feet, the Hagley deed restrictions require a 25-foot setback.
“It is possible to meet the Hagley setbacks,” Tom Stickler, president of the Hagley POA, told the appeals board. “One tree, as unfortunate as it may be, would be removed.”
But he also offered another solution. There is only one house on Joseph Isaac Way, the one owned by Robert and Traci Paglio. If the neighbors petitioned the state to close the street, the setback would go away. That has been done with other minor streets in Hagley, Stickler said.
“I think that’s a long-term solution,” Meghan Barnes said. She and her husband want to start construction sooner.
Stickler agreed it could take a year to close the street.
Robert Paglio asked the board to deny the variance request. He wants the Hagley POA to enforce the 25-foot setback, to reduce the impact of the new house on his view.
“They can still build their dream house,” he said of the Barneses, although they might have to move a tree.
He told the board he once had plans for a three-car garage at another house in Hagley, but abandoned the project because of the setback.
And Paglio added that his current home “is our forever home, too,” Paglio added.
The tree ordinance would allow a tree to be cut, said Holly Richardson, the county planning director.
“We would try to save it because it’s a grand tree,” said Kristal Infinger, the zoning administrator.
Board member Marty Farrell questioned whether allowing the variance would increase the likelihood that the Barnes lot would be subdivided.
Infinger didn’t think that was likely, but said the lot can be subdivided now with the approval of the POA.
Farrell ended up voting against the variance. He said he wasn’t convinced that the house couldn’t be moved to reduce the impact on the trees. He also thought Paglio’s objection was valid.
In a letter to the board, Stickler said he told Barnes that the POA has never granted a setback variance in advance of construction. However, it has waived its right to enforce setbacks where violations have occurred.
In moving to approve the variance request for the county setback, Johnson made that conditional on the planting of a landscaped buffer along Joseph Isaac Way.
“Our only goal is to protect the tree,” Meghan Barnes said. “We would be happy to plant buffers.”
In the case of the hickory tree, Johnson said she wanted more details about Calloway’s plan.
“I would also like you to do me a favor by tagging the tree,” Johnson said.
Staff and board members said they couldn’t identify the tree by Calloway’s description of it leaning over the highway.
Moody said the tree that’s closest to the highway is about 20 feet from the pavement, so he questioned whether it was a safety issue for drivers leaving the driveway.
“It’s definitely a safety issue,” Calloway said.
Board member Tim Onions was sympathetic. “I’m a tree lover, too, but there’s not tree on earth that’s worth one life,” he said.
If the tree is a hazard, Infinger said, the ordinance allows staff to approve its removal. That hazard would be determined by the state Department of Transportation.
Farrell suggested that Calloway provide a site plan for the project. Calloway said he sought the variance to the tree ordinance to try to save time.
The board asked Calloway to come back next month with a site plan that shows the driveway and his sign along with what DOT will allow for a driveway. He said he would also mark the tree.
“It’s the only tree that’s not set back,” Calloway said. “You can’t miss it.”