Proposed changes to landscape rules call for more and greener plants
A plan to put more green into green spaces is under review by the Georgetown County Planning Commission. Members say they want to make sure that the measure provides enough space for landscape plants to thrive.
The effort began in 2019 with a request from Murrells Inlet restaurant owners to eliminate the requirement that parking lots have one landscaped island for every 10 parking spaces. They wanted to shift that landscaping to the perimeter of the lots.
A proposed revision to the zoning ordinance would keep the interior landscape requirement and increase the size of the plants. It would also require that at least half of the plants are evergreens.
Parking lots would be required to have a 5-foot landscaped buffer around their perimeter.
The current regulation “doesn’t always result in a buffer around the whole area,” said Holly Richardson, the county planning director.
For parking lots with more than 90 spaces, a 10-foot-wide island would be required between “modules” of 10 or more spaces.
The revised rules will increase green space and help reduce stormwater runoff, she said.
Commission member Sandra Bundy said she was concerned that improvements to parking lots along Business 17 are being made, but that they don’t comply with the current ordinance.
“Is the old ordinance hard to enforce? Is that why it’s not being enforced?” Bundy asked.
Richardson said that parking areas that existed before the regulations were adopted only have to comply if they are expanded. The lots along Business 17 that were regraded and resurfaced with crushed rock were existing lots, she said.
Bundy also questioned the 5-foot perimeter buffer. “You need 6 feet of buffer around a tree. We’re saying 5 feet,” she said. “I would love to hear from an expert.”
While Richardson said she used data from the S.C. Forestry Commission and Clemson University Extension Service in drafting the new regulations, she didn’t actually talk with an arborist.
“I really think we need to get this right,” Bundy said.
She suggested a workshop.
Elizabeth Krauss, who chairs the commission, said that would only delay the adoption of the new rules, which will require a public hearing by the commission and three readings by County Council.
Commission member Marla Hamby suggested that local landscapers and tree services would be able to provide input. “My concern is I certainly don’t know what a plant needs to live,” she said.
Richardson said she would consult an arborist to find out if the 5-foot buffer is sufficient.
Krauss asked what the county can do to ensure that the landscape plants are maintained, noting that the former Walmart shopping center in Georgetown now has mostly dead trees in its parking lot.
The ordinance requires that dead trees be replaced, Richardson said, but she acknowledged that can be hard to enforce. In the future, she wants the zoning office and stormwater office to coordinate their inspections to better identify problems.
The revision also encourages that developments make use of existing vegetation, a criteria included in a recent revision of the tree protections rules. It prohibits the use of plants classified as invasive species by the Forestry Commission.
If the landscaping includes live oaks or other large trees, the proposed regulations allow the developer to reduce the number of trees to ensure they won’t be crowded out as they grow. The reduction would require certification from an arborist.
Beyond parking lots, the proposal would require a landscape buffer between multi-family developments and commercial developments and between churches or schools and mobile home parks. The evergreen requirement and the ban on invasive species would apply to those and other landscape buffers already in the ordinance.
The commission expects to continue work on the ordinance in December.