City grants DI tree removal requests by developers
Sixteen grand trees will be coming down on Daniel Island to make way for new development projects - but close to 350 trees are being protected and preserved in the process. The City of Charleston Board of Zoning Appeals - Site Design (BZA-SD) took up the tree removal requests from developers at their April 5 monthly meeting. Only one Daniel Island resident spoke at the session in opposition of the proposals.
Approximately 12 of the grand trees are located on Rhoden Island, a future development in Daniel Island Park that is bordered by Ralston Creek, marsh and the Wando River. Eric Schultz, principal planner for the City of Charleston, addressed the board first on the project, calling Rhoden Island an “incredible” place with abundant freshwater wetlands and numerous grand trees. According to Schultz, he and city staffers met with the Daniel Island Company “early on” in planning for the new development and “very soon realized that the trees should dictate the size of the lots.”
Steve Dudash of Thomas & Hutton has been working with the Daniel Island Company on its master planning for more than two decades. In his comments to the board, he noted the company’s hard work in safeguarding as many trees on the island as possible over the years.
“We’ve worked very hard, diligently and vigorously…to protect as many as we can,” Dudash told the board. “…We believe the trees are one of the island’s greatest assets.”
Dudash estimates the Daniel Island Company has planted over 20,000 trees since the island’s development began in the late 1990s, and many existing grand trees and tree clusters have been preserved in open spaces and allées, such as along River Landing Drive and Seven Farms Drive. The Daniel Island Company has received two “Building with Trees” awards from the National Arbor Day Foundation in recognition of their efforts to preserve trees during construction of the Daniel Island Club’s two golf courses.
With regard to the Rhoden Island project, the Daniel Island Company reports that they have been able to save 96 percent of the trees on the property, which was once zoned for about 400 homes. Today, after careful planning around trees, the number of units has been reduced to about 100, said Daniel Island Company President Matt Sloan, who also spoke at the board meeting.
Of the 305 grand trees on Rhoden Island, 75 were graded “A.” Approximately 99 percent of the “A” trees remain, noted Sloan. The one that has been slated for removal made the list so that a road alignment will not impact a grove of “A” trees, he said.
“We’re creating a special place here,” Sloan told board members. “We don’t take out grand trees without approval…We save everything we can.”
Also speaking in favor of the tree removal was certified arborist P.O. Mead, whom the Daniel Island Company has hired to care for island trees. Sloan had high praise for the Rhoden Island preservation efforts thus far.
“In 25 years of developing with trees, this is the finest effort I have been associated with,” he stated.
Jane Baker, vice president of community services for the Daniel Island Property Owners Association, spoke about the trees at last week’s meeting of the Daniel Island Neighborhood Association (DINA). According to Baker, approximately 51 out of 305 trees on Rhoden Island will be saved through the creation of parks and open spaces on the island.
“To get some context…when Center Park was created there were 310 grand trees and 30 were removed to create that neighborhood,” she told DINA members.
Daniel Island resident Lisa Pieretti was the only dissenting voice at the BZA-SD meeting. She recently initiated an online petition in favor of saving the grand trees. As of April 10, it had close to 400 signatures.
“I commend you for your efforts in building around the trees,” she told the board and developers. “I think that’s in your best interest and the best interest of the community in which you build. What I’d like to know is which trees are you finding so problematic that you can’t create a lot?…Those of us on Daniel Island have seen many trees taken down, some look like they were grand trees…We all thought that is was a law that these trees were protected and that everyone respected that.”
The board granted a variance from Sec. 54-327 to remove a dozen grand trees on Rhoden Island, with the condition that the developer meet certain requirements recommended by city staff.
Also on the agenda at the BZA-SD meeting was a request for a variance to remove four grand trees, and a variance to allow a reduced impervious construction setback near the base of three grand trees, as part of the new “Overture” senior apartment community on Farr Street. None of the trees in question are considered high grade, noted Schultz. No one spoke in opposition of the requests and all were granted by the board with conditions. There are 43 total trees on the Overture parcel, including 23 grand trees, noted Baker.
Sloan informed the BZA-SD of the community’s participation in the redesign of the Overture complex, after concerns were expressed following the project’s initial approval by the Planning Commission.
“They came up with nine or 10 really good points and the whole project got better,” said Sloan. “The tree story got better, the road story got better, and the building design is completely better…So the community was heard.”
Daniel Island resident Peter Zalka, who was also present at the meeting, hoped to see even more collaboration and better communication about projects to community members in the future.
“Like Matt said, by engaging the community, it’s a better project now,” Zalka told the board. “This idea that the public maybe doesn’t take notice….there’s competition for our time. We all know that. I am going to suggest that it is the responsibility of developers and public officials to go out of their way to make the extra effort to engage the public…If you folks make the extra effort to engage the public, we get better projects, we get better cooperation and we’re a stronger community.”
The board faced another Daniel Island agenda item related to a variance request at the commercial property at 259 Seven Farms Drive. The building is owned by Michael White, who asked the board for reconsideration of the zoning administrator’s decision to deny a request to reconfigure parking lots islands to accommodate four additional parking spaces. The request was deferred until next month’s BZA-SD meeting.