New Hanover County Commissioners took no formal action on a request to modify county penalties for unauthorized tree removal.
The modification request was made by L.P. Britton Jr. Britton hired a professional tree-removal company to clear trees from a 5-acre lot he intended to develop on Chesterfield Drive in January 2014 without first securing a permit.
Britton, who is not originally from New Hanover County, said he was unaware of the county’s tree-removal ordinance. He was informed of the violation later that month, when county officials were dispatched to the property in response to a separate permit request.
Britton requested an amendment to the ordinance in hopes of reducing the penalty for his violation, including a bar on future development of the property for up to five years.
Commissioners considered a modified version of Britton’s request, drafted by county planning staff and the county planning board, which offered a $10,000-per-acre fine in exchange for a six-month bar on development of the property. The modified request would also give county officials flexibility to determine future penalties.
The board heard presentations by county planning staff plus Britton and his attorney, Matthew Nichols of Shanklin & Nichols. Following the presentations, the board declined action on the request.
Commissioner Jonathan Barfield said he disagreed with Britton’s request, which he said would shift responsibility from property owner to developer.
“It’s almost like you’re asking us to let someone come in and rewrite the rules after they made a mistake in our community. Whether they are from here or not, that would be a carte blanche for developers in our community to come in, just clear cut, pay a fine and keep moving on,” Barfield said.
Vice chair Beth Dawson agreed, saying it would send the wrong message if the board changed the ordinance at the request of someone who violated it, especially in light of community compliance with rules since the ordinance was enacted in 2008. She cited only one violation of the rules, which she interpreted as evidence the ordinance works.
“I will say that indicates that our property owners and local development community are investing a lot of money and time into making sure they follow the rules,” Dawson said.
Dawson said it could be beneficial for staff to further investigate proposed text amendments allowing more staff discretion in future enforcement but noted she wants to hear input from developers and property owners before making a decision.
Chairman Woody White said he would like to see more discretion allowed through adjustments to the ordinance in the future as well.
The item died after commissioners took no formal action.