Johns Island live oak slated for ‘execution’
By Diane Knich
The Post and Courier
December, 11 2015
Johns Island — The state Department of Transportation plans to cut down a live oak Monday on River Road, but local residents, an environmental group and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley are fighting for the tree’s life.
Jim Rozier, chairman of the DOT Commission, said the tree, which sits across the street from the entrance to Fenwick Hall near the intersection of Maybank Highway and River Road, has been hit by cars many times and is unsafe. He also said the tree is not healthy, and it’s time for it to come down.
The developer, Tim Arey, of Arey properties in Concord, N.C., is building an apartment complex off River Road and wants to build a road to provide access to it. The DOT is legally required to allow access to a roadway and the tree sits in the path of that road.
There is another place on the property where a road could be built, Rozier said, but that would require the property owner to fill in some wetlands.
He admits he heard about the tree from Arey, but the developer’s plans didn’t play a role in the department’s decision to remove the tree. No matter where the road is built, the tree still has to come down, Rozier said.
Arey couldn’t be reached for comment on his office or cellphones Friday.
Riley said he has sent a letter to Christy Hall, the state’s interim Secretary of Transportation, asking her not to cut down the tree. “Hopefully, we’ll get a last minute stay of execution,” Riley said.
“Large trees are a very special part of the Lowcountry,” he said, especially on Johns Island, where the live oaks provide canopies over picturesque roads. Cutting such a tree down “would be a most unfortunate decision.”
Natalie Olson, land-use program director for the Coastal Conservation League, said her group already has more than 1,000 signatures on a petition to save the tree. “And it’s blowing up on Facebook,” she said of the effort.
Olson also said that if the developer builds the road to the apartment complex in the path of tree instead of across another portion of his property, it wouldn’t properly align with a proposed new road that is part of a “pitchfork” at the intersection of Maybank and River. That plan includes two parallel roads running along Maybank to River to disperse traffic.
The plan now would pull traffic headed to the apartment complex and neighborhoods beyond it off Maybank onto the northern pitchfork road and into the complex. If the access road is built where the developer wants to build it, she said, traffic wouldn’t flow smoothly.
City planner Jacob Lindsey said the city has recommended the developer relocate the entry road closer to the proposed pitchfork, which improves access and does not affect the tree.
Rozier said the pitchfork road hasn’t been designed or permitted, and the developer needs access to his property now. “It makes more sense to take a tree down than to fill in wetlands.”