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City revising vegetation requirements for businesses

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By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Greenville officials are in the process of weeding through ordinances that govern trees and other vegetation that businesses must maintain on their property as they expand, following a request by the City Council.

Mayor P.J. Connelly added a discussion about vegetation requirements to the council's agenda Thursday after hearing concerns related to a recent business expansion in north Greenville. He said the rules, written in the 1990s, need to be updated to allow for more flexibility.

“I love trees, I'm not saying let's get rid of trees, let's just be mindful that not every situation is going to work out perfect,” Connelly said. “I hate for something like this to prevent the growth of a business or the growth of our economy just because of requirements from 1991.”

An expansion by the business in question would have required it to plant new trees. The only place to do that was the parking lot, which would have eliminated two parking spots, Connelly said.

Eliminating the spots would have put the lot out of compliance with city parking requirements, but the only place to build more parking would have been on the plot itC planned to use for the building expansion.

Tom Weitnauer, chief planner for Community Development, said he was glad the issue came up because he thought several amendments would make sense. He said some of the requirements were becoming prohibitive due to the changing economic landscape in Greenville. 

“We have what we haven't had in a while, which is industry starting to expand — they were healthy and stable but now we're starting to see them expand,” he said. “I think that brought some requirements to light that may have triggered this inquiry for discussion.”

Weitnauer proposed a list of changes including adding more options for deviation, exempting industrial, non-conforming projects, and removing parking island requirements, the latter being high on the list.

“That one is important because you're suppose to have a tree so that in every part of the parking area, there's suppose to be a tree within 30 feet of you,” he said.

“But there's a pretty small planting island required, so you end up with kind of a 'popsicle' effect with very little green space around them. A more contemporary way to go about it is to have larger more continuous basins of trees, instead of dots throughout the parking lot.”

As the ordinance stands now, deviations can be permitted by the Community Development department director, currently interim director Joe Durham.

Weitnauer said the ordinance allows Durham to make adjustment at his discretion for projects that run into issues like the one Connelly described. He said most deviations granted “just made sense” and suggested they should be incorporated into the ordinance.

At large councilman Brian Meyerhoeffer said he agreed with the idea.

“To quote what you said earlier, I would like to see that we implement standards that make more sense,” he said. “Those are your words but I think those are words for us to live by, as we move forward with planning this out.”

District 4 Councilman Rick Smiley agreed the ordinance needed to be updated as long as exemptions and deviations did not lessen the amount of required vegetation but merely added flexibility.

“If putting two trees in this area is a disruption the whole parking lot plan, and they could add the trees somewhere else and achieve much the same effect, I think that's an entirely reasonable thing,” he said. “That sort of flexibility should absolutely be in our guidelines.”

Following the discussion, city staff was directed to study the issue and come back during an April meeting with a detailed list of amendments they think area appropriate. The council will consider the amendments, which will then have to be updated to zoning ordinances and approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission. 

Contact Seth Gulledge at sgulledge@reflector.com and 329-9579. Follow him on Twitter @GulledgeSeth

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