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City tree ordinance could bloom by May
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A tree ordinance for Richmond Hill is getting attention again after being placed on the proverbial backburner for several months, and city officials say it could be passed by the city council as early as May.
The Richmond Hill City Council met last week with the intention of holding the first reading of the ordinance that been in the works for at least the past year, but the issue was tabled for 30 days.
“The Home Builders’ Association (of Savannah) wanted more time to study the ordinance,” Mayor Harold Fowler said.
 Fowler, who campaigned during last year’s municipal election on getting a tree ordinance in place, said he thinks the item has good support among council members.
“We want to make sure this is a good tree ordinance, and we want to make sure it’s something the home builders can work within,” he said.
 Calls to the Home Builders’ Association of Savannah were not returned by presstime, but Gene Brogdon, an area developer and member of the Coastal Bryan Tree Foundation, said items of concern for home builders and other developers are proposed requirements for bonding and perpetual maintenance.
Bonds, or sometimes cash deposits, are funds paid up front by the developer that will cover the cost of any property improvements should the developer, for whatever reason, be unable to complete the work – in this case tree protection, planting and/or removal.
Brogdon said home builders are also concerned with proposed language in the ordinance that puts tree maintenance on the homeowner.
But city director of planning and zoning Steve Scholar said individual homeowners would not be held to the tree ordinance.
“Once the property is sold to the homeowner, then the tree ordinance does not apply anymore. So there’s no perpetuity for homeowners,” Scholar said.
“But if there’s going to be a common area, like a pool or playground, then they (the homeowners’ association) would have to maintain the common area for perpetuity.”
 He said city officials will meet with the home builders’ association and individual developers in the coming weeks to see what changes they might propose.
“We certainly have an open mind,” Scholar said. “We’re just trying to get the best possible tree ordinance we can – that’s our goal. And I think we’re getting there.”
But for Wendy Bolton, president of the Coastal Bryan Tree Foundation, the ordinance the city finally approves may not be the same the foundation came up with several years ago.
She said the foundation received a grant to develop the tree ordinance and worked closely with home builders, residents and city and county officials “to come up with something that would work for everybody.”
“We worked very hard over months and months and months, and drafts and drafts and drafts, and thought we had something everyone was happy with,” Bolton said.
That draft went before the Bryan County Commissioners and Richmond Hill City Council around the same time, she said, and the county passed it in April 2007.
“But the city keeps trying to reinvent the wheel,” she said.
“Our (the foundation) desire was to have an ordinance, if not the same, then very close to the county’s so home builders wouldn’t have two different sets of rules to follow.”
As an example, she said the Publix shopping center on Highway 144 would be in compliance with the foundation’s ordinance.
“You don’t have to plant a forest,” Bolton said.
But the city’s ordinance might not be all that different from the county ordinance, according to Brogdon.
Though the city has added bonding and perpetuity requirements, the rules regarding things like canopy coverage are the same as in the county ordinance – 40 percent, he said.
The city council will have its first reading of the tree ordinance at its regular meeting at 7:30 p.m. May 4 in the council chambers at city hall.

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