By DOTTY NIST
The Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) will soon be considering proposed amendments to the Walton County Land Development Code (LDC) aimed at protection of trees.
The proposed amendments had come about after a group of citizens had approached the BCC in October 2021 asking for better tree protection in Walton County. The BCC had then directed Walton County Planning and Development Services to develop language for this purpose. The planning department had done so and had held a number of workshops on the proposal.
The amendments would apply within the unincorporated area on a countywide basis.
Kristen Shell, county planning manager, made a presentation on the proposed amendments at the Sept. 14 Walton County Planning Commission meeting.
Shell explained that there are existing provisions in the LDC requiring preservation of development sites containing some types of natural communities, with 50 percent of the natural community required to be left in place on the site in such circumstances, unless a preservation buy-out of up to 25 percent is approved.
Shell noted that if there is no protected natural community on a site, currently there are no tree protection requirements—and that for sites less than two acres, there are no existing tree protection requirements. These are situations to be addressed by the amendments.
Shell commented that the amendments would apply to residential and mixed-use development sites but not commercial sites or agricultural lands. She also noted that tree protection would not be required on individual single-family residential lots, aside from lots where the CR-30A Scenic Corridor sets tree protection requirements.
She said the requirements in the amendments would not overlap with the existing native community protection program. Lots that are subject to the natural community protection requirements would not be subject to the proposed amendments, Shell explained.
Shell said that, in a nutshell, for lots to which the amendments apply, there is a requirement to protect 60 inches of cumulative tree diameter at breast height (DBH) per acre, which may consist of any type of tree or trees.
She also noted that on these lots certain canopy trees listed in the amendments would be required to be preserved if they are over 48 inches in diameter at breast height. These are considered landmark trees.
Shell said such trees could be applied to the 60 inches of cumulative tree DBH per acre requirement if such a canopy tree or trees are present on the property.
Asked about hardship cases in meeting the requirements, Shell said the amendments allow for mitigation and also administrative flexibility for modification of site requirements in order to save landmark trees.
For removal of trees for which the amendments call for protection, she said the required mitigation is for planting one tree per four inches removed, with a specification that the tree or trees added must be native and similar to what was removed and cannot be part of a required buffer or landscaped area—but must be in addition to those required areas.
Shell also noted that a key part of the amendments is the addition for the CR-30A Scenic Corridor (including the intersecting north-south roads) of a new protected natural community the Upland Hardwood Forest, at a 25 percent protection requirement. This would be in addition to the existing 50 percent preservation requirement for High Pine and Scrub within the CR-30A Scenic Corridor.
In response to a question, she noted that the amendments would take effect upon approval by the BCC but would not apply to development proposals already “in the pipeline,” with applications under review.
The amendments will come before the BCC with a recommendation for approval from the planning commission. They are set to come before the BCC at its 4 p.m. Oct. 11 meeting at the Walton County Courthouse.
Information on the amendments may be viewed online at the link: https://tinyurl.com/4zha65zx