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After advocates show up to protest, UDO tree mitigation policy continued to next month

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At Monday night’s New Hanover Board of Commissioners meeting, members voted to continue conversations about tree mitigation along highway 421 until next month.

The new amendments to the development ordinance would change how developers get rid of trees along the highway 421 corridor, a largely industrial area that covers 15,000 — including large forested areas.

New requirements would make developers replant or preserve 15 trees per acre of the land being clear-cut and developed. That would mean, for example, clearing a forested area a little smaller than a football field and replanting 15 trees. There’s also no strict requirement about what type of tree is replanted in the area. Advocates say this isn’t enough, and have criticized the process as rushed.

Several stakeholders were present at the meeting, and spoke in favor of all the proposed amendments to the UDO, saying that changes would be good for business and that they accommodate more companies looking to move into the New Hanover County area.

Those signed up to speak in opposition were given a total of 15 minutes.

Connie Parker is the executive director of the Alliance for Cape Fear Trees. She says she opposes the new requirements, but she said she's not anti-development, and neither are most of those who spoke. Rather, she feels there is a better way to go about dealing with the trees along the corridor. And she says the amendment process should have been more transparent.

The Planning Commission labeled this change a "maintenance amendment." But a maintenance amendment typically refers to correcting a misspelled word or minor note, not a change in policy.

“I feel like we've had a lot of cooperation, a lot of input, and a lot of things I make sure we understand ahead of time. This is just different, really different. I don't know exactly where it came from," Parker told WHQR.

Parker made it very clear that she was very happy with the planning commission thus far and how involved they've allowed the organization to be.

Other advocates who spoke in opposition to the tree mitigation amendment mostly cited environmental concerns.

Parker mentioned that birds use the trees as a “corridor” during migration, to move between Brunswick and Pender counties.

Before further discussion was held, Commissioner Rob Zapple added that “compromise is possible” between advocates and stakeholders. He then made a motion to approve all other amendments to the UDO, and continue this conversation at their first November meeting.

Seemingly out of frustration, Commissioner Bill Rivenbark posed a question to advocates present, asking if 'no development' was what they wanted. There was a resounding “no” from the audience, with multiple members saying “that’s not at all what we’ve said tonight.”

Zapple ultimately made a motion to approve all UDO updates — except the tree mitigation policy, which he suggested be continued to November 14. Zapple's motion passed, 3-1, with Vice Chair Deb Hays dissenting.

Staff now has over a month to have conversations with advocates and stakeholders to recommend a better solution for the commissioners to vote on.

Camille hails from Long Island, NY where the exuberance of sports season never ended. She graduated from Boston University with a BS in Journalism and double minors in Classical Civilizations and Philosophy. Chasing stories has been a passion of hers since she was little, channeling itself through her art and writing. Camille’s journey in audio is never ending and she’s served as a podcast producer on multiple shows. When she’s not working she enjoys chatting and gaming with friends, reading, and creating digital art.