Citing benefits of full-grown trees — from absorbing stormwater to providing habitats for wildlife — Sussex County Councilman Douglas Hudson is calling for them to be preserved when land is cleared for new developments.
“A 20-foot buffer must be left for all new developments. What I want to achieve is, if there is a mature tree inside the buffer, it can’t be cut down and replaced by a sapling,” Hudson told the Coastal Point, after he discussed the matter with members of the Sussex County Council at their Tuesday, July 14, meeting.
“What they do is they go ahead and clear-cut the entire thing, then they replant. I’ve only been here a year and half, but this is something I’ve been looking at since I’ve been elected. I don’t see a downside to saving the trees. If they can explain to me why these big trees have to be taken out then, maybe, but you’ve got a lot of explaining to do to me,” Hudson said.
Along with their beauty and history, trees help stop run off into waterways, consume carbon dioxide and produce oxygen.
“There are so many good things mature trees do,” Hudson said.
“If you plant a 4-foot tree now, it won’t be mature in our lifetime. They take generations to mature. Why not just leave it where it is?” Hudson said.
He said he has heard reasons for clear-cutting, including selling the timber and topsoil, but Hudson, and many constituents who have contacted him, believe it’s more important to protect trees — a move that appeared to have the support of the Sussex County Council.
“Trees drink so much water. They do so much good,” Hudson said.
During the July 14 county council meeting, Hudson called for “stricter conditions and rules” so that “a tree of a certain size can’t be touched” within the buffer.
Jamie Whitehouse, director of Planning & Zoning, said the County has “fairly extensive buffer requirements that evolved out of how buffers are treated.”
“We need to see that is carried out when approving a subdivision. That should be the first step,” he said.
Whitehouse said developers often design with tree preservation in mind, and if that’s that case, county officials “need to make sure that is spelled out in the site plan,” because there have been times developers bulldozed areas completely, then went back and replanted.
“Hopefully, that is something we can have a conversation about, and the importance of being there,” Whitehouse said.
Councilman I.G. Burton said he agreed with Hudson.
“Trees do take a long time. If we can do it — preserve trees and still develop — we’re doing a good thing,” he said, adding that he had he planted two trees, one for each of his children, when they were born. “They are 25 and 28, and the trees I planted are almost trees now. That’s how long they take,” he said.
Hudson said he also wants to see the County buy more land and leave it undeveloped.
The County, along with the City of Lewes and the Lewes Board of Public Works, recently bought, for $5.5 million, the historic 37.5-acre Jones Farm at the corner of Kings Highway and Clay Road in Lewes.
There are plans to put up a water tower on the property and probably use the rest for “some form of passive recreation for future public use,” a news release on the purchase states.
The three entities will jointly own the parcel — a mix of agricultural and forested lands — and preserve it in perpetuity, according to the news release, which called the agreement the first of its kind, and one that “represents the first land acquisition by the County using funds collected through a 2006 ordinance that allows developers to increase project densities in targeted growth areas of the county in exchange for added fees that are then earmarked for open-space preservation.”
Sussex County and the Lewes Board of Public Works will each contribute $2 million, and the City of Lewes will spend $1.5 million for the property, which was owned by J.G. Townsend Jr. & Co.