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If a tree falls on Daniel Island...you can bet it makes a sound
By Jennifer Johnston
Jan 14, 2014 - 7:49:17 PM

Fencing surrounding an old live oak on the project site is intended to protect the tree's root system.

Even if you’re not a bona fide tree-hugger, you can’t deny the majestic, unique, sometimes haunting beauty of the live oaks in the Lowcountry. And here on Daniel Island, we are blessed with some of the most stunning, from the singular specimen serving as the Mitchell Wharf centerpiece to the multiple moss-draped limbs forming a canopy over River Landing Drive.
So it would come as no surprise that either a moderate foliage friend or a full-fledged bark embracer would speak up if our beloved oaks appeared to be potentially at risk. Such was the case with the trees on the property being developed at the 270-unit Simmons Park Apartments on Seven Farms and River Landing Drives.
But those very trees were, in fact, what drew the developer to the site in the first place. “The stately presence of the mature live oak trees was a primary factor in selecting the Simmons Park site for our next community on Daniel Island,” purports Jason Fish, Director of Development for Spectrum Properties Residential, Inc., the company putting up the luxury apartments. “The experience we plan to offer both future residents and surrounding neighbors alike will incorporate the essence of the trees, as our project has been designed to showcase their natural beauty.”
Spectrum Properties retained local landscape architecture firm Thomas & Hutton to work with the municipalities to ensure a robust tree protection plan was approved. The development was required to pass a City of Charleston design review process before the first shovel hit the ground. And the project is still subject to third-party oversight. “Along with the plan’s implementation, we have contracted with Charleston’s premier arborist, P.O. Meade, to nurture and preserve the trees throughout the development of the Simmons Park project,” shares Fish.
The Spectrum Properties representative states that Meade has signed off on perimeter fencing that is intended to protect the root system. And it is this fencing that first caught the attention of Daniel Island resident Thom Galas, who has experience working in a large nursery. Galas, who is forthcoming that his concerns about the more mature trees on the Simmons Park parcel are not based on forestry training but rather “conversational knowledge,” on the subject, also maintains that he is not opposed to the development, but is “pro-tree, especially old-growth trees.”
“I just noticed the old oaks in the Simmons Park project had a protection area that was well short of the drip edge,” Galas contends, “and that triggered the recall of something I read or had been told ... that old growth established trees need protection to the drip edge while younger trees are more resilient to changes in their environment and require less of a protection area.”
Galas’ worry is that, although the old oaks appear to be protected by fencing, the volume of dirt being placed on the site could “submerge” and compact their root systems and that, over time, the change in the environment could stress these decades-old trees. The resident has seen changes in other island trees, perhaps succumbing to the same potential fate. “Take a look at the thinning crowns on some large old oaks on or near Despestre and Baltimore Streets in Center Park,” Galas suggests. “Do they look like healthy old growth? The change in crowns surely happened over time and probably reflect the result of root damage from construction.”
Bob Sauer, a certified landscape designer and head of the Daniel Island Pruning Corps, has also eyed the soil being piled near the bases of the trees at the development. “The (silt) fences should extend almost to the limits of the drip lines; the ones at Simmons Park look to be closer to the trunks than I have usually seen. If tree roots are compacted or covered with soil or other dense debris, the roots are deprived of oxygen and water.” But Sauer also acknowledges the planning and approvals that are required before commencing such a project, stating, “Landscape architects are very aware of the safety precautions to guard the health of trees on or near construction sites, so I’d be surprised if the fencing is too close to the trunks.”
Galas, too, advises that an arborist could conclude whether or not his fears are founded. Danny Burbage, Superintendent of Urban Forestry for the City of Charleston, affirmed that the project is occurring on private property, and that it was awarded approval through the City’s design review process.
This is not the first time Spectrum Properties has found itself charged with the safekeeping of Daniel Island trees. “We also built (the apartments) at Talison Row,” notes Fish, “and protected the trees there successfully.” The Talison Row project was completed last spring; so far, the trees on the property appear to have kept their health intact.
Ultimately, the Simmons Park Apartments developer employs respectful tree logic in assuaging any fear that the trees would be endangered by the project. “We designed our building around the trees; we are keenly aware of their health,” Fish assures. “It would be a shame to build around them, and then lose them.”

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