The stretch of S.C. 49 where 17 mature cherry trees were removed last month won't look the same, but efforts will be made to restore the site.
"Until I see different, I believe it was an honest oversight, and we're trying to find a way to make it right," said Bruce Henderson, Lake Wylie's representative to the York County Council. "It's just a matter of correcting so that it never happens again."
A week before Christmas, the trees were cut down at Blucher Circle and S.C. 49 as part of development for the incoming QuikTrip convenience store. A flurry of messages was sent to public officials calling for the responsible party, and asking that the trees be replaced.
"The jury is still out just a little bit on this thing," Henderson said Friday. "I feel like maybe we need to have another ordinance in place that at least requires the county to start evaluating anything in the public right of way for things like this."
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What complicated the issue was the trees were planted as part of the road widening of the main highway years ago using public money, a grant meant to create a gateway into Lake Wylie. County planning commission member and Lake Wylie resident David McCorkle reviewed the development plans and met with QuikTrip leaders after the tree removal.
McCorkle found approved plans show the 17 trees to be removed were stamped and initialed by York County Engineering and Zoning. The trees were in the public right of way and not the property of the owner or developer. The required buffer for the site plan requires the addition of 75 willow oaks and 60 crape myrtles on three sides of the property.
McCorkle said some tree removal was needed for sight distance for the driveway into the gas station, but there wasn't road widening or other additions requiring removal of all the trees.
"We have been told there is no county ordinance to protect trees in the right of way, although we believe (the state Department of Transportation) should have had the ultimate responsibility of approving the removal of the trees in the right of way since they were installed by the (transportation department) during the (highway) widening and were part of a landscape beautification project for Lake Wylie," McCorkle said.
Henderson said he's been working with the company, and efforts will be made to replace the trees with as similar a tree as possible. Fully mature trees likely won't be available, but the replacements won't be young trees, either.
"Some of them had to be removed for safety purposes, but not the full 17 of them," Henderson said.
With QuickTrip already slated to add several trees for its required buffer, Henderson said current ordinances allow for "a little credit" for the tree replacement. Meaning, by replacing the removed trees, QuikTrip may be able to reduce the number of buffer trees.
York Development Group, developer of the former Waterside Market Place shopping center, sold the site to QuikTrip. Part of the development plans for the convenience station included trees that provide better visibility for safety and are easier to maintain than what was there, said Brian Rollar, partner with York Development.
"It's going to be better than what was existing," he said.
Rollar's group continues development at the Wylie Gateway on the Lake site, which has several businesses signed on. A 10,000-square-foot YMCA space is expected to open April 1, followed by the QuikTrip in the summer. Construction is set to begin in 30 days on a 26,500-square-foot family center featuring a bowling alley and jump house, expected to also open in the summer. Also planned are a hair salon (1,800-square-feet) and an Asian fusion restaurant (3,000-square-feet).
A traffic light also is planned for installation this summer at S.C. 49 and Blucher Circle,.
"With its proximity to the lake, with its demographics and with it bringing back what was a blighted center, we think it's going to be a positive for the community," Rollar said.