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QuikTrip gas station proposed off Exit 12 on Ga. 400

SOUTH FORSYTH -- Only one issue took root Tuesday evening during the Forsyth County planning board’s discussion of a rezoning application for a proposed gas station in south Forsyth.

QuikTrip Corporation is requesting to rezone less than two acres on Bluegrass Lakes Parkway just west of Ga. 400 and McFarland Parkway (Exit 12) from a restricted industrial district, or M1, to commercial business district, or CBD, for an about 5,800-square-foot convenience store and fuel station with 53 parking spaces.

The only thing standing in the gas station company’s way is an old tree located on the property, but it seemed unlikely the tree will sway the Board of Commissioner’s ultimate decision on whether or not to grant the application.

The discussion centered on whether the tree would need to be cut down, and, if it does, what the applicant’s recompense efforts would be.

Forsyth County’s Tree Protection and Replacement Ordinance states, “Specimen trees removed with prior approval from the Department of Planning and Development must be replaced at the rate of one unit for each unit awarded it, in addition to the minimum site density factor in recompense for their removal.”

However, the document adds, “In the event the Director determines a specimen, historic or landmark tree is a hazard to property, power lines or people, the tree may be removed without recompense or penalty.”

The board’s issue was whether the tree was healthy enough that its removal would require recompense or if it posed a hazard and, therefore, no remediated efforts would be needed after taking it down.

“I know we had one arborist come in and say [the tree] may or may not make it,” said Patrick Britt, District 3 board member, “but I think it depends on what side of the fence you come on.”

Jayne Iglesias, the board’s chairwoman, stood up for the tree.

“This is the reality about trees,” the District 2 planning member said. “It’s a 200-year-old tree. Is it going to be perfectly healthy? No. It’s 200 years old. It’s been struck by lightning on occasion, it’s probably gotten some beetles at some point. But if you’re 200 years old, you’re going to have your own set of issues.

“However, I may live to be 300 years old, and I could be a perfectly happy tree at 300 and have a couple of extra bumps and bruises along the way.”

District 4 board member Bettina Hammond took a more neutral stance.

“So what you’re saying now is they’ve got their witness and we’ve got our witness,” she said. “And it’s our job to determine which witness we want to believe.”

Britt offered a solution.

“I think 80 trees is a place to start,” he said. “That [number] came from [our arborist]. If you look at 80 two-inch saplings at $250 buck a pop, that’s $20,000.”

Other board members voiced agreements.

“We’re not asking them to purchase more land in order to plant those trees and make it a huge burden on them,” Iglesias said. “What we’re asking is that there’s this specimen tree that may or may not fall within the next 100 years, no one [can] be sure, and it could be a liability for you as a business, which I understand.

"So at that point, you’re needing to take it down, but we have park space and street-scape space and in replacement of us understanding that you have this liability, you also need to remediate.”

The county also has a tree fund QuikTrip could donate to if it decides to take down the tree.

A planning commission public hearing is scheduled for Aug. 30, during which they can vote to recommend approval or denial of the application. A Board of Commissioners meeting on the application, which will ultimately decide the fate of the rezoning request, is planned for Sept. 15.