(A)   Purpose. This section implements the enabling legislation granted to the town by the North Carolina General Assembly. The purposes of these regulations are to:
      (1)   Protect existing trees and shrubs located upon undeveloped sites for use as future buffers and streetscapes to meet site and/or subdivision plan requirements;
      (2)   Preserve existing tree and vegetative cover to protect the health safety and welfare of the public by preserving the visual and aesthetic qualities of the town; maintaining property values; controlling erosion; and reducing sediment and other pollutant run-off into streams and waterways in an effort to protect water quality; and
      (3)   Create a process whereby some properties are required to obtain a tree clearing certificate, recognize some properties are exempted from the requirement to obtain a tree clearing certificate prior to the removal of vegetation, and establish penalties for removal of all or substantially all of the required vegetation within required vegetation protection areas.
   (B)   Applicability. The requirements for obtaining a tree clearing certificate and penalties for non-compliance are applicable to all undeveloped properties that are zoned for residential or nonresidential use located within the town limits and/or extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ). For the purposes of the section, UNDEVELOPED PROPERTIES shall include any property within the town's jurisdiction that is not the subject of an approved site and/or subdivision plan.
   (C)   Exemptions. A tree clearing certificate shall not be required for the activities listed below.
      (1)   Forestry activities on property that is taxed on the basis of its present-use value as agricultural, horticultural, or forestland under G.S. Ch. 105, Article 12, and forestry activity that is conducted in accordance with a forestry management plan prepared or approved by a forester registered pursuant to G.S. Ch. 89B, and provided such activities are accomplished in compliance with this section. In cases where all trees or substantially all trees are removed from the perimeter buffers described in division (D) of this section, the town will not grant a building permit and site and/or subdivision plan approval for said property for a period of three years following the harvest of such trees. The three-year waiting period may be waived if the Town Council, by a 3/4 vote, determines a project to be desirable and grants the right to immediate development on recently timbered land where no perimeter buffer was kept. For the purposes of this section, the term ALL OR SUBSTANTIALLY ALL shall mean 75% or more of the existing trees with a caliper of four inches or greater.
      (2)   Properties with a town-approved site and/or subdivision plan, provided such plan has not expired and that any clearing or vegetation removal is performed in strict accordance with the approved site and/or subdivision plan.
      (3)   The removal of vegetation by public or private agencies within the lines of any public street rights-of-way, utility easements, or other town property, as may be necessary to ensure public safety, to obtain clear visibility at driveways or intersections, to perform authorized field survey work, or to preserve or enhance the symmetry and beauty of such town property.
      (4)   The town-initiated or approved removal of any vegetation which is in an unsafe condition, constitutes a nuisance or noxious weed, or which by its nature is injurious to sanitary sewers, electrical power lines, gas lines, water lines, stream or conveyance channels, or other public improvements, or vegetation which is infected with any injurious fungus, insect, or other pest.
      (5)   The removal of vegetation on property located within an approved residential subdivision that is zoned for single-family use, and provided such vegetation is not a portion of a required streetscape or other landscaping buffer.
      (6)   The removal of vegetation on a lot of two acres or less. Subdivision of property to circumvent these requirements is not permitted.
   (D)   Required buffers and vegetation. Other than that necessary to gain reasonable access to the property, clearing and/or removal of trees and other vegetation shall be prohibited in the areas listed below. In situations where one or more buffer zones or vegetation protection areas overlap on the same site, then the more restrictive requirement shall apply.
      (1)   A perimeter buffer zone having a width of 50 feet as measured from all ultimate property boundaries that adjoin existing public roadways. For the purposes of this section, the term ULTIMATE PROPERTY BOUNDARY of a parcel or tract shall mean the final demarcation line around the perimeter of a parcel excluding all areas that must be dedicated to the town for use as rights-of-way.
      (2)   A perimeter buffer zone having a width of 50 feet as measured from all property boundaries that adjoin developed property or vacant property with an approved site and/or subdivision plan.
      (3)   A perimeter buffer zone having a width of 25 feet as measured from all property boundaries that adjoin undeveloped property or vacant property without an approved site and/or subdivision plan.
      (4)   Any other areas necessary for the protection of existing vegetation as indicated within this section (such as riparian buffers).
      (5)   Notwithstanding any requirements of this section, the area of the required perimeter buffer zones for any tract shall not exceed 20% of the area of the tract, net of public road rights-of-way, and any required conservation easements.
   (E)   Application requirements.
      (1)   An application for a tree clearing certificate may be filed only by all the owners of the property or by such owners' authorized agent.
      (2)   An application for a tree clearing certificate shall be filed with the Planning Department. The application form shall be accompanied by a Vegetation Protection Plan that shall include, at a minimum, the following information on a sheet size no larger than 24 by 36 inches at a minimum scale of one inch equals 50 feet:
         (a)   Vicinity map showing the location of the tract at a readable scale.
         (b)   A map of the entire tract, including the property boundary of the entire tract by courses and distances with references to true meridian and the location and dimension of all on-site and adjacent off-site easements (such as drainage, utility, public access, aerial utility, conservation, permanent and temporary construction easements).
         (c)   General information about the tract, including but not limited to the owner of the tract; the current zoning of the tract, the area of the tract, and the conditional use zoning conditions, planned unit development master plan requirements, if applicable.
         (d)   The location and use(s) of all existing building(s) on the tract.
         (e)   The owner, current zoning and present use of all contiguous properties (including property on opposite side of adjoining streets).
         (f)   The general classification of all existing and proposed adjacent roadways (as depicted in the Clayton Transportation Plan) and the ultimate right-of-way boundaries associated with these roadways.
         (g)   The location and width of all future/existing buffers and associated vegetation protection areas, including riparian buffers, perimeter buffers and perimeter streetscapes.
         (h)   The proposed limits of timbering activities, including the location and extent of all tree protection areas as required under § 155.402(H)(4).
         (i)   A survey of individual trees is not required.
      (3)   The Planning Director may reduce or waive the requirements for a Vegetation Protection Plan in situations where it can be demonstrated that all vegetation removal will take place outside of required vegetation protection areas.
   (F)   Procedure. Prior to the commencement of any vegetation clearing or removal on any undeveloped property, the owner or the owner's agent must demonstrate exemption from the requirements of this section, or submit the required application materials and applicable fees for a tree clearing certificate.
      (1)   Upon receipt of documentation that a property is exempted from obtaining a tree clearing certificate, the Planning Director shall review all materials and make a determination if a property is exempted from the requirements or if the requirements apply. In situations where exemption status is claimed based on forestry use, this documentation shall include proof that the property is taxed under the present-use value standard or a copy of the valid forestry management plan prepared or approved by a North Carolina registered forester. The decision of the Planning Director may be appealed to the Zoning Board of Adjustment pursuant to § 155.717.
      (2)   If a property is not exempted from the provisions pertaining to a tree clearing certificate, then such application materials shall include a Vegetation Protection Plan consistent with the requirements listed in division (E)(2) above.
      (3)   The Vegetation Protection Plan shall be reviewed by the Planning Director. The Director shall disapprove the Vegetation Protection Plan if he or she has concerns about the plan's ability to meet the standards of this section. In the event the Director disapproves the plan, an Administrative Appeal may be filed.
      (4)   An applicant for a tree clearing certificate shall be notified upon approval of the Vegetation Protection Plan, and shall be free to erect or install any and all barriers necessary to protect existing vegetation within required buffer areas and vegetation protection areas from damage during tree clearing and/or removal activities. Failure to protect these areas shall result in penalties as indicated in division (G) below.
      (5)   Once all barriers for the protection of existing vegetation have been installed, a property owner or agent shall request inspection of such barriers for compliance with the requirements of this section.
      (6)   Upon a passing inspection of vegetation protection barriers, the Director shall issue a tree clearing certificate, and authorized vegetation clearing and/or removal may commence.
      (7)   An approved tree clearing certificate shall be valid for a period of not more than 12 months from the date of issuance.
   (G)   Non-compliance.
      (1)   Failure to comply with the provisions of this section shall constitute a violation of this section, and shall subject an offending party to a series of actions, including the payment of fines, delay in site and/or subdivision plan approval or building permit issuance, and the requirement to double the amount of required vegetation as would typically be required during the site and/or subdivision plan review and approval process. The following table summarizes the penalties for non-compliance with this section.
      (2)   An "X" in a particular cell indicates that the associated penalty applies:
Penalties for Non-Compliance
Type of Violation
Payment of Fines
Review of All Subsequent Site and/or Subdivision Plans by Town Council
Three-Year Delay in Approval of Building Permit or Site and/or Subdivision Plan
Landscaping Requirements Doubled During Site and/or Subdivision Plan Review
Property is exempt from tree clearing certificate requirements, but all or substantially all vegetation within required buffers and/or vegetation protection areas is removed
Property owner obtains a tree clearing certificate, but removes some of the vegetation within a required buffer and/or tree protection area
Property is not exempt from tree clearing certificate requirements, but property owner obtains no certificate, and removes some of the vegetation within a required buffer and/or tree protection area
Property is not exempt from tree clearing certificate requirements, but property owner obtains no certificate and removes all or substantially all of the vegetation within a required buffer and/or tree protection area
(Ord. 2006-07-03, passed 7-17-06; Am. Ord. 2021-02-02, passed 2-15-21)