The Board of Zoning Appeals reviewed a variance request to remove several dozen trees from property on Silver Bluff Road but, after a tense discussion between residents and the land owner, the item was tabled on Tuesday evening.


The vote was 6 to 1 to address the item at the next board meeting on March 26 – board member Jason Price voted against the motion.


Nikolaos Chionakis, owner of 510, 514 and 516 Silver Bluff Road which includes Zorba's restaurant, requested a variance that would allow him to remove approximately 62 trees from an interior parcel located behind those properties. The 4.16 acre parcel was purchased by Chionakis in late December.


As of Jan. 31, horticulturist Tom Rapp has only approved 24 of those trees for removal because of decay.


The reason a variance request has been made is because the City's zoning ordinance states that “the natural landscape, including all existing trees, shall be preserved wherever possible.” Though the properties owned by Chionakis are in the county, the parcel he recently purchased is in the city.


Underbrush and small trees were already recently removed by the property owner which was said by City Senior Planner Sandra Korbelik to be permissible.


Residents living behind this property along Oriole Street and Wren Place said they were surprised when they notice the greenery behind their homes wiped out.


Pictures were presented by different residents showing trees lining their property lines last summer. Pictures from this month show a much more sparse scene.


Chionakis said safety is his concern, stating that several large limbs and, in some instances, entire trees have fallen onto his property. Chionakis cited several incidents, the first in 2000 when a pine fell onto the Zorba's building and the most recent in 2012 when two trees crashed down without striking any structures. Chionakis, who lives behind his restaurant, said that a tree fell approximately 10 feet from his bedroom window in 2010.


“I'm here today because safety is my number one priority,” Chionakis said. “I bought this lot only for this reason.”


Behind these Silver Bluff properties are four mobile homes in which Chionakis is renting out and those are in the county along with his restaurant. He said he's concerned about the safety of his customers and tenants.


Residents said that cutting down these trees not only hurts their property values but they are not fond of seeing the back of businesses, cars, dumpsters and mobile homes from their backyards. Some said that since the trees were cut down, they've had several car break-ins along their streets which have never been a problem before.


“I'm asking for some type of peace so my children can play outside in the back yard, and I can enjoy my home,” said Oriole Street resident Erica Simmons. “We shouldn't have to look at this disgrace.”


After a long discussion and emotions still running high, Board Chair Laurence Ogletree asked to table the item to allow time for the residents and the City staff to work together on coming up with a plan to address the tree buffer situation.


“We're trying to mend fences,” Ogletree said after the meeting. “We don't want to build fences.”