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Atlanta seeks to protect tree canopy with rewrite of ordinance

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With development claiming countless trees, plans are in the works to better protect greenery without hampering growth

The Mandarin Oriental Hotel stands above trees, with high grasses and narrow gravel wheel tracks.
The Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Buckhead stands above trees.
Michael Kahn, Curbed Atlanta

Atlanta’s notable tree canopy could soon be better protected from mayhem like chainsaws, thanks to a rewrite of the city’s tree ordinances.

According to Reporter Newspapers, plans are in the works to overhaul the regulations governing how developers cut down trees. The changes will address “how to protect old-growth forest and tree canopy,” Atlanta Planning Commissioner Tim Keane told the paper.

Currently, rules allow developers to pay penalties for each tree they cut down; with low fees, developers often choose to clear cut sites and cut a check to the city, rather than design around trees.

If a more prescriptive ordinance, with stronger protections for old-growth trees, is crafted, developers may be encouraged to design around trees, yielding more interesting designs, better integration with nature, and a healthier tree canopy for the city.

Or housing costs could simply jut higher as they whack the trees anyway and cough up higher fees.

In any case, the latest push for a rewrite comes on the heels of a high-profile fight for trees on public land being removed to allow for private development.

Atlanta’s tree canopy, as seen from Sandy Springs. City Data

In Peachtree Hills, a new development is necessitating the addition of a new drain pipe through an adjacent public park, which will require the removal of several mature trees.

Despite neighborhood outcry, the trees will soon be cut down.

However, this isn’t the first time the tree ordinance has been rewritten in the last few years. In 2014, a new ordinance was drafted, but concerns about little public engagement led the new rules to ultimately be scrapped.

Funding sources are currently being sought for the initiative, with plans for it to take up to 12 months before it becomes a reality.