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Controversy surrounding Atlanta’s tree ordinance to again take center stage

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The City of Atlanta is set to reveal “next iteration” today, giving the public just a few days to review before feedback is due later this week

A large swath of trees dominate the foreground with city buildings in the background.
The trees of Piedmont Park are emblematic of Atlanta’s canopy.
Jonathan Phillips, Curbed Atlanta

Atlanta’s nickname “City in the Forest” could be jeopardized, to a degree, if city leaders and residents don’t come together on an updated Tree Protection Ordinance.

The Department of City Planning is expected to unveil today its “next iteration of a revised tree ordinance” that follows up public feedback provided during an August 22 city council work session.

Concerned citizens and advocacy groups hope to see to critical tree-protection components in the revision—and rules that don’t kowtow to developers.

First, The Tree Next Door, an advocacy group dedicated to protecting Atlanta’s tree canopy, wants to ensure their appeals rights in tree removal cases are secure.

Before 2008, residents had 15 days to appeal a preliminary permit issued by the city on private property; that has since been reduced to five days. Advocates don’t want to see that timeframe reduced—or eliminated—any further.

Secondly, advocates want to eliminate the city planning office’s proposal to allow an individual property owner to remove one healthy tree deemed “non-high value” per year.

Bar graph showing how many private property trees are destroyed each fiscal year in Atlanta.
Atlanta’s tree canopy continues to shrink every year.
The Tree Next Door

That could apply to any tree residents fear may fall on their homes—or any tree they simply don’t like in their yard, advocates say. Residents who need financial assistance to maintain their trees could stand to benefit.

“First and foremost, we want a tree ordinance that clearly defines how we’re going to save more trees, especially the trees that add true value to the ecosystem and neighborhood aesthetics,” says deLille Anthony of The Tree Next Door and chair of the Tree Canopy Committee for the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods.

“To do this, we need to have a more concerted effort by the city to preserve more trees at the beginning of a development project rather than wait until the end to make suggestions the developers don’t even have to follow.”

Furthermore, Anthony says her group would like to see the city include requirements for site developers that minimize the amount of grading and soil disturbance on building sites, to not only save existing trees but also provide the space and soil quality for new trees to grow to full maturity.

A flyer announcing two community meetings for public feedback.
Atlanta residents have two opportunities to share feedback regarding the city’s proposed revisions for the tree ordinance.
Department of City Planning

In addition, they’re asking city planners to institute more meaningful penalties for those who refuse to comply with the tree ordinance.

“As of now, the fine is $500 for the first tree and $1,000 for all other trees cut without a permit [or destroyed during construction] on the same property,” Anthony says. “This amount is too low to discourage some builders who see illegal tree destruction fines as a mere cost of doing business.”

Concerned citizens interested in Atlanta’s tree canopy are encouraged to attend two public meetings in which Department of City Planning officials are expected to present and discuss proposed revisions of the tree ordinance.

The first meeting will be 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Dennard Conference Center at Atlanta Technical College; the second is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Trinity Presbyterian Church on Howell Mill Road.