City of Atlanta Rewriting Tree Ordinance (Again)

For the third time in eight years, the City of Atlanta is taking another stab at rewriting the Atlanta Tree Protection Ordinance.

As a bit of history, in 2010, the Philadelphia-based landscape architecture firm, Wallace, Roberts, and Todd (WRT), interviewed a number of tree ordinance stakeholders, (i.e., city departments, tree advocates, builders and developers) to gather input into what changes needed to be made to the tree ordinance. In 2011, WRT worked closely with The Tree Next Door to rewrite the ordinance so that it would be simpler and better organized, address inconsistencies and improve efficacy, and incorporate current arboricultural science. What resulted was a draft that was eventually shelved. In 2014, another rewrite, in which The Tree Next Door did not participate, was submitted to the City Council Community Development/Human Resources Committee, but this rewrite, too, never made it into law.

In 2017, City of Atlanta Planning Commissioner, Tim Keane, reached back to the city he left in 2015, and hired Charleston-based consulting firm Biohabitats to conduct a year-long assessment, the Urban Ecology Framework, to "define a better future condition for the natural environment, including high-level recommendations about future green spaces, green connections, and green policies." The study, which began in March 2018, was supposed to result in a Tree Ordinance rewrite by the time the Biohabitats' scope of work ended this summer (2019). Now it looks like it may be this fall (2019) before we have a final draft of the new Tree Ordinance based on the updated time table. Meantime, there have been several “mini-updates” presented to the Urban Ecology Framework Technical Advisory Committee, but the full ordinance is still to be rewritten.

Two public forums were held on April 23 and 24, 2019 to present the results of the Biohabitats' year-long study, which largely focused on protecting trees near waterways and considering ideas for future land restorations projects, which, not surprisingly, is Biohatbitas' area of experitise.  They briefly touched upon the new ordinance in a one page slide, but did not make any recommendations that showed how we could preserve our existing canopy, much less grow it to 50%, the City's stated goal.

Four public forums were held June 3 - 6, 2019 to review an outline of the first draft of the new tree protection ordinance.  The draft outline revealed that the City was indeed focusing on saving trees in stream buffers and large intact forests, but had not given any special consideration to other areas of Atlanta, particularly single family residential neighborhoods where 77% of Atlanta's tree canopy resides.  The City talked about implementing a more "streamlined review process" which moves the planning process for trees to the beginning of the permitting process, but balances tree preservation with the City's needs for "affordability, mobility, and growth."  Also, the City recommeded eliminating all preliminary permit postings and appeal options for proposed tree removals, an idea that was soundly trounced by the forum attendees. 

A couple of weeks after the draft outline was presented, City Council voted that, effective immediately, the Department of City Planning was "to establish a pre-submittal team to conduct and coordinate consultations at the beginning of the permit review process in order to protect and preserve trees in Atlanta."

Additionally, a rescheduled City Council Community Development and Human Services Committee’s work session was announced for Thursday, August 22 at 10 a.m. This work session will be held in Committee Room No. 1 at Atlanta City Hall, 55 Trinity Ave SW. 

While The Tree Next Door has always been supportive of rewriting Atlanta's tree ordinance to make it clearer, we have seen twice now a tree ordinance rewrite that never became reality. Whether this third attempt might actually succeed in becoming law is still to be determined, but we do know that we cannot wait another year (or two) for a new ordinance when trees are coming down now due to a lack of enforcement with our current tree ordinance. After all, what good is a new tree ordinance if the City of Atlanta is unwilling to enforce the one it currently has? To that end, The Tree Next Door has identified the five most common violated sections of the Atlanta Tree Protection Ordinance we would like to see addressed so that by the time we do get a new tree ordinance, the enforcement mechanisms are already in place.

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