Rewrite Update

Latest Tree Ordinance Draft Put on Hold

The Atlanta City Council called a special meeting on December 20, 2021 in which they decided to file Ordinance 21-0-0063 to amend the tree ordinance, which means the tree ordinance draft released last January (2021) has been put on hold.  We never did get to see the revised tree ordinance that Councilmember Matt Westmoreland was working on with former Councilmembers Jennifer Ide and J.P. Matsigkeit.  Ide and Matsigkeit did not run for reelection in 2021.

Last January 21, 2021, City Planning released their revised Tree Protection Ordinance and held a Work Session on the draft on February 17 (slide show found here). This is the draft that should have been presented the previous summer(2020) according to an updated schedule they released shortly after their first draft was released on March 12, 2020.  Public feedback to this latest draft was even more negative than the feedback they received to their March 12, 2020 draft because, after two attempts, it appeared that City Planning was either unable or unwilling to produce a draft that:

  • Saves the tree canopy overall, as opposed to just a handful of the best trees or a few urban forests.
  • Provides timely information about when and where trees are coming down in our community.
  • Allows the right to appeal when there is evidence that a city arborist's decision misinterpreted or misapplied the Tree Protection Ordinance.
  • Stops an excessive amount of trees being removed as dead, dying, or hazardous (DDH).
  • Provides for meaningful enforcement to reduce illegal tree destruction.
  • Is simple and easy for the layperson to understand.

In February 2021, the Tree Next Door provided a list of the Top 20 reasons why this latest draft is unacceptable and is even worse than our current ordinance. On May 3, 2021, after consulting extensively with other stakeholders in the tree ordinance, we published our list of recommendations on how to fix the City's proposed Ordinance.  To simplify things further for those who want just the key points, we put together a brief "Top Ten Things That Must Be Fixed" document.

To increase community engagement, Trees Atlanta held a 4-week series of public virtual discussions each Thursday from March 18 to April 8 to explain the changes to the City's proposed new ordinance and review the changes they would like to see in the proposed Ordinance.

On April 22, 2021, Livable Buckhead released a letter they sent to the Committee on Community Development and Human Services (CDHS) offering their proposed recommendations for the City's proposed Ordinance.

The CDHS Committee had planned to review this draft at their meeting on April 27, 2021 but rescheduled that meeting to May 5, and then indefinitely postponed that meeting.   Councilmember Matt Westmoreland, then chair of the Community Development and Human Services (CDHS) Committee which oversees the Arborist Division, indicated his desire to pass a new tree ordinance (a revision of the one released by the City in January 2021) -- co-written with Councilmembers Jennifer Ide and J.P. Matsigkeit -- before the November 2021 election; however, that draft was never released. Finally, the entire tree ordinance rewrite project was put on permanent hold in the specially-called December 20, 2021 City Council meeting.

What Happened Before This Latest Draft of the Tree Ordinance?

Previously, The Tree Next Door had submitted their feedback on the March 12, 2020 first draft of the new Tree Protection Ordinance, which deviated considerably from the 2014 draft that Councilmember Matt Westmoreland had said the previous December (2019) that they would use.

Before the first draft in March, Councilmembers J.P. Matzigkeit, District 8, and Matt Westmoreland, Post 2 At-Large, had said they planned to take matters into their own hands since, after a year of struggling to rewrite the Tree Protection Ordinance, the Department of City Planning hadn't delivered.

"They haven't provided details to me about that or what [the planning department] is planning to do," said Matzigkeit in a December 27, 2019 Reporter Newspapers article. "Our preference would be to work with the administration to get something in place, but we want to get something in place."

Westmoreland said they plan to "reintroduce a 2014 draft rewrite as a starting point". Westmoreland had expressed hopes to have a first draft of the new tree ordinance by end of the first quarter of 2020 which he did deliver on.  However, neither the March 2020 nor the January 2021 draft rewrites looked anything like the 2014 draft Westmoreland had said would be their starting point.

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