Healthy Tree Removals

The number of healthy trees permitted for removal by the City Arborist Division surged by 40% in 2023, according to the City's published tree data, resulting in a 121% increase in annual tree loss since 2020. Before 2020, the City reported fiscal year (FY) tree data, which showed no growth trend between FY2014 and FY2019.  Additionally, there was no growth in healthy tree loss in calendar year (CY) 2020, but after 2020, healthy tree loss began to rise sharply year over year

(Click on the image below to enlarge.)

healthy trees thru cy 20233
Chart note: Before 2020, tree loss data was provided only by fiscal year (FY), from July 1 to June 30. 

The actual growth in permitted healthy tree loss since 2021 could be even higher, as data before the 3rd quarter of 2022 might have been inflated due to a programming error that double-counted trees when a Plan Review permitted trees in more than one quarter.*  

The City Planning Commissioner, Jahnee Prince, has requested that the Arborist Division stop publishing tree loss data until the Accela program team releases their new, interactive dashboard format for quarterly reports. While we are delighted that efforts are underway to provide the public with more user-friendly access to tree data, it is now five months after their initial projected release date, and there's no release date. This delay is particularly concerning as we are currently in Phase 2 of the Tree Ordinance Rewrite process without access to the most recent or corrected historical data.

Where Are We Losing the Most Trees?  

As the 2023 quarterly reports were being released, we noticed a record high of tree loss in the 3rd quarter and asked Arboricultural Manager, David Zaparanick, to investigate if some of these trees might not have been lost on larger commercial and multi-family housing projects. David provided the following information for the first three quarters of 2023 but has not yet given details for the 4th quarter of 2023.  The information he provided shows that the majority of trees are coming down on just a handful of commercial and multi-family housing projects.

Our Tree Ordinance currently focuses on preserving trees on lots zoned as single-family residential, which account for 77% of our tree canopy. However, this focus misses that the majority of our tree canopy loss is now happening on multi-family and commercial developments, and we may need to strengthen the Tree Ordinance's protection in those zoning categories.

We are unable to delve deeper into the quarterly report data to identify trends based on location or project type for tree removal. The only tree-permitting data publicly available is the Accela permitting database which allows us to look up the tree loss by individual permit only.

Here is a description of the larger projects that caused the most significant tree loss in the first three quarters of 2023:

1st Quarter:

In total, 62% of the trees permitted to be removed in the first quarter were on just five properties.

  • 3611 Jonesboro Road SW: 1,172 trees were permitted for removal in a land development permit (LD-202000108) for a 171,183 sq. ft. warehouse.  Only 49 trees are scheduled to be replaced.

    • Another land development permit (LD-202000074) was issued just last year to clear the property of 606 trees right next door, at 3539 Jonesboro Road SW, for a proposed service station.  Only 20 trees were scheduled to be replaced at that site.
  • 1,628 trees were removed from four other properties, ranging from 642 to 264 trees lost.  No individual details on those permits or tree replacement were provided. 

2nd Quarter:

In total, 47% of the trees permitted to be removed in the second quarter came from a single project at Tyler Perry Studios.

  • 1410 Campbellton Rd (Tyler Perry Studios): 1,888 trees were permitted for removal in a land development permit (LD-202200105)  for the construction of new sound stages. 1,546 trees are scheduled to be replanted with an average caliper of 3.35", a slightly larger size than the 2.5" required by the Tree Ordinance, but even with this proposed tree replanting there is a total net DBH loss of 83%.

  • Another 375 trees were permitted to be removed in a land disturbance permit for an apartment complex with 88 units, a community room, a leasing office, a community garden, and a playground. No address, permit number, or number of trees replaced were provided.

3rd Quarter:

In total, 69% of the trees that were permitted to be removed in the third quarter were on just three properties:

  • 3261 Hogan Road SW: 2,290 trees were permitted for removal in a land development permit (LD-202200025) for a proposed multifamily site of a 5.2-acre area of villas (192 units) and an 8.3-acre area of flats (256 units) with parking structures.   Only 191 trees will be replaced.

    • Also planned is a future townhome development which will be under a separate permit.

  • 1968 Marietta Road NW: Another 677 trees were permitted to be destroyed in a land disturbance permit (LD-202200093) for an industrial warehouse with loading docks and employee surface parking. 454 trees are scheduled to be replaced but will be no larger than a 2.5" caliper, so the total net DBH loss is 87%.

  • 2575 Alston Drive SE (East Lake Golf Course): 619 more trees were permitted for removal in a two-phase golf course renovation.

    • Phase 1: 273 trees were permitted for removal in the land development permit LD-202300024.  150 trees are scheduled to be replaced.

    • Phase 2: 346 trees were permitted for removal in land development permit LD-202300052.  No trees will be replaced.

*It was discovered in the summer of 2022 that whenever additional trees were added to a Plan Review (construction) permit in a quarter following the quarter the initial permit was issued, the subsequent quarterly report recounted all the trees that had been permitted the prior quarter. Also, some trees were removed for infrastructure purposes and left off the quarterly reports. The Arborist Division was supposed to have the data for all quarters before 3rd quarter of 2022 corrected and republished by year-end 2023.  As of May 2024, that data still has not been corrected and no data has been released for the most recent quarter (1st quarter of 2024).

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