Money trees: What Decatur’s tree protection ordinance could have cost you

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt January 23, 2014

The recent discussion about Decatur’s tree ordinance reminded me of this bit from The Simpsons episode “Bart Gets an Elephant.”


Property owners felt like they were blindsided by the policy changes that would’ve required them to plant trees whenever they wanted to remodel their homes.

During the discussion about the ordinance on Jan. 21, Planning Director Amanda Thompson showed city commissioners a spreadsheet of what the ordinance would’ve cost homeowners. I requested a copy and received it today.

Before you look at these spreadsheets, please keep the following things in mind:

– This ordinance didn’t pass on Tuesday. It was deferred for “tweaks.” This spreadsheet shows what the ordinance would’ve cost residential and commercial property owners to replace and plant trees if the ordinance had passed.

– It provides two cost estimates. One estimate shows the cost if the commissioners had approved an ordinance with a citywide canopy goal of 55 percent cover. The other estimate shows the cost if commissioners had approved an ordinance with a citywide canopy goal of 50 percent cover.

– This ordinance was produced by city staff at the request of our elected city commissioners. I know these numbers are eye-popping, but remember: it hasn’t passed yet. Don’t rail at city staff if these numbers enrage you. They are just doing their jobs and now they’re rewriting the ordinance to address the concerns raised at the Jan. 21 meeting.

– If you’re having trouble reading the text, click on the image to bring up a larger version.

Without further ado …



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Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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  • Richard

    If you are going to be an objective journalist you need to be careful in using phrases like “eye-popping”. What is eye-popping to one may be just fine to another. From my point of view, the dollars shown in these graphs seem quite reasonable.

    • What’s reasonable to one person might not be reasonable to another. There were several people in the room who had that kind of reaction to the data. I can’t promise to be totally objective because that’s not possible for anyone. I can promise to be fair to both sides. So in fairness, no it probably isn’t a big cost to some people. But, in fairness, it probably is to other people. I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to discuss it and for reading.

      • Chris Billingsley

        Thanks D-ish. For many people in this town (always anonymous of course), hundreds and even thousands of dollars in fees and bonds, extorted by interest groups by way of local government, seems quite reasonable. I disagree.

        • Yeah, I’m finding there’s widespread disagreement on what’s reasonable and what’s expensive – of course, there’s widespread disagreement about most things in life.

    • Kjell Andersson

      What is “eye-popping” is the crazy figures in the chart above. I hope nobody was paid to construct it and someone else to endorse it.

      I stopped looking at the rest after seeing that the listed cost of commercially planting one large tree ($550) is escalating when downsizing to a medium tree ($5500). Even if there is a missing zero causing the rediculous figures, the cost listed is still fantastic. (I assume that a commercial company would charge the county $5500 to plant a tree whether it is medium or large). Let’s say a tree (likely the size in question) would cost $30-$60 and the rest is labor and inflated profit due to the opportunities dealing with a county.

      If there are these mind-blowing costs involved to plant a tree by a commercial company, how about utilizing voluntary and donation resources to do the job? Whether it is on public property or private land (as long as the land owner paid for the actual cost of the tree). Isn’t it the 50-55% canopy goal that matters? If I was a volunteer, I would not be bothered if I stepped on private grounds to do the work….

  • Neil Norton

    I think there is also some confusion on the cost of replacing trees. If you are seeking a land disturbance permit you have to replant with 2.5 inch trees at $550 a pop, however if you are just seeking a tree removal permit and you are over 55% canopy you pay $0 and if you are under 55% you pay $75 a tree.

    • Thanks for pointing that out, Neil. I think that getting the revised ordinance front of the public earlier will clear up a lot of the confusion. I think the City Commission heard that message on Tuesday, which is why commissioners chose to defer.

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