Read it – Draft tree ordinance released

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt April 8, 2014


The City of Decatur has published its proposed revision of the controversial tree ordinance that City Commissioners tabled in January.

To read the ordinance, click this link: O-14-AA-Tree-Conservation-Ordinance-040714

To see the summary outlining some of the changes, click this link: Requested-Changes-to-Tree-Ordinance-Table

To see the Power Point presentation from the April 7 meeting, click this link: Trees-Work-Session-Presentation-April-2014

We’ll read through it now and update this post with some of our observations. Feel free to leave yours in the comments section.

UPDATE: Initial takes on the draft of the ordinance:

– The new ordinance condenses some of the language about measuring tree canopy cover.  The ordinance says that tree canopy cover will be measured every five years, and in 2016 the city will measure the canopy for 2015. It removes the language that says the city’s goal is to have 55 percent tree canopy by 2039. The last time the city measured canopy cover was in 2010. The canopy was 45.1 percent at that time.

– This draft clarifies some of the language regarding tree maintenance. It defines the establishment period as, “The first three growing seasons after a tree is planted. The establishment period typically applies to trees planted as part of a tree conservation plan.” The added text is in bold.

Further down in the ordinance, it elaborates a bit on tree maintenance. (This was a point of contention during the debate in January.)

It says, “Sec. 86-91. Tree Maintenance Requirements During the Establishment Period for Trees Identified in an Approved Tree Conservation Plan. All protected trees shall be maintained in accordance with current ANSI A300 Standards for Tree Care Operations, ANSI Z133 Safety Standards, industry best management practices, and the administrative standards that accompany the tree ordinance. Planted trees shall be maintained throughout the establishment period. Maintenance shall include, at a minimum, watering, mulching, training pruning, and if necessary, pest management.”

– The ordinance provides a definition of a tree information permit as, “An informational permit that is filed with the city when an individual tree is removed from residential property. The informational permit will track the reason for removal and the amount of tree canopy removed.” City Manager Peggy Merriss said that the city would like residents to file a tree information permit even if a tree is knocked down by a storm. She said trees that are knocked over due to weather events won’t count against residents who want to remove up to three trees within 18 months without penalty. She said if a tree is sick, the property owner would need to get an opinion from an arborist if the owner doesn’t want that tree to count against the three tree limit.

Here are the permit requirements for commercial activity, with the changes highlighted in yellow and bold:

Commercial Actions


Here are the requirements for residential activity:


– Under the ordinance, a protected tree is defined as anything that is 6 inches in diameter at breast height or greater. The revision says, “No protected tree shall be intentionally removed, destroyed, or disturbed without the written consent of the city arborist in the form of an approved tree conservation plan, tree disturbance permit, tree removal permit or tree information permit as shown in Table 1.” The added text is in bold.

– Here is the entire section on the tree information permit that was added to the revised ordinance.


– The draft adds this the following text to the ordinance: “On residential properties any projects requiring a land disturbance or land development permit will require no net loss of tree canopy.” As a reminder, that canopy goal would be set 45 percent under the revised ordinance being considered.

This document isn’t part of the Decatur ordinance, but it provides a good summary of how forestry measurements work. It’s worth reading if you’re having trouble understanding how the diameter of the tree is calculated.

Here are slides from the Power Point offering summaries of the commercial and residential applications of the ordinance:



Application Res 1


Application Res 2



About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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  • Kupe

    I just noticed on slide 11 the house with 8% coverage is mine. Guess I have some planting to do!

  • we pay high taxes for this?

    The newly proposed ordinance continues to regulate homeowners not involved in development more than developers/redevelopers who are primarily responsible for removal of healthy trees in our City. The policy of cut a check and cut a tree will continue including clearcutting of all the trees on the property as well as the boundary trees. The developers will continue to plant tiny oaks in areas where they have no space to grow (because there is a big house there) for tree canopy credit where a landmark tree once stood. Smoke and mirrors once again. Did they fool you?

  • Shawn Murphy Hitchcock

    I am now curious as to where there may be a public record of how the funds in the tree bank are being used. I have seen many a feeble tree planted and then neglected along our city streets. The new ordinance continues to allow up to 75% of a builder’s tree removal be offset by payments into a tree bank. Sketchy ordinance if the citizens can not “see” the trees or benefits as we watch old trees fall to development.

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