Atlanta considering changes to tree ordinance

Posted by September 29, 2014
Afternoon in Piedmont Park in Atlanta. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Afternoon in Piedmont Park in Atlanta. Source: Wikimedia Commons

By Kim Hutcherson, contributor

The City of Atlanta may be tweaking its tree ordinance to get more flexibility for its Tree Preservation Fund.

The Fund would be allowed to buy property to be preserved as “green space” within the City of Atlanta, if the Community Development and Human Resources Committee approves the measure. The Tree Preservation Fund collects revenue from permits and fees. Currently, that revenue can only be used to plant and maintain trees within the city limits.

Greg Levine, Executive Director of the non-profit advocacy group Trees Atlanta, thinks the change could be an important tool for the city’s tree-preservation arsenal.

“[The Atlanta City Council] wants people to preserve trees rather than just replant them,” he told Decaturish.

Attempts to reach members of the Community Development and Human Resources Committee for comment were unsuccessful.

Significant numbers of healthy, older trees that remain in their original habitats boosts the overall health of the tree canopy in the city and in the region, he explained. But he also noted that there is substantial public support for the preservation of trees within the city limits.

“This is what communities want,” Levine said.

Other cities in our area have reexamined their existing tree ordinances. Decatur adopted a stronger tree ordinance in May, and Avondale Estates residents have asked city officials to take another look at Avondale’s ordinance.

The proposed Atlanta ordinance, sponsored by the City Council’s Community Development Committee, would also dedicate a small percentage of Fund money to “educate” citizens about proper tree care. It would also educate them about the benefits of planting trees indigenous to the region, like Oak, Hickory, and Beech.

The measure would also encourage the planting of these native shade trees.

Under the proposal, homeowners would receive an extra tax credit for planting these “specimen” trees rather than non-indigenous, ornamental trees like Japanese Maple.

Levine points out that these sorts of credits are especially important in a city like Atlanta, where more than 70 percent of tree cover stands on private property.

“We need trees that give cooling value and habitat value,” Levine said.  “We want trees that have value for wildlife and … work with our ecosystem.”

The ordinance also increases the required number of trees in parking lots and amends instructions for their care.

“The changes aren’t huge but they all make sense,” Levine said.  “From everything we can see, [they] are just ‘smart’ changes, to make it more usable, more easily understood.”

Despite the relatively small scope, Levine is positive about the proposal and the city’s tree code in general.

“It’s the best ordinance in the state and one of the best in the country,” he said, “One that, frankly, Atlanta should be proud of because it’s protecting our asset – our forests.”

The ordinance will be up for a second reading at the next meeting of the Atlanta City Council’s Community Development Committee on October 6.


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