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Next Tree Ordinance Work Session - August 22, 2019

Last Updated on Tuesday, 18 June 2019 17:35

From the City of Atlanta website: The Tree Protection Ordinance Rewrite Session has been rescheduled for August 22, 2019. Also, City Council has voted for the Arborist Review to start occurring in the beginning of the permitting process, effective immediately.

June 18, 2019 

Tree Protection Ordinance Rewrite Work Session Rescheduled; Council Approves Change to Permit Review Process

ATLANTA — The Atlanta City Council Community Development and Human Services Committee’s work session on revisions to the City’s Tree Protection Ordinance scheduled for June 19 has been rescheduled to Thursday, August 22 at 10 a.m. The work session will be held in Committee Room No. 1 at Atlanta City Hall, 55 Trinity Ave SW.

Additionally, on Monday, the Council approved legislation directing the Department of City Planning to establish a pre-submittal team to conduct and coordinate consultations at the beginning of the permit review process in order to protect and preserve trees in Atlanta.

District 5 Council member Natalyn Archibong, chair of the Community Development and Human Services Committee, described the legislation as an important step forward.

“The revision of our current Tree Protection Ordinance is an important next step in protecting our tree canopy. The resolution passed Monday allows for the tree review process to occur at the beginning of the land disturbance or building permit process. Currently, the tree review process occurs near the end of the review process. We are pleased that City Planning has agreed to immediately initiate this process change and look forward to receiving the proposed tree ordinance revision and hosting a work session in August,” Archibong said.



6-19-19 flyer

The Committee on Community Development and Human Services (CD/HS) previously scheduled work session has now been rescheduled to August 22 at 10AM.

This will not be a full Council meeting but a meeting of the City Council committee that oversees the City's tree canopy in addition to other land use, housing, and development issues. We encourage everyone who has a concern about the direction this tree ordinance rewrite is taking to please attend the August work session to voice your concerns. 

The presentation of the draft outline of the new tree ordinance unveiled at the City Planning meetings the week of June 3 shows a new ordinance quickly taking form which drastically differs from the current ordinance. The outline reveals that the City wants a more "streamlined review process" which moves the planning process for trees to the beginning of the permitting process, but balances tree preservation with the City's needs for "affordability, mobility, and growth." (The City did not elaborate on what issue would take priority when there is a conflict between trees and affordability, mobility, and growth.)

Most alarming was the revelation that City Planning was planning to do away with the orange/yellow sign postings and all appeal options of proposed tree removals. (The right to appeal a denied tree cutting permit would remain; only tree removal permits would not be appealable.) Elizabeth Johnson, the Urban Ecology Framework Project Manager (city-employee), said that eliminating preliminary permits and appeal options was how the City could "reward" developers who were "doing everything right". However, an appeal is never filed against a developer for not doing everything right, but a city arborist who issues a preliminary permit that does not comply with the tree ordinance.  Eliminating both the posting and the appeals process brings the entire permitting process behind closed doors in which the first time the public is made aware that a tree cutting permit has been issued is AFTER the trees are down. No wonder Everett Catts of Northside Neighbors titled his review of the draft outline: Residents: Atlanta tree ordinance’s planned changes favor developers.

Also, there is no apparent protection of trees offered for Atlanta's residential neighborhoods unless the property is in a stream buffer or contains "high value trees", a presently undefined term that may not even be legally enforceable. But trees on single family residential lots need protection given that's where 77% of Atlanta's tree canopy resides. And the trees that are not high value today are the trees that will grow into the high value trees of tomorrow -- we cannot let the City use a high value tree model that is so short-sighted as to wipe out Atlanta's next generation of trees. The City claims it can achieve 50% canopy by protecting just the stream buffers and a handful of "intact forests", as well as planting 3,600 acres in a "young forest initiative", but they have not provided any data to demonstrate how these measures enable the City to achieve its 50% canopy goal.

Furthermore, the City will allow a "free and easy" permit to remove one "non-high value tree" a year. Again, how does this proposal to remove one tree a year help preserve, much less grow, tree canopy?

It appears that most of the recommendations in the draft outline are politically-driven to keep certain constituents happy versus data- driven to save Atlanta's tree canopy.  Please come to Tree Protection Ordinance Work Session on August 22 to let the City know what you think. Atlanta's tree canopy is at stake, and if the rewrite of the ordinance is allowed to continue the direction it is heading, there won't be any substantive tree canopy left to protect by the time the tree ordinance is updated again.


Tree Ordinance Not Enforced

In the fall of 2018, the Tree Next Door released the following flyer to itemize some key ways the current tree ordinance is not being enforced. Since then, very little has changed as city resources appear to be directed exclusively towards the rewrite of the tree ordinance vs. enforcing the tree ordinance they already have. However, an unenforced ordinance in an ineffective ordinance. The current draft outline of the new tree ordinance that City Planning presented the week of June 3, 2019 contains no information as to how the City plans to enforce the new tree ordinance.

Regardless of how the new tree ordinance is rewritten, the following unenforced sections of the current tree ordinance will still apply. The time to address the enforcement issues is now, not after the tree ordinance is rewritten.


We Can’t Wait for a New Tree Ordinance


Trees are Coming

Down Now

Due to Lack of Tree Ordinance Enforcement

There’s talk of a new tree ordinance, but that could take up to TWO YEARS to implement, if implemented at all. Meanwhile, look around. Trees are coming down right now because our current tree ordinance isn’t being enforced. We can’t wait. The current ordinance must be enforced NOW to protect Atlanta’s trees. 

Did You Know That…

“Saved” trees are being destroyed…
due to lack of proper tree fencing?

Destroyed trees aren’t being counted…
because the Arborist Division no longer produces quarterly reports?

We don’t know about planned tree removals…
because there is no direct way to see the tree removal sign postings online?

No one is planning for Atlanta’s future tree canopy…
because no one is working on a master plan?

Standards are not being consistently followed…
when it comes to assessing dead, dying, or hazardous trees?


These things are required by the current

Atlanta Tree Protection Ordinance,

but they’re not happening.


Please call or write:

David Zaparanick, Arboricultural Manager
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Tim Keane, Commissioner of Planning
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and tell them to start enforcing our Tree Ordinance! 


Summary of Unenforced Sections

The Tree Next Door is presently working with the Arborist Division and Tree Conservation Commission to correct these ordinance violations. A status update of our progress is linked below each item in red.  The most recent update we have received is from the media, in which Reporter News interviewed Elizabeth Johnson, Project Manager for City Planning, about the Buckhead Council of Neighborhood’s concerns that parts of the Tree Protection Ordinance are going unenforced.  Their concerns are in direct response to our flyer which was distributed at their January 10, 2019 meeting.

1. “Saved” trees are being destroyed.

This section mandates an on-site conference between the developer and the arborist for a final tree fence inspection before demolition, grading, or construction begins. With no pre-construction conferences, developers have been allowed to grade lots, cut down trees, and refuse to put up tree fences, often before the preliminary approval of tree removal (yellow sign posting) is completed.

Click here for status update.

This section provides for more substantial wood or steel tree fencing on heavy construction sites or upon multiple violations. Metal fencing has proven to be very effective, but the arborist office rarely requires it for tree fence violations. And even when it is required, contractors often remove or shift the fences, resulting in destroyed trees.

Click her for status update.


2. Destroyed trees aren’t being counted.

This section requires a quarterly report showing the total number and DBH of trees removed by various categories, including dead/dying/diseased/hazardous trees. The City Arborist Division used to produce these quarterly reports, but no longer does. Now we don’t know how many trees are being destroyed and why. And we don’t know how much money has been paid into the Tree Trust Fund via recompense fees and illegal tree cutting fines. How can the Arborist Division keep track of the resources that it is supposed to protect and replant without any data?

Click here for status update.


3. We don’t know about planned tree removals.

This section ensures that notice of preliminary approvals for tree cutting be posted in 1) the office of the city arborist that issued the approval (Office of Planning or Office of Parks), 2) the City of Atlanta website (, and 3) on the property affected so that it may be seen and read by passers-by. Presently, for trees on private property, there is no posting in either the Office of Planning or on the city website. The only way to know if there are plans to remove a tree on private property is to drive by the yellow sign posted on the property.

Click here for status update.


4. No one is planning for Atlanta’s future tree canopy.

This section states that the Tree Conservation Commission is to consult with the city forester in the preparation of the master plan for the trees in the city. Most cities have a master plan which include tree inventories, recommended species of trees, future planning, and attention to special sections of the city, like watersheds, that need tree attention. Although the Tree Conservation Commission has, within the last two years, contracted satellite imaging of the city trees, Atlanta is doing no overall tree planning. There is no master plan.

Click here for status update.


5. Standards are not being consistently followed.

This section says that the Tree Conservation Commission is to review and approve the required city arboricultural specifications and standards of practice (SOPs). Until 2011, the Arborist Division had followed prescribed SOPs for such functions as assessing tree health, posting tree removal signs, and keeping field books. Presently, it appears that there is no set of SOPs being consistently followed, other than how to enter data into Accela, the City’s online services application.

Click here for status update.



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