Appealing an Arborist's Decision

Know the Law

When the city arborist makes a decision about a tree that you do not agree with, it is within your right to file an appeal.  However, you should know the law before going into the hearing.  It will be helpful to review the Tree Removal FAQ and the full Tree Protection Ordinance so that you fully understand what the law does and does not protect.

Many people try to argue their appeal based on emotion, personal fears, impact to their own property value, or beauty of the neighborhood -- the Tree Commission's decision cannot be based on any of these things.  It is fine to describe the property's unique features to provide context, particularly if the site contains any champion trees or if tree removal will cause stormwater runoff to affect the adjacent properties, but make sure that the Tree Commission has specific sections of the tree ordinance that can be used to uphold your appeal.  It is not the City Arborist's nor the Tree Commission's job to advocate on behalf of saving trees.  Their responsibility is to enforce the Tree Ordinance as written. So, to the greatest extent possible, highlight the specific sections of the tree ordinance that the preliminary permit you are appealing does not comply with.  

If you don't like the way the Tree Ordinance is written, then please join The Tree Next Door to advocate for changes to the tree ordinance.  You cannot use the appeals process to re-write or re-interpret the law.


Information and Forms

If you want to appeal the City Arborist's decision on a tree(s), you must submit the proper paperwork by the deadline date on the yellow sign. The City Arborist Office can also give you the appeal deadline date if you are unable to obtain it from the posting sign.

Download the Tree Appeal Procedure and Tree Appeal Form.  (If you attempt to fill out the PDF appeal form online without downloading it first, make sure to print the form to a PDF file in order to save all your edits to the form; otherwise, they will not be saved.) Or, contact Kathryn Evans at 404-330-6235 at the City Arborist Office to have the tree appeal package faxed to you.  

(If you would prefer to handle your appeal using Microsoft Word, please email us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  and we will send you the entire appeal packet in Word.)

Also, obtain from the City Arborist Office:

  1. The permit # from the City Arborist for the site under appeal.
  2. Full copy of the site plans approved by the City Arborist.  The site plans should be electronically available and linked to the building permit in Accela, the City's online permitting database. If you cannot find the site plan linked in the Attachments section of the building permit, contact Kathy Evans at 404-658-6977 and ask for assistance.  The City may ask you to file an Open Records Request to obtain the site plan, although this is NOT legally required for you to do so when obtaining a site plan for the purposes of filing an appeal.  Once City Hall reopens after COVID, you can go to the Arborist Division downtown at 55 Trinity Ave. to pick up a hard copy printout of the site plan.  They will charge you $11 per page to photocopy the site plan.  You are allowed to take photographs of the site plans instead of paying for copies, but make sure you specify that you only want to "view" the site plans; otherwise, you will be charged for the copies.
  3. Copy of the arborist’s preliminary approval.  
  4. Copy of any supporting documentation about the health of the trees.
  5. A DDH inspection report conducted by the City Arborist on all trees declared DDH on the site plan.  (Do not accept a DDH report conducted by the developer's/builder's or property owner's arborist; insist that the City Arborist conduct their own inspection.)

Use the official Tree Appeal Form when submitting your appeal and make sure to deliver the form and $75 fee by the deadline indicated on the yellow posting sign.  Given that the window of time to submit an appeal is very short, we highly recommend that you either deliver the appeal form in person or contact Kathryn Evans (404-330-6235) and tell her that you will be faxing or emailing the form directly to her (at 404-658-6977) and then immediately pay the $75 electronic invoice that Kathy sends you. 

All appeal forms should be emailed to Kathryn Evans at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  or by mail to:

Kathryn Evans
Administrative Assistant, Sr.
Arborist Division, Office of Buildings
55 Trinity Avenue, Suite 3800
Atlanta, Georgia  30303-0309

The appeals process can seem overwhelming if you have never filed an appeal before.  Do not feel that you have to go it alone!  The Tree Next Door has volunteers who have been through the appeals process more than once and will be happy to assist you.  (However, TTND cannot write or file appeals on your behalf.)  Please do not hesitate to contact us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it if you need help.  We will respond within 24 hours to all requests for help with an appeal.  If your appeal deadline is within 48 hours, we will respond the same day!

A flow chart of the appeals process can be found here.


Call Your Neighborhood City Arborist

There are two types of city arborists in the Arborist Division: Plan Reviewers and Field Inspectors.

The Plan Reviewers evaluate applications to remove trees, most often in conjunction with a building permit application.

The Field Inspector makes onsite visits to post properties under plan review, assess tree health, and issue permits for DDH tree removal or citations for illegal tree removal.

If you are interested in knowing more about a tree removal application, you should speak with the Plan Reviewer assigned to that particular tree removal application. This Plan Reviewer can be looked up in Accela, or you can call the Field Arborist assigned to your zip code to find out the name of the Plan Reviewer.

Also, it may be helpful to talk directly with the person who is requesting the tree removal permit.  Sometimes the permit requestor is willing to accommodate changes to the site plan in order to avoid the appeals process which will cause a delay in their construction.  However, make sure to get any concessions they give you granted in writing on the actual site plan that receives final approval by the City Arborist; otherwise, you have no recourse if the agreed-upon changes are not implemented.

The names and contact information for all Field Inspectors and Plan Reviewers can be found here.

If your appeal is about trees on public property or in a park, you should call the Office of Parks at 404-546-6813. If you are not sure whether or not the tree is on public or private property, call the Field Arborist in the Arborist Divison first.

When calling any City employee about a tree or property, be prepared to give the exact street address.


Check the Building Site Plan

A building site plan is a map (or survey) of the property with all the trees and existing/proposed building structures marked.  Any trees that are to be removed will be noted on the plan along with their diameter at breast height (DBH).  You will want to make sure that all the trees to be removed are correctly marked and measured on the plan.  Quite often the site plan does not reflect all the trees that will be impacted or destroyed, and recompense for removed trees is calculated only for those trees marked for removal on the plan. A site plan that does not reflect the trees accurately or conform with what is required in the Tree Protection Ordinance may be appealed.

A building site plan should include the following elements:

  • A tree survey identifying the size, species, and location of all trees having a diameter at breast height (DBH) of six inches or more
  • Trees to be saved and trees to be destroyed
  • Identification of “boundary trees” on adjacent properties
  • Topography at two-foot contour intervals
  • Existing and proposed structures, including driveways and parking areas, water detention ponds, utilities, material staging areas, and all areas requiring cut or fill
  • The root save area (critical root zone) of each tree identified, along with a calculation of the percentage of the area to be impacted by construction
  • Location of tree protection fences
  • A proposed tree replacement plan must be included, as well as the manner that the newly planted trees will be watered  A paid maintenance contract may be required.
  • If a construction limit line is established on the plan it must also be established by a tree protection fence on site, beyond which no activity is allowed.

How to check the site plan:

  • Verify that trees marked as 'impacted' on the plan are correctly defined in terms of their placement on the property as well as their size and species.  "Impacted" means that the tree will suffer injury or destruction of more than 20% but not more than 33% of its root save area.  The root save area is found by drawing a circle around the tree that has a radius of 1 foot for each 1-inch DBH, or diameter at breast height, of tree.  For example, a tree with a DBH of 20 has a root save area of 20 feet around the tree.  Another way to quickly determine whether the root save area is being encroached upon is to imagine that the roots of the tree extend as far out underground as the branches extend overhead.
  • Verify that trees marked as "lost" on the plan are correct as well.  A "lost" tree is any tree that will suffer injury or destruction in excess of 33% to root save area or is otherwise not protected according to the provision of the ordinance.
  • If you need to measure any trees on site, take a tape measure and wrap around the trunk of the tree at 4 1/2 feet from the ground.  Then, divide this number by 3.14 to calculate the DBH or diameter at breast height.  (diameter = circumference divided by 3.14).
  • Determine if any boundary trees are impacted (tree on the adjacent property whose root save area intrudes across the property line of the site under consideration).  Note these on your list and plan.  Include size and species.  Boundary trees are not to be "impacted" without the knowledge and consent of the owner of the boundary tree. 

Verify Recompense Calculations

Check that the city has calculated recompense accurately, reflecting all the trees that will be lost or impacted. Recompense calculations are in the Tree Protection Ordinance, Sec. 158-34 and Sec. 158-103.

Check carefully for accuracy (location and number of trees, species, size, etc.). Although the Field Arborist who posts the yellow sign is supposed to verify that all the trees are measured and marked correctly, we have found that site plans often have trees reported as smaller than they actually are, or trees are missing from the site plan altogether.  Boundary trees (trees on the adjacent property with roots that cross over the property line) are the trees most likely to be missing from the site plan.

Recompense is not required for trees that are considered dead, dying, or hazardous [DDH].  No appeal can be made on a tree that has been ruled as DDH by a city arborist, even if an independent arborist says the tree is healthy.  However, if the DDH ruling has been given based only on a site or tree plan submitted by the applicant who wants to remove the tree(s), you should request a follow-up onsite inspection by the City Arborist. The DDH no-appeal clause in the Tree Ordinance prevents citizens from having the right of appeal and is one of the most commonly exploited loopholes in the Tree Protection Ordinance.


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