A Better Tree Protection Ordinance for Atlanta
By Judy Yi, Director of Outreach, Trees Atlanta
Since early 2018, the City of Atlanta’s tree protection ordinance has been under review for a rewrite by the Department of City Planning as part of its larger Urban Ecology Framework (UEF) initiative. On August 22nd, over 80 attendees filled the City Council chambers for the latest public update on the ordinance rewrite. The UEF team reported to the City Council that a draft ordinance will be ready on November 1.
Trees Atlanta and 19 supporting partners, including the Atlanta Canopy Alliance members, are working to encourage residents, advocates, and experts to provide recommendations and comments to the UEF team. We have hosted Tree Talks about the ordinance throughout the city, collected over 250 letters, participated in all public meetings made available by the rewrite team, presented at NPU meetings, and drafted recommendations.
Trees Atlanta’s recommendations for the ordinance rewrite can be read in full on our website (a summary list and links for download are below).
Evidence of Decline
- From 2001 to 2006, Gwinnett, Fulton, and Cobb counties were among the top 10 counties in the Southeast for tree loss.
- Atlanta’s first official assessment of the city’s tree canopy was 47.9% (based on 2008 satellite data).
- Before Atlanta began fully recovering from the previous years’ economic recession, the tree canopy declined to 47.1% by 2014.
- A 2018 U.S. Forest Service study lists Georgia in the top five states for percent of canopy lost and the highest percent loss in urban areas.
Now is the time.
The tree protection ordinance needs a meaningful update: it has remained largely unchanged since it was adopted in 2001. This is the community’s opportunity to ensure Atlanta remains “the city in the forest”. Protecting our trees means protecting people’s health and wellbeing.
Every change to the ordinance needs to enable three key outcomes: save existing trees, plant more trees, and buy forested land.
The City of Atlanta is also currently reviewing zoning codes. We highly recommend that the tree protection ordinance be coordinated and implemented to work in conjunction with the zoning codes, and vice versa. Both are managed by the Department of City Planning.
Trees Atlanta has submitted the following recommendations for the UEF and City Council. It is imperative that residents continue to write or call the City Council to let them know that tree protection is important to you.
- We support a goal of 50% canopy.
- No rollback of existing canopy protection.
- Define “High Value” trees.
- Arborist Review needs to be at the start of the building permit process.
- The next draft needs to include all the components of the Tree Protection Ordinance.
- Enforcement: Enforcement is urgent and must be supported with leadership mandate.
- Pre-Submission Review Process: Trees should be incorporated in all project plans early in the permit process.
- Minimum tree requirement for Residential lots: Over 60% of our land is zoned single- family residential.
- Soil volume and space to grow: Set minimum space and right conditions for large shade trees to survive.
- Improve parking lot tree cover requirement: Atlanta has more land covered by parking lots (8.2%) than parks (5.6%).
- Update recompense formula: The fee is unchanged since 2001 and is commonly dismissed as “cost of doing business”.
- Trees on right-of-way (street trees): Revise public tree replacement formula and streamline review for public trees impacted with construction.
- Funds allocated specifically for land acquisition: Reserve funds to enable acquisitions.
- Create incentives: Reward good design and planning that preserves existing trees and maximizes canopy coverage.
- Review of residential zoning requirements, in particular, R-4 and R-5: Set minimum canopy coverage (60% of land in Atlanta is single family residential zone).
- Usable Open Space Requirement (UOSR) for commercial districts: Include a minimum amount for greenspace and trees.
- Sidewalk and Street Planting Strips: Create better planting environments to improve tree survival.
- Zoning variance approvals (both building and tree code) cannot create tree loss: Zoning and building codes should work with the tree protection ordinance.
- Minimize areas of disturbance: Reduce impact to existing trees and the health of newly planted trees.
- Use of innovative building solutions to increase canopy potential: Technologies and strategies that allow successful construction projects while preserving trees.
To schedule a Canopy Conversation with Trees Atlanta or if you would like to share how the Atlanta tree protection ordinance has been applied in specific cases, please email Judy Yi, Director of Outreach ([email protected]).
Trees Atlanta’s mission is to protect and improve Atlanta’s urban forest by planting, conserving, and educating.