old growth forest remnant Beecher Hills, Kolb
This canopy in Lionel Hampton Beecher Hills Nature Preserve represents the canopy of Westside Atlanta, which is one of the highest-valued forests in Atlanta. File/Credit: Kathryn Kolb

By David Pendered

Frustration among Atlanta tree advocates over the two-year process of writing even the draft version of a tree protection ordinance is bubbling up amid the coronavirus-related shutdown of public conversation – and the clock is ticking toward a final vote on a new city code.

old growth forest remnant Beecher Hills, Kolb
This canopy in Lionel Hampton Beecher Hills Nature Preserve represents the canopy of Westside Atlanta, which is one of the highest-valued forests in Atlanta. File/Credit: Kathryn Kolb

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ administration intends for a new tree ordinance to be adopted in August by the Atlanta City Council, according to the latest update on the process posted on the City Planning webpage.

This story includes three letters of concern about the proposed tree protection ordinance. A link to the full text of each letter is provided beneath the letter.

The letters were sent to the Atlanta City Council and were to be added to the public record during a March 26 work session of the city council on the proposed tree ordinance. The meeting was postponed indefinitely, pending a resolution of the indefinite coronavirus closure of Atlanta City Hall and related restrictions on public gatherings.

The administration reports that it is continuing its consideration of the draft ordinance, despite the closure of the public deliberative process. According to the report on the department’s website:

  • “We will continue working with City Council, community stakeholders, and the public to stay on track for submittal of final legislation to City Council for adoption in August of this year. In order to keep the process of feedback moving forward, we plan to continue conversations with stakeholders as the City continues to work toward a second draft, including holding an in-person meeting with the public when safe to do so. In the meantime, we want your input.”

The three letters follow.

Proposed TPO needs revisions

Howard Katzman

Daniel Ave 3, Kolb
The healthy white oak tree was removed to make way for a new structure on a site bereft of of a tree that a ring count showed to be 160 years old. File/Credit: Kathryn Kolb

Dear Councilpersons,

As the City Planning department has worked to craft a new [tree protection] ordinance over the past two years, it sought citizen input. Amazingly, the current version of the ordinance ignores the vast majority of that input.

It is understandable that the new ordinance must strike a balance between competing interests of citizens, who wish to preserve as many trees as possible, and the developer-builder community, who want no interference in their business practices. But the proposed ordinance is actually worse than the current ordinance in some key aspects:

  • Protection for setback trees is removed;
  • Tree size requirements for “specimen trees” effectively prevent the majority of the city’s high value overstory trees from qualifying for those requirements;
  • Any tree can continue to be cut for a price – a usually irrelevant amount [of money] and a line item in a builder’s budget easily spent.

I urge you and your colleagues to reject the planning department’s proposed TPO [tree protection ordinance].

Many of you are well aware of an excellent alternative to this ordinance offered by City in the Forest and its partners. In crafting this alternative they have met and gained endorsement for its provisions by architects, developers and other building professionals….

Full text available here.

Proposed TPO tilts toward developers

Bill Gould

Horizon site, kolb
A 260-year-old tree was among the trees removed from the site of the former Horizons School, located a few blocks east of the Candler Park neighborhood on DeKalb Avenue. File/Credit: Kathryn Kolb

To Atlanta City Council Members,

Atlanta’s built environment has for too long been dominated by private developers and land owners in pursuit of economic reward, rather than orchestrated by elected representatives and skilled urban planners mindful of human health, quality of life and sustainability concerns. It is surely one of City Council’s most important roles to remain steadfast in defense of the public good in the face of often short-sighted, unbridled development.

The newly drafted tree ordinance continues to rely on a system too easily thwarted by profit-driven development, and disregards meaningful, science-based management alternatives such as the four-step plan proposed by partnerships of highly engaged, hard-working, educated experts and citizens such as City In the Forest ​and it’s partners….

While well intentioned, the current re-write of the existing tree ordinance does not succeed in delivering the bold, visionary leadership and protections that Atlanta deserves, and which our neighborhoods, citizens, and experts demand. Our extensive tree canopy is a rare and unique asset among U.S. cities. Please reject the current draft ordinance until more robust controls over tree loss are incorporated and can help establish Atlanta as a progressive leader in urban tree conservation.

Full text available here.

Trees buffer humans, wildlife

Melinda Sanders

Humans can become infected with Lyme disease when ticks drink their blood, instead of blood from one of the many types of animals that live in a healthy forest, such as a white-footed mouse, according to the author. Credit: Charles Homler; commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29062322

Dear City Council Members and Mayor Bottoms,

I am writing this to you from quarantine in my home during the corvid-19 worldwide pandemic. My father has coronavirus and is currently dying in a nursing home in the Netherlands, receiving only palliative care. My sister, a diabetic with three children, is also infected by the virus and is in a hospital in the Netherlands on oxygen.

As these stories of tragedy circle the globe, it has never been so apparent that we must make changes that will prevent future pandemics. Seventy-six percent of the diseases we contract as humans have a zoonotic (animal) origin. My plea to you today to preserve urban forests comes from a place of responsibility that we as humans must protect habitats to reduce the likelihood of human/wildlife conflicts and thus reducing the chances of potential zoonotic disease spread….

In conclusion, protecting urban forests, preserving animal habitats and respecting wildlife significantly reduces the spread of zoonotic disease to surrounding communities. It is up to us what kind of a world we want to leave to our children. Mother Nature is giving us a chance to make different choices and to correct our wrongs. Let’s do her proud make the right ones, for a change.

Full text available here.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written...

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