City of Atlanta selects Biohabitats to develop its ‘Urban Ecology Framework’

By Maria Saporta

The City of Atlanta has selected Charleston, S.C.-based Biohabitats to develop the Urban Ecology Framework for the city.

Through the city’s framework, Biohabitats will determine what aspects of nature in Atlanta should be preserved, restored and accentuated by the public realm.

Keith Bowers of Biohabitats

Keith Bowers of Biohabitats

Biohabitats’ founder and president, Keith Bowers, will be leading the work for the firm.

At the Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable Friday morning, Tim Keane, commissioner of the city’s Office of Design, explained how the Urban Ecology Framework is part of the Atlanta City Design process, which has been underway for more than a year.

Given recent development trends of more people opting to live in urban environments, Keane said the population within the city limits is expected to double in the next 25 years.

“We are going to have to be very thoughtful in how the city grows,” Keane said. “Not changing is not an option.”

As currently envisioned, the city is working on a plan that will earmark growth areas and conservation areas. Higher-density growth will be directed towards downtown and along commercial corridors while conservation areas will include neighborhoods, old-growth forests and areas with natural amenities – such as creeks and undeveloped areas.

Biohabitats will be responsible for putting together the “Urban Ecology Framework” that will focus on the conservation areas in the Atlanta Design process.

Firms submitted bids to do the work on July 18, 2016. Since then, the city worked on selecting the best proposal and coming up with a method to pay for the work. The Atlanta City Council approved the Urban Ecology Framework at a recent meeting.

Keane texted SaportaReport later saying Biohabitats has the contract to do the work.

Bacon, Keane SART

Atlanta City Design Studio’s Kevin Bacon with Tim Keane, commissioner of the City of Atlanta’s Office of Design, at the Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable Friday morning (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Bowers, who founded Biohabitats in January 1984, has been able to “transcend the boundaries of traditional landscape architecture to include conservation biology, ecological planning, and restoration ecology.”

Bowers and Biohabitats has more than 30 years of experience leading teams of biologists, geologists, ecologists, arborists, GIS technicians, soil scientists, engineers, landscape architects, and planners on more than 1,000 projects across America.

The firm’s master plans and conservation plans have been applied to wetlands, coastal habitats, prairies, woodlands, parks, campuses, residential and commercial developments, and endangered species habitats, according to a description of the company’s work.

Recently, Biohabitats was tasked with leading the watershed management initiative for Baltimore at the city and county level. This coordinated, 20-year effort will improve water quality and aquatic habitat in Chesapeake Bay to allow for a swimmable, fishable Inner Harbour.

A bio of Bowers describes his passion for repairing damaged ecosystems to better serve natural and human communities and directing healthy and resilient land development.

As a tease of what may be unveiled, Keane talked about using our natural corridors, such as our forgotten streams, and making them accessible and attractive for people to enjoy. And he described Atlanta’s large green clusters outside the city’s core as “the lungs of the city.”

The plan likely will further the idea of a Chattahoochee park and greenway area within the City of Atlanta as well as continuing the efforts to improve other amenities, such as the South River, Proctor Creek

“We are going to connect people with nature,” Keane said. “It’s about

nature and having a quality of life…”

Keane also said the Atlanta Design Project is setting the stage for a major overhaul of the city’s zoning ordinance and possibly other regulations, such as the city’s tree ordinance.

Because developers are aware the city will be demanding higher quality developments with greater attention to preservation and conservation, Keane was asked what the city could do to make sure a host of destructive projects don’t get built during this transitional period.

“We will probably do some things in the next 12 months that are a little whacky,” Keane said.

Bacon Keane SART

Atlanta City Design Studio’s Kevin Bacon with Tim Keane, commissioner of the City of Atlanta’s Office of Design, at the Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable Friday morning (Photo by Maria Saporta)

As an example, the Atlanta City Council unanimously approved an ordinance on June 19th that is placing a 180-day moratorium on the acceptance of any application to remove more than 10 trees on residentially-zoned parcels of five acres or larger.

During the moratorium period, the city will examine the impact development is having on the city’s tree canopy. The six-month period will also provide an opportunity to develop strategies for increasing and preserving the city’s tree canopy, according to City Council press release.

“The problem we have today is that our zoning ordinance is so antiquated and complicated,” Keane said Friday morning. “There will be 20 or so amendments to the current zoning ordinance that will allow us to design a new ordinance. The 20 or so amendments are areas that we know we just can’t wait. We recognize we will need a complete zoning overhaul. (In the meantime), we have to do some things that are defensive.”

Another example is the city’s move to give landmark status to historic buildings that could be demolished without the city’s recent actions to protect them.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

1 reply
  1. Melanie Pollard says:

    This type of forward-thinking city development that incorporates ecological framework into already developed tracks of land is a positive direction. Biohabitat’s work at Georgia Tech was a good example of their approach to re-create man-made renditions of what nature has done so successfully for millions of years. You can see examples of that work on their website. It’s important that our unique habitats be incorporated- and protected- if we are to support the biodiversity that makes the Southeast landscapes world-class.

    What remains to be seen – and will be defining – is how their plan will incorporate the existing landscape and forests- not just the old-growth- but the healthy, natural greenspaces along with their precious soils- woven throughout Atlanta that have given the city it’s unique character. And are what we are losing so quickly. You cannot plant them back once the soils are gone. With another 10 years of high-impact development, Atlanta will have lost the “city in a forest” character, let alone status which will be passed to Charlotte. And the opportunities that exist to retain this outstanding world-class feature will be forever gone and replaced with Leeland Cypress, Cryptomerias and Crepe Myrtles. I hope that BioHabitat and Tim Keane’s City Design currently underway, will work hard to NOT kick the can on this serious problem we have with protecting the trees and forests. We are not an ocean breeze city and MUST rely upon our trees and forests, including the tall pines that are the superior oxygenators, to be our lungs. To clean the air, the water, the soil, the light and noise pollution that increases daily. And while the “180-day moratorium on the acceptance of any application to remove more than 10 trees on residentially-zoned parcels of five acres or larger” is a STEP in the right direction, there simply aren’t that many 5 acre tracts of land left in the residential communities that make up approximately 77% of Atlanta’s total tree canopy. How will those forests be protected during the moratorium? How hot will our city become without our trees? Check out this Bloomberg report on future projections: http://riskybusiness.habitatseven.work/report/come-heat-and-high-water-climate-risk-in-the-southeastern-u-s-and-texas/ The current tree ordinance only protects 2.5% of it’s own canopy which is 1/2 of the total 5% of parks not designated recreational. And even that changed with the collapse of the Park Easement protection back in May.

    If the recent 12-2 vote on May 1 by COA Commissioners, which is allowing Johnny Isakson’s “Isakson’s Living” and “Ashton Woods” to cut Peachtree Hills Park trees (first time in 134 years) to send their 4-foot wide stormwater pipe through the heart of Peachtree Hills and through the park to dump their denuded 23 acres of stormwater into Peachtree Creek is an indicator how projects get “earmarked” then we should all be VERY concerned how this “city plan” will play out. The community is about to lose 10% of their TOTAL canopy and Peachtree Creek, which flooded over the banks earlier this year, will have 3X the amount of water to manage. You can see how the Creek handles current stormwater by visiting Friends of Peachtree Hills Park OR The Tree Next Door OR Atlanta Protects Trees to see it in action. This is being done, permission granted by the City of Atlanta, without ANY environmental study. And more trees will fail due to the increase in stormwater and heavy winds which will plague the surrounding community moving forward. Should we look at who benefits from their parks being protected and those that aren’t? Where do those commissioners live who threw Peachtree Hills under the bus but whose own neighborhood parks are now further protected? How many commissioners are benefiting from their elected seats? Why isn’t Atlanta’s Parks manager Amy Phuong, COA Parks Commissioner protecting their parks? Why are they for sale for private profit? Why did Park Pride accept $30,000 for the destruction of park trees? Earmarking can be very treacherous.

    The Tree Conservation Commission voted to uphold a Tree Appeal to preserve Peachtree Hills Park’s trees- filed by Laura Dobson who lives in Peachtree Hills and whose property value and quality of life will be negatively affected by the 2 developers who will profit. However, the developer filed an appeal to Superior Court which was “quietly dismissed” last week. Why? I thought the Tree Conservation Committee was there to protect the trees? So, while this is happening, while trees and forests smaller than 5 acres representing MOST residential properties in Atlanta, are being clear cut, are not protected by the tree ordinance OR the Tree Conservation Commission, the COA continues their plans for the City of Atlanta’s future. Please hurry.

    This Thursday at the Carter Center there will be an event with the mayoral candidates answering questions sent by the audience. A very important event, sponsored by Park Pride, that is sold out. https://parkpride.org/event/mayoral-candidate-forum/. I hope we can ask these candidates some tough questions. Let’s make them answer for what they have done… and not done.

    The next ten years are going to truly define how livable Atlanta will be in the current and projected climate.Report

    Reply

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