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Mourning the loss of dozens of trees along Peachtree in Midtown

Maria Saporta
Six of the 12 mature trees lining the sidewalks along Peachtree at 14th streets have received city approval to be cut down (Photo by Maria Saporta)

By Maria Saporta

It is not a good time to be a tree in Midtown Atlanta.

Trees are being cut down at three high-profile sites along Peachtree Street – and what’s most amazing is that in each of these cases, these trees have been in public hands – either the city of Atlanta or the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

The damage is done. All that’s left of seven trees that used to be part of the special 15th Street – Peachtree intersection (Photo by Maria Saporta)

The cutting down of these trees is happening just as the city of Atlanta’s planning department is releasing its latest draft of a new Tree Protection Ordinance. The public is invited to comment on the ““next iteration of a revised tree ordinance” on Wednesday, Nov. 6 at 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Atlanta Technical College and on Thursday, Nov. 7 at 6:30 p.m. to 8 pm.at Trinity Presbyterian Church on Howell Mill Road.

Meanwhile, Atlanta continues to lose more tree cover than it’s replacing – despite a stated goal of maintaining, and even increasing our tree canopy to at least 50 percent coverage of the city.

We will never preserve our precious tree canopy if we keep letting healthy mature trees be cut down – especially along our public corridors.

Here are the sad developments.

North American Properties did a land swap with the city of Atlanta so it could acquire a strip of land along 15thand Peachtree streets. This has been one of the most beautiful and green intersections in the city – a public space that has been nurtured and maintained by the Midtown Alliance.

Unfortunately, North American Properties wanted to build a new building on part of the land that made up that beautiful pocket park diagonally across from the Woodruff Arts Center.

Once they got title to the property, they were able to cut down a whole row – seven mature trees – that lined the park. A last-minute, grassroots attempt to save those trees failed – largely because the city had given its rights away to a private developer.

When will our developers ever learn to plan their projects in a way that preserves trees? This should become a basic part of our community mindset, but time-and-time again, we see rampant cutting of trees all over our city. And efforts to replace those trees fall woefully short of replacing our tree canopy.

A grassroots effort to save the trees at Colony Square was unsuccessful

Obviously, it’s too late to save the trees next to Colony Square.

But there are two other signature locations where the chain saws are getting ready to kill beautiful trees that have provided shade and beauty to our city.

At 14th and Peachtree streets, a total of 12 mature trees along the city’s sidewalks – yes, the public right of way – are going to be cut down.

The Dewberry Group got approval from the city to cut down those trees so the developer could access the building with six levels of precast panels that will replace the existing façade. The renovation of the Campanile building will add street-level retail to the building.

According to Kevin Green, president and CEO of the Midtown Alliance, Dewberry plans to replace the trees being cut down with new trees, but they won’t be as large as the trees being cut down.

The contractor, Gay Construction, has applied to have lanes closed in the next week or so cut down those trees. Again, shame on our developers and contractors for not figuring out a way to renovate their buildings without having to remove mature trees – especially those in the public right-of-way.

The third spot along Peachtree Street where a significant grove of trees will be cut down is in the oasis that makes up the front and side yard of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta (between 10th and 11th streets).

Those ominous orange X’s have appeared on 12 trees that border a beautiful outdoor courtyard – one of the most pleasant spots in Midtown.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta soon plans to cut down a dozen trees that border this courtyard at its headquarters on Peachtree between 10th and 11th streets (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Raphael Bostic, president of the Atlanta Fed, responded to an email I had sent him expressing concern about the removal of those trees.

“As you know, I’m a birder, so the issue of preserving trees is an important one for me,” Bostic wrote. “This is actually a more complicated issue. The trees have grown so they obscure our lightning pole, create some security difficulties and are non-native – among other challenges.”

Bostic said the trees will be “replaced, not just removed.”

Still, the combination of seeing seven trees cut down at Colony Square, another 12 street trees being cut down at one of the most important Midtown intersections (14th and Peachtree streets) combined with the cutting down of the trees at the Atlanta Fed shows how challenging it is to preserve, protect, maintain and expand our tree canopy.

We as a city need to do better. We need to be able to say no to developers who are all too eager to power their chain saws without seriously looking for solutions to save trees in and around their property.

And we need to have city arborists who are empowered to say “No!” when developers want to cut down trees along the city’s right of way. I’m so tired of feeling helpless when I see those horrid orange X’s – the equivalent of placing our innocent trees on death row.

Let’s hope a new tree ordinance – a key part of the Urban Ecology Framework – will provide the necessary legal teeth so we can save our trees once and for all.

Another view of the trees that will be cut down in front of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Six of the 12 mature trees lining the sidewalks along Peachtree at 14th streets have received city approval to be cut down (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Another view of the six trees along Peachtree that soon will be cut down by the Dewberry Group (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Another six trees along 14th Street also are slated to be cut down (Photo by Maria Saporta)

A sign shields the remnants of seven trees that were cut down in front of Colony Square. I guess the “art of modern living” translates into having fewer trees (Photo by Maria Saporta)

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Maria Saporta
Maria Saporta

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.

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7 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Anna November 5, 2019 11:09 am

    Thank you for your vigilance to our tree canopy. More people need to know and care what is happening to our trees. The developers want NO changes to our existing Tree Ordinance! We need greater protections for our trees! Come to the meeting this Wed and Thurs Nov 6 and 7th.Report

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    JEnnifer Richardson November 5, 2019 4:32 pm

    Ms. Saporta: This is heartbreaking and is going on all over Atlanta all the time. I live in Candler Park, where demolitions happen every day, along with the cutting of trees. Please drive by the clear-cut lot on Clifton Terrace. Clifton Terrace is off of Clifton Road, south of Ponce. (If coming from Ponce, turn right at the stop sign.) You’ll pass four houses and then the clear cut lot. A developer was permitted to construct 4 houses behind an historic mansion. The City’s Urban Design Commission allowed this tragedy. The developer did cut one or two trees illegally, but most were legal. As a long term environmental and historic preservation activist, I am bewildered as to why Atlanta allows this. Thanks for your article. Jennie RichardsonReport

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    Jackie Echols November 6, 2019 5:12 pm

    Until there is leadership in the mayor’s office or 8 votes on the city council that supports protecting Atlanta’s tree canopy the destruction of unbridled chain saws will continue. All of us that value our trees should remember those elected officials who do not the next time we vote.Report

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    Atlanta Resident November 7, 2019 6:17 pm

    It takes a lot of chutzpah to call this ordinance “A tree protection anything…” Developers run this city not the people that live here.
    Ditto with the “granny flats” nasty thing & the proposed solar panels on roofs of single family homes mandate. I doubt any of this tree slaughter would be occurring if Mary Norwood was elected mayor rather than Keisha. The sad fact is developers contribute much more to campaigns than homeowners can afford to contribute. IMOthe developers are the government!!! And what the developers don’t want to clear cut the affordable housing cry babies will chime in to fill the void.

    I can’t wait for the inevitable future water restrictions & more whining about bad air quality, along with storm run-off fees. Likely one
    or perhaps two council members will offer a sweet lament for the trees but vote for the damn thing anyway.Report

    Reply
  5. Avatar
    Betsy Hughes November 10, 2019 1:39 am

    Thanks for making me aware of this. My first job was in midtown and the trees of Atlanta and the city are what we are known for. Most cities are just concrete jungles. I hope we don’t become one…but it’s looking like developers are running things instead.Report

    Reply
  6. Avatar
    Jane November 14, 2019 4:04 pm

    Thanks for speaking out. I sometimes feel like a lone voice when I lament the loss of trees in our city — and this amidst the unmistakable warming of our climate as evidenced by the record number of 90+ degree days this past summer. How quickly everyone forgets. Please give us suggestions on how we can take meaningful action to stop the destruction of our canopy.Report

    Reply
  7. Avatar
    Mark November 15, 2019 5:38 am

    Your report is incorrect it would be helpful to all that if you are going to report on something that you have your facts straight! First for the Federal Reserve , The 12 trees in the plaza are Chinese Lacebark Elms, which are non-native and self-seeding. That means their seeds are washing into the storm water system and producing unwanted growth elsewhere. This came to our attention at a recent meeting with Midtown stakeholders. The invasiveness of this species of tree was a concern also acknowledged by the city arborist. So they are getting rid of tree’s that do not belong here and replacing them with Trees that do they are also adding LED lighting. As or the trees at Dewberry property they are not aware of any permission to cut down those trees and when you walk by the property you only see one “X” on one tree the others are wrapped in wood and construction material to save them. I should know as I walk by this property daily. “City Council does not grant permits for tree removal. That is an administrative decision made by the City, not the Council.” Where did I get my information I asked Midtown’s City council rep Amir Farokhi I suggest you do more research before you publish and article that is not factual.Report

    Reply

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