Mourning the loss of dozens of trees along Peachtree in Midtown
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 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.
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.
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.