Ormewood Forest an opportunity to preserve a key piece of Atlanta’s tree canopy

By Maria Saporta

Protecting Atlanta’s urban tree canopy is facing a real-world challenge in East Atlanta.

An inspiring group of neighbors and citizen activists have launched a grassroots initiative – Save Ormewood Forest – a 6-acre tract with old-growth trees.

For seven years, the community has been able to fight proposed developments for the property – mostly from residential developers who would fill the property with single-family homes.

The latest proposal comes from Heritage Capitol Partners, which is proposing to fit as many as 21 houses on this environmentally-fragile oasis only three miles from the heart of downtown. It is located within the block bounded by Ormewood Avenue, Flat Shoals Avenue, Oakfield Drive and Shadowridge Drive.

Ormewood Forest

Looking up at the sky through the old-growth trees in Ormewood Forest (Courtesy of Save Ormewood Forest)

More than 1,200 people have signed a petition to Save Ormewood Forest. About 50 neighbors showed up on Aug. 10 to the Zoning Review Board at the Atlanta City Hall hoping to stop a rezoning of the property.

Despite the neighborhood’s strong opposition to the rezoning and despite a staff recommendation to not rezone the property, the Zoning Review Board granted Heritage Capitol a 90-day deferral to try to work with the community.

That move is unfortunate because it makes it harder to achieve “the best-case scenario” outcome in the near future.

The best-case scenario would be for the City of Atlanta and its multiple conservation and environmental organizations to acquire the 6-acre tract and preserve the Ormewood Forest in perpetuity.

When the developers bought the property, they were well aware of the community’s desire to save the forest. And it’s not just the Ormewood Forest with its 100-year-old trees.

The property also includes the headwaters for Intrenchment Creek, a spring-fed stream that is vital to the ecological balance of the land, its watershed and the surrounding community. The property also is home to valuable wildlife habitat as well as flora and fauna.

A view of the stream that crosses the Ormewood Forest property (Photo by Grant Dollar)

But it’s also a forest that needs tender love and care. The historic Beulah Church of Christ Holiness church sat in the middle of the property for decades until the 1990s, when the church building was removed.

“Since then,” according to the Save Ormewood Forest website, “the propery has been neglected, and populated by invasive plant species. The stream that begins on the property is overtaxed and is suffering from poorly maintained street culverts.”

The Save Ormewood Forest leaders have been working with numerous city departments as well as a host of nonprofits focused on land conservation, tree preservation and an ecologically healthy city.

Ideally, a public-private partnership would be able to step in to acquire the property and come up with a long-term plan to restore the forest and remove the invasive plant species on the property. The former church site could become a wonderful meadow within the forest and could be enjoyed by neighborhood residents and the city at large.

Atlanta is at a pivotal point in its history – one where it is seeking to steer new development to already-built commercial corridors and one that establishes conservation areas where we have low-rise neighborhoods nestled among the trees that make up Atlanta’s urban forest.

During a July greenspace forum with 10 Atlanta mayoral candidate, they answered the question: “On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is it to protect Atlanta’s tree canopy (with 10 being most important)?”

Every candidate answered “10” or higher.

Atlanta, we now have an opportunity to back that sentiment with action. Somehow, we need to find a mechanism to protect the fragile urban forests that remain – whether it be by using money from the tree-recompense fund or implementing any number of tools – from conservation easements to transfer of development rights to outright acquisition from the nonprofit community.

Ormewood Forest

A photo taken with a drone shows how the Ormewood Forest frames Atlanta’s skyline (Photo by Benjamin Gravitt)

As we venture into this new world of preserving Atlanta’s tree canopy, we also need to come up with a reasonable plan to maintain the greenspace for the public’s benefit.

The last thing we need as a community is to start pitting one urban forest against another – by establishing certain metrics on the size of the land, the number of trees and the cost of acquisition.

In short, we need to be in a position where we are saving every significant piece of forested land in Atlanta – a city that stands out as a city in a forest.

If we remain true to our core values, perhaps developers would self-select the sites that are appropriate for new development and the sites that need to be preserved in their natural state.

Saving Ormewood Forest would be a great place to start.

Ormewood Forest

A map of the property as presented by the Save Ormewood Forest organization

Ormewood Forest

An example of one of the trees within the Ormewood Forest. All photos were shot before developer placed “No Trespassing” signs on the property (Photo by Grant Dollar)

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.

5 replies
  1. Wormser Hats says:

    Contrary to many misconceptions, that rusty brown color in the stream isn’t mud, algae, or sewerage; it’s the result of naturally occurring iron-oxidizing bacteria living at the surface that convert the minerals dissolved in groundwater.

    For anyone who doubts the merits of rescuing a weed-choked forest, look no further than Cascade Springs Nature Preserve, Fernbank Forest, and Storza Woods at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. These iconic caverns within our canopy were all once choked with ivy, privet, and other nasty escapes from cultivation.

    With props to Margaret Mead, a few committed people (with moxie and elbow-grease) really can make a difference.Report

  2. Jim says:

    You will not win!!
    For years, Atlanta has had every person in a “ govt position” having their pockets lined with “ 30 pieces of silver”
    AND they won’t even bend to you!!! Your housing tax money means more to them than leaves and trees….Report


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