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Tonight: Decatur City Commission considers taking a break from tear-downs, tree removals

Decaturish updates

Tonight: Decatur City Commission considers taking a break from tear-downs, tree removals


Icon_GovernmentExpect a good turnout at tonight’s Decatur City Commission meeting as commissioners are set to discuss a temporary halt on new tear down and tree removal permits.

The idea got its first hearing at the commission’s Oct. 7 meeting. At that meeting, city staff presented it as a single ordinance including both moratoriums. Builders and residents showed up in force, and will likely do so again tonight. The commission’s “Dinner Session” begins at 5:30 p.m. and the regular meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at City Hall, 509 North McDonough Street.

Decaturish.com will be there and will file a report after the meeting ends. It should be a hot one, as they say.

In the two weeks since Oct. 7, the city has fleshed out the terms of the moratorium and also split them into two separate ordinances: one for tree removal and one for tear downs.

According to information posted on the city’s website, the tear down moratorium would, “Restrict the issuance of a building permit, development permit, demolition permit or other permit that would allow structural demolition, as defined basically as removal of 50% or more of an existing structure. The demolition moratorium ordinance would only apply to development or redevelopment of detached single-family dwellings, duplexes, and accessory buildings. The temporary moratorium would not apply to demolition of dangerous structures.”

The tree removal moratorium would, “Prohibit the issuance of a permit for removal of any healthy trees with a 12-inch or greater ‘diameter-at breast-height’ (D8H) as part of new construction or renovation. The temporary moratorium would not apply to removal of dangerous or diseased trees, as determined by a certified arborist or urban forester” the city’s website says.

Both ordinances would include an appeals process covering “erroneous interpretations” by city staff and “economic hardship situations.” It doesn’t seem to define what constitutes an “economic hardship,” so that might be open to some interpretation.

Here’s another thing I found interesting about the proposed ordinances. All of this is being done as part of the process of creating a Unified Development Ordinance for the city. The moratorium would be in effect until Jan. 24, 2014, but the UDO itself wouldn’t be completed until September 2014. If city commission wants to speed up that process to conclude in January, it will add to the expense.

From the city manager’s notes to commissioners:

“If the City Commission wants to move forward with the UDO process and have it completed within the established twelve-month period and also have an amended tree protection ordinance and an analysis of the effectiveness of the current in-fill housing ordinances in protecting and maintaining existing housing stock completed by mid-January, 2014, additional resources will be necessary and an expedited and intense public input process will have to be employed. It is estimated that approximately $50,000-$60,000 would be needed for use of outside consultants, legal assistance and technology and process assistance.” (Editor’s note: emphasis in bold is mine.)

Over the last two weeks, Decaturish.com has run an online poll about the moratorium. (Obviously, it’s not scientific, but I think it’s reasonable to assume that only people with some sort of stake in the outcome would care to vote, much less try to manipulate the final result.) The first poll was created when the tree removal and tear down moratoriums were contained within the same ordinance.

Of the 358 people who voted, 193 were against both moratoriums and 165 were for them.

Right before the weekend, the city separated the two and I closed the first poll, replacing it with a poll question for each moratorium. I wasn’t quite sure what it would do to the final vote tallies. I knew there would be fewer votes given the short amount of time between the city’s decision to split the ordinances and the actual meeting.

Out of the 94 readers who voted in the poll about the tree removal moratorium, 51 voted in favor of it and 43 voted against.

The second poll question about the tear-down moratorium drew a much stronger reaction. Out of the 97 readers who voted in that poll, 60 voted against it and 37 voted for it.

Again, it’s not a scientific poll, but could be an indicator of how the debate tonight shakes out.

Stay tuned …