Undercover: What we know and don’t know about protecting Decatur’s tree canopy

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt January 7, 2014
An example of sporadic tree canopy cover in the city of Decatur. Source: City of Decatur, Ga.

An example of sporadic tree canopy cover in the city of Decatur. Source: City of Decatur, Ga.

During the Jan. 6 City Commission meeting we finally got some answers about what Decatur’s new regulations on removing trees might look like.

But we were also left with a few questions. Hopefully they’ll get answered sometime between now and Jan. 21 when the city will consider approving the ordinance. To read the draft ordinance and see the slideshow presentation, click here. Also, there’s a pretty good discussion going on at Decatur Metro about the draft tree ordinance’s strengths and weaknesses.

We’ll start with what we know:

– The ordinance will promote increasing the city’s tree canopy cover from 45 percent to 55 percent over 25 years.

– It protects any tree greater than six inches in width, including boundary trees.

– The ordinance will consist of carrots and sticks to promote tree canopy growth. For example, City Manager Peggy Merriss said paying money into the city’s tree bank will be more expensive and become a last resort option. The idea is to get permit applicants to promote sufficient canopy growth instead, Merriss said.

– The burden to maintain and increase canopy cover will be shared by residents and developers.

– The city will hire a full time arborist who will have final approval over whether to grant a tree removal permit. City Planning Director Amanda Thompson told commissioners, “At the end of the day if someone is die hard, ‘I want to take this tree down,’ the city arborist is going to approve the removal, but you are going to have to replace it.”

There were a few questions left unanswered after the Jan. 6 presentation.

– The arborist will be a full time employee, but we don’t know what that will cost the city.

– We don’t know what the changes to the tree bank will ultimately cost permit applicants. The recommended rate at the moment is $1.50 per square foot of tree removed, which could mean it will cost thousands more to remove trees.

– The ordinance could be approved on Jan. 21, but the effective date wouldn’t be until May 5. There’s a tree removal moratorium in effect until Jan. 24. We don’t know what developers and residents will do between the end of the moratorium and the effective date of the new ordinance. Merriss said the city commission has some options, including extending the current moratorium.

The tree ordinance is being rewritten as a part of the city of Decatur’s update to its zoning codes, called a Unified Development Ordinance. There will be another meeting about the UDO on Jan. 8 at City Hall, located at 509 North McDonough St., Decatur, GA 30030.┬áThe meeting begins at 7 p.m.

Also at the Jan. 6 meeting, commissioners reelected Mayor Jim Baskett and Mayor Pro Tem Kecia Cunningham to their respective positions for another one year term.

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of Decaturish.com. https://www.linkedin.com/in/danwhisenhunt

View all posts by Dan Whisenhunt

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