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Dear Decaturish – The city of Decatur does not care about trees

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Dear Decaturish – The city of Decatur does not care about trees

A fallen tree near Adair Dog Park in Decatur, Ga. File Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

A fallen tree near Adair Dog Park in Decatur, Ga. File Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

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Dear Decaturish,

I have lived in Decatur for five years. When I moved to Atlanta, I was drawn to the social atmosphere, the walkability, the availability of public transport, and the beautiful trees. I soon learned about the city’s tree ordinance and the complicated political road that led to the current ordinance, and I was happy to live in a place that I thought valued the role of large trees in the local ecosystem and neighborhood.

I was wrong. Year after year, I have seen large canopy trees cut down across the city. At first, I blamed developers who were tearing down homes and rebuilding them for violating the tree ordinance. I also blamed city employees for not enforcing what I thought was a strict ordinance. However, after sorting through the ordinance with the help of city employees, I have discovered that neither developers nor city employees were violating the law. The tree ordinance is simply inadequate.

I emailed the city when developers clear-cut what was essentially a small forest at the corner of Church Street and Forkner Avenue. I called the city when a beautiful old oak tree was torn down next door to make way for a driveway that wrapped around to a garage at the rear of a new house. I listened to the grating sound of chainsaws as enormous 100-year old Tulip Poplars were cleared from a lot across the creek from my house so that two 3500 square foot homes could be built on tiny lots, not only decreasing canopy cover but also increasing impervious surface area and impacting the creek habitat. The final straw was when I saw an irreplaceable specimen tree cut down on Forkner Avenue, most likely to allow bulldozers access to build a new home on the lot.

Any one of these incidents is not of major concern, but when you add all of the residential development up over the span of five to ten years, the situation begins to look grim. I call on the city of Decatur commissioners to put their money where their mouth is. Revise the tree canopy ordinance to be more restrictive.

One simple change that could be made would be to increase the required amount of canopy coverage. Another would be to measure coverage by tree diameter, which is the norm around the country. I was dismayed when I learned that the current ordinance measures by canopy estimate rather than tree diameter. Also, the ordinance allows developers to count the coverage provided by neighbors’ trees on their lots, but does not require them to account for the impact of removed trees on the neighbors’ lots.

I appreciate the increase in home value that will likely accompany all this interested development, but if developers are not creative enough to work around existing canopy and build reasonably sized houses that fit on the small city lots, perhaps they should not be developing homes in the city. The city also has a moral, and perhaps legal, responsibility to the children and young people growing up here to preserve the ecosystem for future generations. I ask the city of Decatur commissioners to take action and improve our tree ordinance immediately.

– Steven Black

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