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Avondale Estates City Commission discusses amending tree list, tree ordinance

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Avondale Estates City Commission discusses amending tree list, tree ordinance

Lake Avondale. Source: Avondaleestates.org

Avondale Estates, GA — The Avondale Estates City Commission continued conversations on tree related matters during a work session on Wednesday, July 28. The board discussed the role and members of the Tree Board and amending the tree list and tree ordinance.

The Tree Board is made up of seven members who are appointed by the mayor and serve two-year terms. The city tree officer is one of the members of the board.

The Tree Board studies, investigates, counsels and advises the city manager, who will administer a written plan for the care of trees and shrubs in parks, along streets and in other public areas, according to the city’s website.

The plan includes planting, preservation, pruning, removal or disposition and replanting.

The Tree Board currently has one member, along with the city tree officer, and has four vacancies to be filled after board members resigned.

The commissioners were supportive of reinvigorating the Tree Board and filling the vacancies. They agreed that the Tree Board needs clearer direction from the City Commission and some suggestions were made to potentially do that through the tree ordinance.

“The ordinance as written is already clear,” City Manager Patrick Bryant said. “It was just that this previous iteration of the Tree Board was not following the ordinance and so when city staff asked them to, they didn’t want to. They wanted to kind of do their own thing so a lot of them resigned because they didn’t want to follow the ordinance governing what the Tree Board is supposed to do.”

He added that the Tree Board hasn’t met since 2017, and while there were individual members of the board who carried out the board functions, the board as a whole declined to perform the functions that are already laid out in the ordinance.

Commissioner Lisa Shortell also suggested that some duties and responsibilities of the Tree Board, like pruning and fertilizing, be evaluated and potentially narrowed as the city takes on more duties related to trees following the completion of the tree inventory.

— The City Commission also discussed the tree list, which is the section of the city’s Tree Board ordinance that establishes the species of trees that may be planted in city rights of way, parks and green space, according to the ordinance.

Shortell and Commissioner Dee Merriam both suggested amending the tree list to remove trees, like crape myrtles, from the tall tree list.

“It doesn’t mean we can’t have some crape myrtles in our city. It just means we don’t want them taking up space where it’s appropriate to plant canopy trees,” Shortell said.

One issue the city can run into with the tree list is that it includes trees, like crape myrtles, that the city might not want in some places on public property, Bryant said. But he can’t decline a request to plant a tree if it’s on the tree list. Bryant suggested that the City Commission amend the tree list, have the Tree Board resume their duties and make recommendations, and then he will make a decision.

— Regarding the tree ordinance, the City Commission asked city staff to look at a loophole in the ordinance related to the land disturbance permit and residents’ abilities to cut down trees. A recent incident in the city of clear-cutting caused the commissioners to ask for more restrictions on cutting down trees.

“The one thing we were all scared of was clear-cutting. It happened,” Mayor Jonathan Elmore said. “I would just like to see something that gives people a reasonable leeway to cut down trees, especially if they’re causing damage and all that, to remove trees as they see fit, but we got to have something against clear-cutting. It’s awful and it will happen again.”

The loophole exists with the land disturbance permit requirement for removing a tree, but if someone doesn’t apply for a land disturbance permit, “you can do whatever you want,” Bryant said.

Currently, the tree ordinance states that “a tree removal permits is required in addition to other required permits, such as land disturbance or building permits, for any component part of a project.”

An application for a tree removal permit must include a tree survey, a tree preservation and replacement plan and other documentation needed by the city tree official. Land disturbance, demolition or other construction activity cannot occur until the preservation and replacement plan is approved and the tree removal permit is posted on the property.

The ordinance also states that “the tree removal permit shall have the same terms of expiration and renewal as the associated building permit.”

“What essentially is happening right now is we have some folks who might want to put on a small addition on the back of their house, that involves a land disturbance permit, so they have to go through the whole tree survey process and make sure they have 40% tree canopy coverage,” Shortell said. “But yet, we have this loophole where someone can just, if they’re not supposedly doing land disturbance, they can cut every tree down and they don’t even have to go through that replacement process. That just seems so totally unfair to me.”

— The City Commission additionally discussed the future of the holly tree on Clarendon Avenue as the designated Christmas tree that is decorated with lights every year. The consensus of the City Commission was to ask city staff to explore options to save the tree for one more year, or use a tree in the adjacent lot by the clock tower this year and eventually have the Christmas tree be located on the town green.

The commissioners also agreed that the plaza area where the holly tree is planted should eventually be redesigned.

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