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Avondale Estates City Commission considering combining Tree, Arboretum Boards

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Avondale Estates City Commission considering combining Tree, Arboretum Boards

The Avondale Estates City Commission met on Thursday, Sept. 9, at City Hall. The board continued discussions about the tree ordinances and the U.S. 278 road diet project. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

Avondale Estates, GA — The Avondale Estates City Commission is considering additional changes to the city’s tree ordinances, including combining the Tree Board and Arboretum Board, adding a tree notification system and increase stating in the ordinance that the tree canopy goal for the city is 50%.

During the City Commission’s Sept. 9 work session, the board discussed and agreed that the city should combine the Tree Board and Arboretum Board, as they serve functions related to trees. The idea was pitched by a member of the Arboretum Board at the August meeting and is supported by the one standing member of the Tree Board.

There are currently several vacancies on the Tree Board, which is a seven member board that 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 Arboretum Board assists in mapping trees identified for the Arboretum, prepares an informational brochure explaining the arboretum and places identifying markers at these trees, according to the city’s website.

Mayor Jonathan Elmore said he is in favor of combining the boards, and the City Commission asked city staff to figure out how to combine the boards.

The city has received some applications for the Tree Board. If the boards are combined, the city will inform the applicants and the members of the Arboretum Board to make sure everyone understands and agrees with the merger.

“I support it also,” Mayor Pro Tem Brian Fisher said. “As everyone has said, there’s a lot of synergies between both, and I think a single board can accomplish whatever task we put in front of them.”

The City Commission also discussed implementing a tree notification system as a way for the city to track when residents remove trees.

“I do like the idea of tree removal notification,” Elmore said. “I like what Decatur has. I mean, you can get on your phone, you can do it in one minute. Now, Decatur’s does require a professional of some sort. I think that’s a bit much.”

Under Decatur’s current tree ordinance, residents can remove three trees in an 18-month period with a tree information permit. The permit allows the city to track the reasons for tree removal, the amount of canopy removed and a plan for replanting, if applicable. A total of 25% canopy cover must be preserved on a property.

A tree removal permit has to be submitted in Decatur if a resident takes down more than three trees within that timeframe. This permit must be prepared by a certified arborist, the ordinance states.

“I’m in favor of the tree notification system,” Commissioner Lisa Shortell said. “As much as I hate to ask people to fill out a form that’ll take a minute or so, I think there’s really no other way to get more oversight unless we ask folks to do it.”

Shortell added that she also likes Decatur’s requirements, but up to a point. She’d like to simplify the process, and suggested the removal limit be three healthy trees of a particular size.

“I think that would simplify it a lot for folks versus trying to calculate canopies and things like that as was seen in the Decatur [ordinance] but in general I support that,” Shortell said.

Fisher raised concerns about overcomplicating the process and thinks that the city doesn’t have an issue with its tree canopy.

“I feel like that we are creating a solution looking for a problem, and I just think one of the things we struggled with when we first looked at putting a tree ordinance in, in the first place is that there’s no easy way to put in a tree ordinance and monitor it without it becoming complicated and burdensome to both city staff and/or residents,” Fisher said.

Assistant City Manager Paul Hanebuth suggested that the city ask tree companies for copies of invoices when they remove a tree in the city.

“If we just make it known to the tree companies that we’re asking for that information, we already have a folder for every address in town,” Hanebuth said. “Then if later on down the road that address wants to do a development or needs a land disturbance permit or whatever, we have the data about what was removed from that address.”

He added that having the information about what trees have been removed would help inform decisions at a later date. But questions remained about what the limit should be and at what point residents would have to notify the city about tree removals or submit a tree replanting plan.

The City Commission agreed to add language clarifying a desire to keep the city’s canopy coverage at or about 50%. Although, concerns were raised about being able to achieve 50% canopy in the commercial areas of the city.

“My only thing is…if we put something in place, I want it to be something that can be executed on and followed,” Fisher said.

In a memo, Hanebuth proposed language to multiple sections to state that the purpose of the ordinance is to “protect the City’s existing healthy tree canopy and amplify it whenever possible, so that coverage remains above 50% and increases over time…”

That language was also added to the ordinance that establishes the Tree Board and adds that “[t]o further this goal, such plan should provide for the planting of over story (large) trees wherever and whenever practicable,” the memo states.

City Manager Patrick Bryant said that the tree canopy coverage in the central business district will come through the street grid. Some commissioners suggested having a 50% for the residential area and a 40% goal for the commercial areas.

“I will say that a lot of the aspirational tree canopy coverage with the CBD will begin to be attained as we build out the street grid and the streetscapes associated with that street grid,” Bryant said. “I think that will help us aspire to that 40%.”

Some suggestions were made to have different goals for the residential areas and the commercial areas. Hanebuth said his understanding was that 50% coverage for the city as a whole would be the goal.

“So even though there are two different divisions of the ordinance, I thought both divisions of that ordinance were written in service of that overall goal for the city. I did not have in mind that we were requiring 50% on the commercial side and 50% on the residential side but that the provisions in the ordinance for both divisions were serving that overall goal,” Hanebuth said.

— In other business, during the regular meeting, the City Commission approved a change order for the U.S. 278 road diet. City staff requested that the scope of work for Edwards Pittman Environmental Services be expanded to incorporate the traffic light at South Avondale Road and Clarendon Avenue into the project at a cost of about $28,000.

The city has already allocated $80,000 for the design work of the project, and the total budget for the lighting project is $1.9 million.

Part of the project includes adding new traffic signals, re-timing them and moving them. The city has also applied for a federal earmark through the surface transportation reauthorization bill to add two signals and help the city get to construction on the project.

As the city has begun design work for the signals, staff has found that the traffic lights at Clarendon Avenue, North Avondale Road and South Avondale Road function as one signal. So the city has to take on both lights, but its environmental documents don’t include the light on South Avondale Road.

The Georgia Department of Transportation is requiring the city to expand its footprint of environmental coverage to include the light in order to move forward with the project, Assistant City Manager Shannon Powell said at the Aug. 25 meeting.

Powell added that the city cannot change the traffic signals without including the light on South Avondale Road and Clarendon Avenue.

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