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Avondale Estates City Commission adopts amended tree ordinance

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Avondale Estates City Commission adopts amended tree ordinance

Clarendon Avenue, Avondale Estates. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Avondale Estates, GA — The Avondale Estates City Commission amended the city’s tree ordinance during its meeting on Jan. 12. The amendments included a new requirement that property owners must apply for a tree removal permit before performing any substantial land disturbance in residential areas, according to the ordinance.

“We’ve been working a lot on the tree ordinance, and we’ve done a lot of work on the public spaces with the tree ordinance, in terms of prioritizing large trees to be planted whenever possible and things like that,” Commissioner Lisa Shortell said at the Dec. 8 City Commission meeting.

The ordinance also sets the city’s residential canopy goal at 50% and sets the canopy goal at 40% for non-single-family residential districts. It additionally updates the tree list, which specifies the types of trees that can be planted on city property, to remove trees, like crepe myrtles, from the tall tree list.

“I know the tree ordinance was not easy when we put it in, in the first place,” Mayor Pro Tem Brian Fisher said. “It seemed [like] a challenge to figure out do we [do] what we intend, but do so in a manner that isn’t cumbersome to both city staff and residents. I think this is a really good one.”

Fisher added that the city amended the tree list to make sure that the tree canopy consists of hard wood trees that matched what the board felt was important to the city. The tree list, which specifies the types of trees that can be planted on city property, to remove trees, like crepe myrtles, from the tall tree list.

“It was Commissioner Shortell’s idea to tie [submitting] a tree plan to a land disturbance permit, and then redefining what would be a land disturbance permit. Any earth-moving equipment would require a tree replacement plan. I think that accomplished the goals we were looking for,” Fisher said.

The City Commission began amending the tree ordinance to address a so-called loophole in which a property owner could cut down multiple trees if they didn’t apply for a land disturbance permit. Under the previous ordinance, the city could not require them to submit a tree replanting plan.

“The issue was, or the so-called loophole, was that the way a project was defined said that it needed to ultimately result in a certificate of occupancy,” City Attorney Stephen Quinn previously said. “There are some land disturbances that don’t require a certificate of occupancy. I guess that’s the main way it’s broadening.”

To address the issue, Shortell proposed adding a requirement to the ordinance that clarifies that property owners must get a tree removal permit before doing any substantial land disturbance in the residential areas. This language was ultimately approved in the amended ordinance.

“Basically, the idea is that now what we’re saying is doing a project is no longer just a building project or putting on an addition or something like that. But a project can also be defined as a [substantial] land disturbance permit,” Shortell previously said.

The amended tree ordinance substantial land disturbance is defined as “any work that (a) involves earth-moving mechanical equipment (including, but not limited to bobcats or tractors), or (b) results in fifty percent (50%) of a lot’s permeable area being cleared of vegetation down to bare soil, or (c) requires installation of erosion control fencing pursuant to any applicable city, state or federal regulation.”

When a tree removal permit is required, it must be obtained prior to conducting any substantial land disturbance on a residential property. A property owner must apply for the permit and submit a tree survey, a tree preservation and replacement plan, and other documentation to the city arborist. No land disturbance, demolition or other construction activity can begin prior to review and approval of the tree removal permit.

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