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Decatur arborist says city issued fewer tree removal permits under new ordinance

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Decatur arborist says city issued fewer tree removal permits under new ordinance

Trees along S. McDonough Street. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Decatur, GA — It’s been about a year since the Decatur City Commission updated the city’s tree ordinance. City Arborist Kay Evanovich told the Decatur Environmental Sustainability Board on Jan. 27 that the city has received fewer tree removal permits under the new ordinance.

The ordinance went into effect on March 21, 2022. The new online permitting system launched on April 4, 2022.

During the ESB meeting, Evanovich gave a breakdown of the number of tree removal permits that have been issued from 2019-2022. Although, the data for 2019-2021 does not include tree permits and plans that were part of a building or land disturbance permit.

In 2022, the permits issued in the first quarter of the year had to meet the requirements of the old tree ordinance. Throughout the rest of the year, the permits were issued under the updated tree ordinance.

Here are the number of permits that have been issued:

– In 2019, the city issued 268 tree permits.

– In 2020, 256 tree removal permits were issued.

– In 2021, 321 tree permits were issued.

– In 2022, the system changed after the first quarter. Last year, 264 tree permits were issued.

The first quarter of the year fell under the old tree ordinance and 75 tree removal permits were issued. For the rest of the year, 189 tree permits were issued under the new tree ordinance.

“Basically, you can tell that the number of tree removal permits has been reduced under the new tree conservation ordinance, at least for the last three quarters of [last] year,” Evanovich said.

Some key updates to the ordinance were:

– Property owners are required to submit a tree removal permit to remove untreatably diseased, dead or hazardous trees, which could previously be removed with a tree information permit. A permit fee will not be charged to remove these trees. Discretionary tree removal, which is removing three protected trees in an 18-month period, is no longer allowed.

– Trees in fair or better condition cannot be removed.

“Under this new ordinance, healthy trees are not to be removed,” Evanovich said.

– Residential properties will have to maintain a minimum of 60% tree canopy and would be required to conserve 75% of existing fair or better rated trees when a land disturbance permit is required or where impervious area is increased.

– Commercial, high-density residential and institutional properties would have to reach at least 45% canopy coverage and would have to conserve 50% of existing fair or better rated trees when a land disturbance permit is required or where impervious area is increased. For commercial properties that have less than 45% canopy coverage when applying for a land disturbance permit, the property owner must apply for alternative compliance.

– Property owners must pay a canopy loss fee to the tree bank for any protected tree that is removed. This would only apply to trees that are in fair or better condition, and would not apply to dead, untreatably diseased or hazardous trees.

– The tree canopy goal was also increased from 60% to 65% for the city.

– The updated ordinance additionally requires a developer to make an agreement with a homeowner to determine who is responsible for caring for trees if new trees are planted or trees were conserved on the site.

“That is a two-year agreement. Plus there’s a follow-up agreement that they send the city arborist a tree condition report every year,” Evanovich said.

In other business, Evanovich shared some upcoming tree projects. This is the last year of the city’s program to plant 1,000 trees by 2023. The city has planted about 200 new trees a year since 2018. The city has plans to plant 200 trees in celebration of the Decatur’s bicentennial this year.

Residents can sign up for the front yard tree program with Trees Atlanta. This year, the city approved 100 trees and waived the application fee in celebration of the city’s bicentennial. Any Decatur resident who has a front yard or backyard can have up to two trees planted.

The list of trees available include white oak, overcup oak, willow oak, tulip poplar, river birch, sycamore and the American hornbeam.

Arbor Day is on Feb. 18. The city will be giving out seedlings at Legacy Park. The trees available will be 50 persimmon trees, 50 dogwoods, 50 yellow poplars and 50 bald cypress trees.

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