320 N. Highland Avenue

Crossposted from Nextdoor:

TREES at 320 N. Highland

The following info is taken from the rezoning plans that Zachary Dussault posted for this project. It’s meant to serve as an object lesson for Inman Park neighbors, with respect to the blind spots and weaknesses of our current tree protection ordinance.

17 trees are to be removed from this site in the heart of Inman Park’s business district. All are native to Georgia. They include an oak tree that (measured in inches of diameter at 4.5 feet from the ground) is 37 caliper inches. (I cannot speak to its current health at this time, as I am out of town.)

5 additional trees will suffer impact. These include oaks that are 18 and 25 caliper inches. Whether they survive construction will be seen: with digging in a quarter to almost half of their root areas, and no requirement for post-construction tree care, e.g., irrigation, aeration, mulching, etc., the site may well lose additional trees in the year or two after construction, for which (to my knowledge) there is no requirement to replant or pay recompense.

14 trees are to be replanted along the streets and the parking ramp. None are over-story trees like the oaks, hickories, and sweet gums that will be destroyed to make room for this parking deck. Again, none of the new trees will actually replace in quality the trees they’re replacing.

Moreover, only 3 of the 14 are native trees. 11, that is, are non-native, including Chinese elms that have been reported to be invasive in the native forests of California, the Southwest, Texas, and some Southeastern states.

Please note well that the existing formula¹ used to determine the developer’s obligation to replant on site (or to pay for replanting elsewhere) does NOT distinguish between a 10″ diameter tree that might live 100+ years (like a slow-growing oak) and another that will be lucky to live half that number of years (like the fast-growing Chinese elms and medium-growth rate trident maples that the developer is proposing to plant in their place).

Because the developer’s obligation is not being fully met by replanting on site, $11,225 will be paid into the City of Atlanta’s Tree Trust Fund. This money may or may not defray the expense of planting trees elsewhere. Why? Because the fund is now being used to pay arborists’ salaries in the Bureau of Buildings, some administrative costs, stipends for community members of the Tree Conservation Commission, some educational materials, and (as of 2016) greenspace purchases.

(Note also that this $11,225 is to be paid into the fund despite the need for additional trees in the Inman Park sections of Freedom Park, which is adjacent to the site. In the past, this has been deemed a permissible practice, i.e., replanting not directly on site but nearby in city parks and along rights-of-way. I’m unclear at the moment whether there has been a change in that approach.)

Bottom line: the proposal is to remove native, over-story trees to make room (mostly) for parking, and we’re replacing those trees with an appreciably smaller number of shorter-lived, non-native (and arguably in some instances, invasive) substitutes — all of which the current City of Atlanta Tree Protection Ordinance allows.

Please keep an eye out for news about the consultant-led process (“Urban Ecology Framework”) that will produce a new ordinance. It should be gearing up this fall.

¹ $ = $100 [(# trees destroyed + # trees lost) – # trees replaced] + $30.00 [(DBH inches destroyed + DBH inches lost) – caliper inches replaced], where DBH = diameter at breast height.

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