On May 17, 2021, the Atlanta City Council is scheduled to vote on a thoroughly rewritten and expanded Tree Protection Ordinance (TPO).
Tree Watch recommends that the Inman Park Neighborhood Association support this proposed revision, while encouraging the City Council to work with the Department of City Planning to accept a handful of final changes drafted by Trees Atlanta, or in the alternative, make a persuasive case to the public why these suggested changes cannot or should not be adopted.
The reason Tree Watch recommends this support for the new TPO is that it appears highly likely that it will preserve more trees than the current ordinance, better protect the trees that it does preserve, and increase the quality and quantity of tree plantings.
This conclusion is based on conversations with our longtime partner Trees Atlanta, on materials provided by City Planning, and on what Tree Watch Chair Jim Abbot learned while participating in the multiyear planning process formerly known as the Urban Ecology Framework.
Trees Atlanta has done a thorough analysis of the proposed new TPO and come up with some modest but important improvements. We’ve reviewed all 23 standards and amendments, which Trees Atlanta has already forwarded to the City Council. Tree Watch supports them all.
Certain of Trees Atlanta’s recommendations do appear to be more significant than others, and it is these that Tree Watch suggests IPNA focus on:
Improve the TPO’s Overall Goal: The goal to “protect, maintain, and advance a high-quality urban forest within the boundaries of the City and reverse canopy loss over time” is unacceptably nebulous and weakens the current goal of “no net loss” of trees. Tree Watch recommends a measurable goal of increasing and maintaining our tree canopy to 50%.
Expand the Category of Priority Trees and Improve the Protections Afforded Them: A major change in the new TPO is to differentiate between higher and lower quality trees, with corresponding implications for incentives and penalties. The City Council should insist on a more expansive definition of priority trees, e.g., by reducing the size threshold. Also, additional steps should be taken to strengthen the protection of these priority trees, e.g., by calculating replacement at 100% (not 75%) of the trunk diameter, by exempting priority trees from the homeowner allowance for periodic removal, and by restoring appeal rights for priority trees to anyone in the NPU.
Use the Tree Trust Fund for Trees: Over time Atlanta has expanded the permissible uses of the Tree Trust Fund, notably for the acquisition of forested land (good) and as budget-relief for administrative costs, primarily salaries (not good). Moreover, an October 2020 audit by the City, following an investigation by Tree Next Door advocates, found that the departments of City Planning and Parks and Recreation had been misusing the Tree Trust Fund for years. The fund should be used chiefly for the preservation and replanting of trees. Accordingly, stricter limits should be put on the use of the Tree Trust Fund for salaries and other administrative expenses, and the City should commit to a very high level of transparency regarding the fund.
Recommit to Robust Public Participation: On the argument that it will improve efficiency, the new TPO would pare back required postings of tree removals as well as public appeals of arborists’ decisions. It does this, among other ways, by eliminating those yellow signs for early stages of the process, by reducing the amount of time between posting and deadline for appeals, and in some situations eliminating appeals altogether or limiting them to adjoining property owners. The City Council should ask the Department of City Planning to walk back all or some of these changes, using Trees Atlanta’s detailed recommendations as its guide. Why? Because we’ve had 50 years to observe the crucial role the general public can play in environmental protection, and we know it works.
Trees Atlanta has a number of other excellent recommendations on such items as (1) an incentive for reduction of impervious surface, (2) a slightly higher target for site density of trees, (3) getting the most of those so-called pre-application meetings, (4) better tree protection fencing, (5) distinguishing multi-unit housing and institutional projects from commercial projects, (6) parking lot trees, and more.
To read the proposed ordinance and related materials, visit the Department of City Planning website.
To view slides from Trees Atlanta’s four-part webinar evaluating the proposed TPO, click here.