All posts by Jim Abbot

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.

The Future of Atlanta’s Urban Forest: Fourth in a Series

The previous installment in this series asserted that in the interest of fairness, when it comes to trees, we Atlantans should commit to hearing each other out.

Quite understandably, people who live among, near, and under trees have strong feelings about them. We love and fear them. They fill us with joy and exasperation. We value them for themselves alone; we value them for what they do for us; or maybe we don’t value them at all. Trees are an important aspect of what makes our city livable, many firmly believe; others worry that trees stand in the way of Atlanta ever becoming a “great” city, e.g., by acting as an impediment to achieving the population density typical of such places.

Fairness means that everyone who wants to have a say should have that opportunity, and what they say should be met with open minds and hearts.

The foregoing does not mean, however, that every opinion is equally valid.

On the contrary.

And here again fairness is key. Some visions of the future Atlanta are going to be better than others because they come closer to a perfect balancing of all the many interests present in a major city like ours.

What interests should be taken into account? How do we recognize the moment when we’ve balanced them as well as we possibly can? These are questions for another day (and for smarter minds, too).

For the present, it’s enough to say this.  On this topic, fairness is impossible of achievement without acceptance of the fact that you “own” a tree only in the loosest sense of the word.

Why is that true? It’s true in the same sense that you cannot be permitted to “own” the air my children breathe or the water they drink. Or for that matter, the air and water that my great-grandchildren will one day breathe and drink.

Living as we do in a city, with responsibilities to each other and to future generations, we must give up the notion that we can do exactly as we please.

You can’t. You can’t do exactly as you please — in some cases, that’s going to be true no matter what price you’re able and willing to pay.

“Your” trees are “my” trees, too, after all. It’s only fair that I have a say in their fate, as you do in the fate of mine. Right?

The Future of Atlanta’s Urban Forest: Third in a Series

Quick! Which one of these is true?

  • Tree are large, woody plants that (for pennies on the dollar) provide Atlanta with essential ecological goods and services, for which we would otherwise have to use precious tax money.
  • Trees are living organisms in their own right, and they have been our constant companions on this planet throughout human history. Their presence everywhere among us in this forested city is a daily source of inspiration and sense of wellbeing. Our lives are immeasurably enhanced by trees.
  • Trees are fine and all that, but no tree is going to offer me a decent job, keep a roof over my head, or make sure I have access to healthcare. Honestly? A dollar spent on trees is a dollar not spent on far more urgent priorities. Can we talk about transit and affordable housing now?
  • Trees frighten me. They fall and kill people. I don’t think I should have to be afraid in my own house every time a thunderstorm rolls through Atlanta.
  • Trees! Oh la de da. Is this a garden club meeting? What makes a city a place where people want to live is other people. Enough with all this talk about trees! Music festivals, the arts, pedestrian-friendly streets, events that bring the entire city together — if we want a vibrant Atlanta, a city that can be mentioned in the same breath as New York or Los Angeles, we need to invest in people. 

Continue reading The Future of Atlanta’s Urban Forest: Third in a Series

The Future of Atlanta’s Urban Forest: Second in a Series

Atlanta is a city in a forest.

That’s more than a tagline. Among major U.S. cities, Atlanta — the city proper, that is, excluding  the suburbs for present purposes — has the most tree cover of all, at just under 50 percent.

Keep in mind, however, that not so very long ago, our urban forest was much, much larger and denser.  Below is a comparison of metro Atlanta’s tree cover over time, from 1974 to 1996. (The city limits appear in red.) It’s stunning, isn’t it? Continue reading The Future of Atlanta’s Urban Forest: Second in a Series