Category Archives: Advocacy

Random Tree-Related Stuff That Interests Me and Might Interest You, Too

Atlanta’s 2021 Comprehensive Development Plan

I wish I could tell you that I understood exactly how the housing ideas in the proposed CDP and in Amir Farokhi’s suggested zoning changes might affect our overall tree canopy. I really can’t. Not at the moment.

As I understand it, the next draft of the CDP will be released on September 13, and then the entire document will be up for adoption by the City Council in October. As for Amir’s proposals, as he said himself at the IPNA meeting, they face an uncertain future in an election year.

In any case, Kronberg Urbanists + Architects is one group that has accepted the challenge of answering this broad question:

If all the people who are expected to move to Atlanta in the next decades actually show up (will they?), where we gonna put them all?

Continue reading Random Tree-Related Stuff That Interests Me and Might Interest You, Too

Our Endorsement for Mayor Is …

… the candidate who is most persuasive in arguing that he or she will ensure that Atlanta works as well as it can for everybody who lives here.

Rich, poor, and in-between.

Older and younger folks.

Black, White, Hispanic/Latino, Asian American, American Indian, and multiracial individuals.

Property owners as well as people whose few possessions fit into a plastic bag with room to spare.

Political independents, Democrats, and Republicans.

Those whose families have been here for generations, and those who got here last week.

From Buckhead (geez, take a deep breath and calm down, Buckhead) to Mozley Park.

Tree lovers, tree skeptics, and the many people who rarely if ever think about our trees.

The city needs to work. Departments and offices should meet and exceed minimal thresholds for effectiveness and efficiency. Problems, especially basic problems, should be addressed in a timely manner: police officers or firefighters showing up when they’re summoned, trash and recycling picked up on schedule, streets promptly repaired, and so on.

Continue reading Our Endorsement for Mayor Is …

Freedom Park Master Plan

I’ve been living in Freedom Park for 20 years.

That’s to say, not a day goes by when I’m not walking somewhere in the park, throwing a ball for our dog, pruning some trees, removing invasive plants, planning a new tree planting, or supervising a project to plant and maintain trees.

Poplar Circle? There are trees in that section now 50 to 60 feet tall that Tree Watch and Trees Atlanta planted together. The playground is surrounded by our trees. The memorial grove tucked behind the playground some of us boldly created on an ask-for-forgiveness-not-permission model. The serpentine paths leading down to and up from Austin Avenue are shaded by trees we planted in the past two decades. Ditto the other side of Highland. Ditto trees all the way along the Freedom Park Trail into Candler Park.

Every tree of ours has a unique personal history. I can tell you the life story of the American linden near the MARTA parking lot. The Harold Saether memorial white oak. The katsura planted by the late Oreon Mann. I’ve watched our longleaf pine since it was knee-high to a baby. You get the point.

Those are my bona fides. And now I’m here to tell you that I am VERY excited about the Master Plan for Freedom Park. Years ago I began discussing with members of Freedom Park Conservancy some ideas for additional tree plantings and projects in the park. They told me, “Sounds great! We’re going to be working on a master plan soon, so let’s make sure that’s considered.” Now here we are, making excellent progress toward the next level of excellence for a park created in significant part by the hard work of people in this neighborhood.

Continue reading Freedom Park Master Plan

Sign the Inman Park Leaf Blower Petition

Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers in Inman Park

Residents of Inman Park in Atlanta, Georgia, should voluntarily restrict their use of gas-powered leaf blowers (GLB) to the following times and days: 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. from Monday to Friday, noon to 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, and not at all on Sunday.

Noise from GLBs is a source of unhappiness and inconvenience for many Inman Park residents. More than that, GLB noise can damage human health as well. The CDC, the EPA, and OSHA all identify leaf blowers as a source of harmful noise. Among the people most at risk are those who work from home, people who work night shifts, children, the retired, the elderly, the sick, and of course the landscape crew itself.

It's not just humans. A scientific study in 2018 found that the noise we humans generate affects wildlife, too. It alters stress hormones in birds, for example. One consequence is that chicks nearer to noise tend to be smaller, with poorer feather development.

Other negative effects of GLBs are well documented, especially with regard to air pollution. You could drive your car, with its efficient pollution-control technology, all the way to California, and you still wouldn't come close to producing the same amount of certain pollutants as GLBs create in the course of an ordinary day of leaf-blowing in Inman Park.

Alternatives to GLBs exist. A battery-powered blower is one example. More and more yard maintenance companies are going all-electric, including in Atlanta. Moreover, hundreds of cities and towns have already adopted restrictions on the use of GLBs.

By signing this petition, you are pledging to limit your GLB use (if any) to the specified days and hours, and you are encouraging others to abide by these modest, voluntary restrictions as well.

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New Tree Ordinance Delivered to Council

Last month, the Atlanta Department of City Planning delivered a newly revised Tree Protection Ordinance (TPO) to the City Council. The Community Development/Human Services Committee, chaired by Matt Westmoreland, has the initial oversight and responsibility for the proposed TPO.

While the basic principles and overall approach to tree protection are unchanged — Atlanta regards its trees as essential resources for safeguarding our health and promoting our welfare, so it regulates not just trees on public property but also many privately owned trees — there are in fact many changes in this proposal.

In some cases, the changes appear to be obvious improvements. In others, the new rules and procedures are quite technical and their potential impact, for good or bad, is uncertain.

Here is a preliminary attempt to capture just a portion of the content in the 64-page draft document.

> I am a homeowner with a dying tree in my yard. I think it may need to be taken down. Has the process changed?

No, the process is the same. If the tree is large enough to be subject to the ordinance, you need to apply for a permit to take down any dead, dying, or hazardous (DDH) tree. For most tree species, that means 6″ or wider in diameter at breast height (called DBH). For pines, it’s 12″ DBH or wider. Assuming you hire a tree service to assist you, the tree service itself can apply for a permit on your behalf. If you wish to request an inspection by a city arborist before you contact a service, the contact information and access to online system is available here.

As before, you will not be required to replant or pay any recompense for removing a DDH tree. One proposed change, however, is to allocate part of the Tree Trust Fund to assist low-income homeowners with the assessment and removal of DDH trees. In those cases, the city will replant.

> I am a homeowner with a tree in my yard that is perfectly healthy, but I just don’t like it! Can I remove it?

Yes, this proposal would make that newly possible in our city, subject to certain conditions. In every three-year period, you will be allowed to remove, without any requirement to replant, one so-called “non-priority” tree of any size or two trees with a combined DBH of 18” or less. However, to be eligible, your property must have a minimum number of trees growing on it (known as site density).

Priority versus non-priority trees — this is an innovation in the proposed ordinance. In brief, priority trees are those trees that are in good or better condition and meet certain size and species criteria. For example, suppose you have a healthy white oak or American beech growing in a spot of your backyard where you’d like to put in some tomato plants or begonias. If the oak tree is smaller than 18″ DBH (which is the same as 56.5″ in circumference), you can apply for a permit to cut the tree down. Three years later, you can pick another, similar tree and seek a permit to remove it, too, as long as the your property would continue to meet or exceed the threshold for density of trees.

> I’m building a home on my property. Are there new rules?

Yes, there is a new framework, and Tree Watch will have to wait on people with the requisite technical expertise to evaluate this complex feature of the proposal.

One innovation is to move arborist evaluation to the beginning of the plan review process. Moreover, pre-application conferences with the arborist will be encouraged to help owner understand preservation requirements and discuss options with the arborist. A second phase of the new procedure will involve reviewing and consolidating existing conceptual reviews to meet the needs of both the customer and city staff.

In another significant innovation, tree preservation will be uncoupled from zoning setbacks and based on lot sizes, with increasing preservation requirements for larger lots. The draft ordinance envisions two preservation options for single-family and duplex development:

  • Preserve a certain percentage of the priority trees growing on site. Percentage is based on lot size. If this standard is met, replacement planting and recompense is reduced by 50%.
  • If the first standard is not possible , the following standard is available: the development will be allowed a limited area of site disturbance, roughly equivalent to currently allowed maximum lot coverage. This standard is not eligible for tree replacement/recompense reduction.

> I’m a person who LOVES trees, and I want to see them preserved. Will this new ordinance help me do that?

Yes, there are improvements on that score. To take one example, the proposed TPO contains a new category of heritage trees. Trees can be nominated by a property owner or with his/her permission for special protection status based on their historical or cultural significance. Such heritage trees cannot be removed without authorization from the Tree Conservation Commission. In addition, the city will provide periodic inspections and arboricultural advice.

Candidates for heritage status must satisfy three or more of these criteria:

  1. The tree is associated with a historic location, event, or person;
  2. The tree is estimated to be at least 50 years old, as certified by a registered tree professional;
  3. The tree contributes to a significant view or spatial structure of a setting;
  4. The tree is an exemplary representative of a particular genus or species;
  5. The tree possesses exceptional aesthetic quality; or
  6. The tree is in good or better condition.

Over the next months, you will no doubt have the opportunity to read more about this new ordinance. Planning Commissioner Tim Keane is saying that his office’s proposal is a clear improvement over our existing ordinance, even if stakeholders such as tree activists, developers, and homeowners will find different elements of it objectionable.

As far as Inman Park Tree Watch is concerned, we would welcome an improvement in our regulations, in enforcement of the law, and in funding for basic governmental operations affecting our trees. The key point here is that there exists widespread support for maintaining a large and healthy tree canopy in the City of Atlanta. A good law can help, but it can’t do all the work. Government, industry, philanthropists, advocacy groups, neighborhoods, and individuals should all embrace the goal of ensuring that Atlanta remains the City in the Forest.

More soon!

Trust

Here you see a scene from the 1960s.

It’s a helicopter spraying DDT — you remember the pesticide DDT, subject of Rachel Carson’s justly famous Silent Spring — above elm trees in an American city. Back then, the thought was that DDT would kill the beetles that were transporting the devastating Dutch elm disease from tree to tree.

With a little human ingenuity, it was thought, cities could rescue the American elm, that graceful tree which once shaded streets all over the United States.

A flying machine! A colorless, tasteless, almost odorless chemical synthesized in a laboratory! What amazing technologies!

What could go wrong? Continue reading Trust

WHAT IF?

WHAT IF local and national companies could buy carbon+ credits from tree projects (preservation projects and planting projects) in Atlanta, thereby investing private money efficiently and reliably into local projects that help keep Atlanta green, equitable, and livable? (Guess what, they could buy such credits, if we were willing to do the work to make it happen.)

Continue reading WHAT IF?

Tree Protection Ordinance 1.0

What could be more mind-numbingly boring than reading a blog post about a local ordinance?

And yet here I am, asking you to do so, because the City of Atlanta is revising its tree protection ordinance, and that’s a big, big deal if you’re fond of drinking clean water, breathing clean air, and not being burned to a crisp every summer.

Anyone still reading? Okay, here’s what I’m going to try to do.

  1. Tell you something about how Atlanta currently protects trees.
  2. Set out the rudiments of the proposed changes to our law.
  3. Explain how you can help ensure the best possible outcome of this process.

Part 1: Tree Protection in Atlanta

In 1977 — the year UGA lost to Pitt in the Sugar Bowl, Jimmy Carter became president, the L5P Community Pub opened for business, and Bobby Cox was hired to manage the Braves — Atlanta adopted a law regulating tree removals. It’s been revised several times since then. The principle of the tree protection ordinance (TPO) could not be simpler: most of Atlanta’s trees may be privately owned, but they’re also a public good like clean air. The basic mechanism to protect Atlanta’s trees is simple, too: require those who remove trees to seek approval from the city and then replant on site or, if that’s not possible, to pay into a fund that can provide money for replanting of trees elsewhere in the city.

In a sense, everything else about the ordinance is just details. The fundamental principle and mechanism have been in place for years. In a different sense, everything has changed since the TPO’s early days. Here are just a few of the things that are different today versus yesterday:

  • The city has fewer trees than in 1977.
  • The metro area has many more people and much more pavement than in 1977.
  • Average temperatures are hotter, due to climate change and the urban heat island effect.
  • The required payment (“recompense”) for tree-removal-without-replanting no longer appears to function as a strong incentive to preserve as many trees as possible or as a strong deterrent to unnecessary removal of trees. For some developers, it’s just the cost of doing business.
  • Enforcement of the ordinance by the city is hampered by inadequate staffing and bureaucratic inefficiencies.
  • Money in the Tree Trust Fund has been siphoned off for many ancillary purposes, e.g., to pay the salaries of city arborists.
  • The growing complexity and spotty enforcement of the law increasingly frustrate and befuddle the public.
  • We know a LOT more about the ecology of urban forests and the ecosystem benefits of trees than we used to know.

Atlanta has lost and continues to lose trees in the years since the ordinance was enacted. A 2001 report by American Forests, focusing on the center of the wider metropolitan area, found that heavy tree cover (>50% of land surface) had declined from 47.5% in 1974 to 26.4% in 1996. In 2012, two researchers found that over the five-year period they chose to study, Atlanta lost trees despite the ordinance. Georgia Tech’s tree canopy research indicates that as of 2014, about 48% of the city has tree canopy.

Is Atlanta’s existing TPO a dud, a failure, a travesty? Not at all. Despite everything, it’s done some great work for us. Without it, we would certainly be in much worse shape. But we do need a reset.

Part 2: Draft TPO 1.0

The city released its first draft of a rewritten ordinance in March. This work on the ordinance is being done within a broader planning process known as the Urban Ecology Framework (UEF), which is itself part of a still broader plan for Atlanta called the Atlanta City Design, completed in 2017.

I have served as a member of a UEF stakeholder committee. Our committee contributed ideas first to a kind of concept plan for future green spaces, green connections, and green policies in Atlanta. Then work on the ordinance began, in which our committee has been much less involved. The schedule for the rewrite continues until August, as you can see below.

The headline of my interim report to you on Draft TPO 1.0 is as follows: it’s a missed opportunity. The city and its consultant Biohabitats have made the ordinance even more complicated, without clear improvements that promise more scientific, more effective protection for our trees and tree canopy.

What follows is my attempt to summarize in part what has been offered to the public. Please know that it is imperfect and incomplete. Why? Partly because the process has been highly imperfect, with key changes mid-process within the city’s planning team; subpar communication and followup with the technical and advisory committees; and release of this draft version without any annotations or without redlining to reveal the proposed changes from the existing ordinance.

It’s also imperfect and incomplete because this is a highly technical, 50-page document, encompassing minutiae on tree valuation, tree density, preservation thresholds and incentives, reasons for removal, notifications and posting, appeals process, parking lot requirements, and much, much more. Frankly, some of it is beyond my competence to assess, and it’s far beyond my ability to summarize here.

In any case, here are some highlights.

NOT A BRAND-NEW ORDINANCE

Broadly speaking, this “new “ordinance amounts to a tweaking of our existing ordinance. The city has NOT started from scratch. Instead, it has simply altered the existing ordinance.

Note that other cities have taken a more holistic and thoroughgoing approach to improving protection of their trees and forests, by better incorporating current scientific knowledge and making better use of zoning. For example, in our nation’s capital, site designs for construction are required to achieve a certain score, varying by zoning district and calculated by the green elements selected and the area of the site they cover. A number of different green elements qualify for what’s called the Green Area Ratio including permeable surfaces, vegetated roofs, bioretention, and trees.

Washington, D.C.’s Green Area Ratio

Continue reading Tree Protection Ordinance 1.0

Wanna Help? Here’s How!

If you love Inman Park’s trees — heck, even if you’re just the slightest bit fond of them — there are ways to support them. Here are some:

Help Us Prune Our Trees

We have ongoing pruning projects. Our next scheduled workday is Monday, October 16th, 9:00 AM. Meet on the porch of 946 Waverly Way. Don’t worry! Even if you don’t have much experience, we can use your help.

Help Us Find Places to Plant

We’re always on the lookout for empty spots in yards and sidewalk planting strips. On Saturday, November 4th, 9:00 AM, we’ll gather on the porch of 946 Waverly Way for a brief training in how to recognize a good spot for a tree. Afterward, we’ll head out in teams of two to walk a few of our neighborhood streets and take some notes. Join us!

Help Us Plant New Trees

We’ll be planting trees in Inman Park on the morning of Saturday, January 13th, rain or shine. Meet us on the porch of 207 Hurt Street at 8:30 AM for coffee and bagels, and then we’ll get to work.

Help Us Advocate for Our Urban Forest

Follow this blog and/or our Twitter account (@inmanparktrees) for news about tree and urban forest protection in Atlanta. The next 18 months will be full of opportunities to protect Atlanta’s future urban forest. Your voice at a public meeting or in an emailed comment really can make a difference!

Support Tree Watch Financially

Tax-deductible donations to support our work may be sent to:

  • Mr. Steve Hays, Treasurer
  • Friends of Inman Park
  • 207 Hurt St. NE
  • Atlanta, GA 30307