By John Schaffner
Trees are always a controversial topic in Atlanta and City Councilman Howard Shook knows that too well, after introducing legislation more than a year ago that would have allowed homeowners to cut down one tree a year on their property without having to go through all the bureaucratic hoops.
But controversial or not, Shook, who represents much of Buckhead, was back again Feb. 19 introducing new legislation that would make it easier for property owners to cut down trees that seem at risk of falling and crashing into a home or other building.
Under this new ordinance, which originated with the city’s arborist, owners will still pay a fee to compensate the city for the lost tree, which could range from $100 to $2,500 based on the size of the tree. The revenue collected will then be used for tree planting and maintenance programs.
This proposal now is headed for debate in the council’s community development committee.
The previous Shook plan, which would have allowed owners to cut one tree a year, has been in limbo for more than a year. But in January, Councilman C.T. Martin, who represents west Atlanta, called for that proposal to be voted on by the council, which stirred the controversy once again.
The council tabled Martin’s request to give the city arborist time to draft his bill.
The proposal introduced by Shook has three main features. It allows one tree to be cut on a property every five years, regardless of whether the property has been sold. It requires public notice that a request to cut a tree has been filed and shortens the appeals timeline for protests of a permitted tree cutting. And, it allows appeals to be filed only by land owners within 300 feet of the property where the tree would be cut, instead of allowing anyone in the city to appeal.
At a recent address to the Buckhead Business Association, Shook spoke about his former tree ordinance proposal, explaining that he made that proposal “after hearing too many horror stories about people living in fear of a big tree that hangs over their kid’s bedroom or people who wanted to renovate their house and there was a tree in the way and they felt they were being mistreated by the city bureaucracy.”
Shook told the group “people came out of the woodwork and there was a lot of condemnation. I have never been associated with a piece of legislation that was more roundly condemned by some and generated more profound thanks and enthusiasm from others who normally pay no attention to city government.
He told the BBA audience that he withdrew the paper “because it was going to get killed if it came to a vote.” He said then that he would support a decent compromise and, apparently, Shook feels this compromise measure from the administration that he introduced Feb. 19 has a better chance for survival.
In another related matter, City Council voted Feb. 19 to pay Trees Atlanta, a nonprofit group, some $1.9 million over the next 18 months to plant about 2,000 trees and maintain about 700 existing trees in public spaces throughout the city.