By John Schaffner

The man who illegally cut down 17 maturing oak trees in a DeKalb County right-of-way along Dresden Drive told a group of 20 Brookhaven residents at a meeting Oct. 26 he made “a serious mistake” and wants “to make things right.”

With the help of DeKalb commissioners Jeff Rader and Kathie Gannon and the Urban Resource Group of Kimley-Horn Associates, the residents were presented a plan they could accept to help Rajen Sheth correct that mistake he made last June.

The plan involves replanting trees in front of the Brookhaven Park Village commercial building at 1441 Dresden Drive at the expense of Sheth, managing director of Pinnacle Real Estate Partners, which own the building. If the plan is not carried out, Sheth could face felony charges under a state law and face prison time.

Rader and the representatives of Urban Resource Group suggested it could be possible to have the trees replaced by the end of November or possibly by early Spring, the two optimum planting times. “We are trying to do this with a minimum of bureaucracy,” Rader told the group.

Rader told the residents at the evening meeting at Ashford Park Community Center, “We are charting new ground regarding cutting trees on county property.”

He said he worked with county departments and DeKalb Solicitor General Gwen Keyes to find a county ordinance or precedence under which Sheth could be prosecuted or held responsible for what Rader termed “vandalism of county property.” He said Keyes finally found a state law under which Sheth could be prosecuted on a felony charge.

Rader said Keyes wanted to be very careful about this, suggesting she first make a demand for a course of action by Sheth to correct the situation. If that demand is not fulfilled, she then could go forward with the felony charge, Rader said.

Sheth apologized to the residents and said, “I take responsibility for my actions and want to make things right.” He agreed to pay for whatever replanting of trees the residents and county deemed appropriate.

Shannon Skinner of URG came to the meeting with three design plans for tree plantings in front of the commercial building, using a combination of over-story and under-story trees (the two determined by the growth height). She also included suggested tree types that could be used to enhance the site as well as meet clear zone requirements of Georgia Power, since power lines also cross in front of the building.

The residents present at the meeting unanimously voted for a concept that included a combination of seven over-story canopy trees—such as Columnar Zelkova or Regal Prince Oak—accented with Eastern Redbud or Amur Maple under-story trees on the two ends of the building and at the central entranceway. The residents were not particularly happy, however, with URG’s selection of Columnar Zelkova trees and suggested oaks would be preferable.

A second concept used nine taller canopy trees and virtually no shorter accent trees and the third concept used no taller canopy trees and all shorter accent trees.

Asked at the end of the meeting which of the concepts he favored, Sheth said the one adopted by the residents and the one with all shorter accent trees.

Griff Sims, senior vice president of CITY Commercial Real Estate, was one of the first to select the adopted concept, stating, “You don’t want to obscure the nice features of the building.” He felt the combination of tall and shorter trees provided the desired streetscape, while allowing the features of the building and tenant signage to be seen.

Skinner said URG was looking to replace the former 10-inch caliper trees with 6- to 8-inch caliper trees, which it was suggested would have a better chance of survival after being planted in that environment along Dresden Drive.

Rader said everyone wants one-to-one replacement of the total tree caliper with those trees that were illegally cut down, but not all of the trees have to be planted in that location. Several people said there were originally too many trees planted on the site and half should have been removed.

It was suggested that trees remaining after those planted at Brookhaven Park Village be planted at the new Clack’s Corner Park, at two or three places in the Village Park residential neighborhood, adjacent to Brookhaven Park Village, and at the Ashford Park Community Center.

Rader said that, after the plan was finalized and cost estimates for the work had been determined, Keyes would memorialize the agreement in a letter to Sheth and would hold up on any felony charges unless the agreement is not carried out.