City staff is reviewing policies aimed at protecting the city’s tree canopy at the request of outgoing City Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny.

McEnerny said the tree protection ordinance the city passed in 2007 isn’t cutting it.

“I served on the council when we passed it,” McEnerny said. “We really thought we were protecting the trees in the buffers [between properties]. We’re going to get a stronger tree ordinance.”

The ambiguity of the city’s ordinance creates a lot of shadowy gray areas.

Some issues include:

– Private owners can cut down trees on their own property, but developers need to get surveys and clear it with city inspectors. In some cases, private owners are cutting down trees and then selling cleared property to a developer.

– Developers want more flexibility to work or park equipment around trees on adjoining property to the property they are developing. Current rules set up buffer areas intended to protect roots of trees on neighboring properties.

Bill Harrison, a local architect, spoke to City Council on Sept. 3, along with several other residents who wanted the city to update and clarify its regulations.

“The largest issue I have with it is it essentially leaves out 80 percent of the population,” Harrison said. “It doesn’t apply to homeowners the way it applies to builders and developers. It’s the equivalent of passing speeding laws and only applying it to trucks.”

McEnerny said that it’s a good time to look at the existing laws now that construction activity is picking up again. She said the slow economy could be a reason why the city’s overall tree canopy increased from 52 percent canopy cover in 2008 to 59 percent canopy cover in 2010. Sandy Springs has also been named a Tree City USA for the last four years, a distinction awarded by the national Arbor Day Foundation.

McEnerny said she’s hopeful city staff can come up with revisions that will prevent further cutting of trees in the city.

“The council has asked staff to review the tree ordinance,” she said. “ … I’m looking forward to something coming out the other end that will be a more balanced ordinance than the one we have now.”

According to city spokeswoman Sharon Kraun, City Council during its Sept. 17 meeting approved a list of projects that will be paid for with the city’s tree fund, money paid by developers who receive tree removal permits from the city. McEnerny was the lone “no” vote on the project list, saying she was concerned some of the money was being used for other types of landscaping and not on planting trees. According to a meeting summary provided by the city, Councilman Gabriel Sterling said that in some cases the council wanted to add more green space but planting trees wasn’t possible due to site conditions.

The full project list approved by the council in order of priority: Abernathy/Roswell Road island, $20,000; City Center street trees, $35,000; Springs Crossing landscape, $15,000; Mount Vernon and Glenridge island, $25,000; Glenridge Drive south of Abernathy, $21,983.