The Brookhaven City Council on July 29 voted again to defer changes to its tree ordinance after city attorney Tom Currie said staff needed more time to complete a legal review of the new code.

The council had first decided on July 22 to defer proposed changes to its tree ordinance to give staff members a chance to tweak it a bit before it was approved, with the intent of keeping the city’s tree regulations a work in progress.

“It’s about finding the right balance and being constitutional and legal and making sure we respect property owners’ rights, but we also want to give the city and our community the right to regulate trees in such a way that enhances the benefit of the public good,” said Councilwoman and Mayor Pro Tem Rebecca Chase Williams. Mayor J. Max Davis was unable to attend the meeting.

Some residents say the proposed new ordinance is too vague and too lenient on developers.

Rita Holt, a Brookhaven resident for almost 20 years, said, “My concern . . . is enforcement and penalties. I don’t think they’re strong enough for the kinds of cavalier disregard of laws and codes and ordinances I’ve seen just on my street.”

Resident Laurenthia Mesh brought to the meeting 15 posters of what she says are examples of clear-cutting in Brookhaven, including a picture of a two-acre lot on Mabry Road where 200 trees were cut down. “If you pass this law it proves Brookhaven is not for the citizens but for the developers.”

Councilman Joe Gebbia made the motion to defer the vote until Aug. 26 and suggested more public hearings. “Obviously this is a work in progress. By then we should be pretty close to what we should be doing.”

Williams urged residents to keep providing input. “Continue to send us your comments and thoughts. What is most helpful is to give us some specific ideas. . . .What’s not helpful is the blast emails that say ‘stop the clear-cutting.’ I’m not sure what you mean by that.”

The council first heard proposed changes to the tree code at a July 15 work session in which the new regulations were presented with the intent of improving the ordinance the city adopted from DeKalb County.

“We adopted the ordinance [from DeKalb] as temporary, with the intention of going back through it,” said Mayor Davis at the work session.

“I think any ordinance can use reworking,” said Kay Evanovich, a city arborist, at the July 22 meeting, adding that there’s “room for improvement” in the proposed ordinance. Evanovich, along with arborist Teresa Eldredge, a landscape architect and president of TJ Schell, first presented the modified tree plan to the council during the July 15 work session.

Some changes to the ordinance include encouraging appropriate tree diversity, and maintaining the health of city trees through proper pruning and mulching.

The tree ordinance would take effect when someone wants to remove trees, applies for a land development or building permit, or wants to rebuild more than half a parking lot. It does not apply for tree plantings on public lands, for landscaping projects on private property when no trees are removed, and for remodeling or additions with no tree or land disturbance.

Under the new ordinance, homeowners may remove five trees in a calendar year with a diameter of 10 inches or more, other than specimen trees. The old ordinance did not specify the size of the trees, nor did it require a permit, as it would under the new code.

Also, the new ordinance would require that residential properties maintain a specified amount of tree coverage per acre when a removal permit is applied for. The old ordinance had no requirement for maintaining or replanting trees. On properties where land disturbance permits have been applied for, under the new ordinance, developers must maintain a specified amount of tree coverage per acre outside of building setbacks.

The new ordinance also creates a tree fund, which means property owners could pay as an alternate form of compliance with the ordinance. The collected funds could be used for developing a tree survey, buying and planting trees on public property, tree education, city tree maintenance and promoting a healthy tree population.

The proposed revised tree ordinance can be found on the city’s website (www.brookhavenga.gov).

Ann Marie Quill

Ann Marie Quill is Associate Editor at Reporter Newspapers.