The Brookhaven City Council on Aug. 26 unanimously voted to approve a new tree ordinance it’s been discussing for a number of weeks, but vowed to keep working on the ordinance with citizen input.

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, which was adopted from DeKalb County when the city formed.

Before the vote, councilmember Joe Gebbia said that whether or not the ordinance was passed, a citizen commission should be appointed to keep the ordinance a “work in progress.”

Councilmember Rebecca Chase Williams said that most of the emails she’s received from residents concerning the ordinance said that homeowners should have the right to cut down trees on their property.

“We want to respect the fact that people own their property, own their trees,” she said, adding that people should have the right to take down their trees to build pools or gardens in their yards if they wanted to.

She said that she was proud of the new ordinance. “Hopefully we’ll have a better system where we’ve got eyes on developers,” which was not so in the DeKalb code the city’s original tree ordinance was adopted from. She said that the new ordinance is one that people can understand and that can be enforced.

Mayor J. Max Davis said he was concerned about “government overreach” and too much regulation. “I think it’s a freedom of choice [issue] with people’s property.” He said folks that want chirping birds in their yard will have more trees, while those who want big lawns for their grandchildren to play on will have less tree.

“This proposed ordinance is 10 times better than the existing ordinance, in my opinion,” said city arborist Kay Evanovich, who helped draft the new ordinance. She said it should be adopted because it better protects the tree canopy than the DeKalb ordinance does.

Before the decision, some residents at the meeting and the previous meetings voiced concerns about the proposed ordinance, saying it is too lenient on developers and doesn’t do enough to preserve trees.

“I just don’t think it’s good enough,” said resident Sandy Murray, referencing a stipulation in the ordinance allowing residents to cut down five trees. She asked that the city defer voting on the ordinance and instituting a moratorium on tree cutting in the meantime. “I feel like we’ve made progress [but] there are still things about it that bother me,” she said.

Resident Ruth Little agreed.

“I would love to see you set the moratorium for cutting- we’ve been asking for this for weeks,” she said. “I think we need stronger fees for the loss of trees so the developers have to seriously consider what they’re doing.”

Resident Carey McBriar said that when her house in Brookhaven was built, “we had to cut a lot of trees. But we kept as many trees as possible.” She said it was more expensive to keep the trees, but worth it in terms of energy cost savings and privacy.

But resident Dale Boone said the council should pass the ordinance. “This ordinance looks great to me,” he said. “The only complaints I hear tonight are something that can be amended down the road.”

Resident Ron Sprinkle said the council should protect property owners’ rights and keep the ordinance to “a minimum.”

“Homeowners have enough sense to maintain their own property,” he said. “We’re all adults, we all pay taxes.” He added that despite residents’ concerns that clear-cutting is going on, he thinks tree coverage has grown in Brookhaven.

The council 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. On July 29, the council again voted to defer changes to Aug. 26 after city attorney Tom Kurrie said staff needed more time to complete a legal review of the new code.

Some changes in the city of Brookhaven’s proposed tree 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 to tree plantings on public lands, to landscaping projects on private property when no trees are removed, and to remodeling or addi- tions with no tree or land disturbance.

Under the new ordinance, homeowners may remove five trees in a calendar year with a diameter of 8 inches or more, other than “specimen trees.” The old ordinance did not specify the size of the trees, nor did it require a notice to the city, 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 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 tree ordinance can be found on the city’s website.

Ann Marie Quill

Ann Marie Quill is Associate Editor at Reporter Newspapers.