Sally Eppstein wants to save her city’s old growth trees. The Brookhaven resident says she’s dismayed at the number of trees that have come down near her neighborhood to make way for a single-family home development.
“We moved to this neighborhood [13 years ago] because we loved the trees,” Eppstein said. But when she recently saw trees coming down along North Druid Hills Road near Roxboro and Goodwin roads, she became alarmed.
“I saw them tearing down the houses, but when they ripped down 90 percent of the trees, it floored me,” she said.
On a recent Friday morning, she met with a handful of her neighbors at her home to talk about the tree cutting. “I would have liked to have seen them maybe keeping the majority of the tree canopy,” Eppstein said.
Tance Sangster lives across the street from Eppstein. “They’ve [protected the canopy in] other cities,” Sangster said. “You’ve seen the renovation of Virginia Highland and Grant Park and Inman Park and Decatur, and they’ve left the character of the cities. It’s the whole character of Brookhaven [that’s in trouble].”
Eppstein said she was alarmed that city officials called the property, before the trees came down, an “eyesore” that will turn into a gateway for Brookhaven. “This is the eyesore,” she said. “The new development is an ugly gateway compared to the beautiful canopy of trees.”
Kay Evanovich, the city’s arborist, said developers at the North Druid Hills Road site are complying with the city’s tree ordinance.
“Yes, I understand people are not happy,” she said. “They have an extensive plant-back plan, and these are not small trees being planted.”
Evanovich points out that some trees are saved in the site’s center and some along the peripheries. But, developers have the right to get rid of trees in the buildable areas of the land, and that’s where the charges of “clear-cutting” come in, she said.
Saving trees throughout the lot may not be as simple as it first seems, she said. Any site has requirements for storm drains and sewer lines, which are often located in the front of the lot, and there’s no way to save trees along those tracts, Evanovich explained.
Resident Linda Willis says she’s concerned about developers who don’t live in Brookhaven and don’t understand why some people moved there to begin with.
“We live in a park,” she said. “We walk in our neighborhood, we walk our dogs in our neighborhood, people push their babies in their strollers. This is just like going to a Zen garden because of the trees. “
Eppstein is afraid that she and her neighbors’ voices are not being heard, so she’s started an online petition to get her message across to the city. The petition, “Save the Tree Canopy of Brookhaven, GA,” has 293 signatures and counting. It can be found at www.thepetitionsite.com.
In August, the city approved revisions to its tree ordinance, adopted from DeKalb County, but vowed to keep the regulations a work in progress.
Under the new ordinance, on properties where land disturbance permits have been applied for, developers must maintain a specified amount of tree coverage per acre outside of building setbacks. The trees are measured by trunk diameter. A tree protection and replacement plan must be submitted with any site plan.
Jon Eppstein, Sally’s husband, isn’t impressed with the tree replacement plan at the site. “This is what they took out, a 53-inch diameter white oak, and this is a 200-year- old tree,” he said, while reading from the plan. “This is what they are putting in – 16, four-inch diameter sugar maples, 15, 3-inch diameter downy serviceberries.”
Tom Reilly, a longtime Brookhaven resident, chimed in.
“Replacing is nice, but it takes 30 years to produce a real tree,” he said. “It’s a long time before saplings become anything more than sticks. There’s an amazing diversity of past, present and future right here, which is what this community needs. We need to preserve that three-way balance.
“There’s room for all three, but if you take any one away they all suffer.”
Resident Sandy Murray says she would like to see the ordinance have more teeth. A clause in the ordinance says that developers can pay into a city tree fund as an alternate way of complying with the ordinance. The current fee caps at $62,500.
“If you’re doing a multi-million development that’s a drop in the bucket,” Murray said. “Of course they will pay that amount because then they won’t have to do anything. There are good developers in our city. There are many who are as concerned about the trees as we are. I would like to see us focus on having the good developers help us come up with better plans.”
Still, Evanovich maintains the city’s promise that the ordinance is a work in progress, and, in fact, would like to see a few changes herself.
While the ordinance specifies a number of diameter inches to be saved per acre, Evanovich says adding requirements to maintain a percentage of tree canopy would help ensure trees are more scattered through the property.
“It’s a balancing act, how to manage people who want to save every tree with developers and property rights,” she said.
Eppstein says she’ll keep fighting.
She says she sees the petition as possibly spurring an organized group of concerned citizens who will take up the city’s promise to continue working on the tree ordinance.
“They took away a bunch of birds’ homes, and now I’d like to ruffle some feathers,” she said.