About a year after city officials adopted Brookhaven’s controversial tree ordinance, they’re reworking parts of it.

“We said along this would be a work in progress,” Mayor Rebecca Chase Williams said.

City arborist Kay Evanovich said the proposed changes, drafted after meetings with residents who thought the original law was too weak and with developers and builders, will help preserve Brookhaven’s tree canopy. The proprosed revisions, she said, include adding a goal that the purpose of the law is to maintain a sustainable tree canopy in the city.

“We’ve had issues come up with the loss of canopy,” she said. “We’re trying to stem that, and see if we can get some of the older growth preserved.”

But several residents who have advocated for tree protection told members of City Council that even with the revisions, the city’s ordinance wouldn’t be strict enough. Others said the proposal needs more review and discussion.

“Some of us don’t see this ordinance as ready for prime time,” Lissie Stahlman told council members.

Kathryn Gable called Brookhaven’s trees “the heart of the community.”

“The ordinance is too vague,” Gable said. “It needs to be more specific for people and builders who don’t have experience with how a forest works.”

During the council’s work session July 21, Evanovich outlined proposed revisions to the ordinance.

One change, she said, would allow developers to choose the formula they would use to determine how many older trees to protect during construction of new buildings.

Current rules base the number of trees to be preserved on a formula that computes a total number of “tree inches per acre,” a calculation based on measurements of the diameter of the trees at breast height. Brookhaven’s regulations say a project should maintain 100 inches of trees per acre.

The proposed rewrite would allow a developer to choose between 120 inches of trees per acre or maintaining 45 percent of the tree canopy on the property. Evanovich said the 45 percent figure was chosen in an effort to maintain or slightly grow Brookhaven’s current tree canopy, which recent measurements put at 49 percent.

Because the city’s parks and other heavily wooded areas are counted in the total amount, the overall canopy percentage should remain level or grow if builders preserve 45 percent during construction projects, city officials said.

The tree preservations calculations, she said, work out to about three large trees on a quarter-acre lot and four large trees on a third of an acre.

Another major change proposed for the ordinance would reduce to three from five the number of non-hazardous trees a homeowner could cut down in a year.

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.

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