The city of Atlanta’s arboricultural manager, who oversees the city’s arborist division, agreed with residents at a community meeting that the next tree ordinance needs to have higher fees for cutting down trees, more transparency and enforcement.
“It totally needs to be adjusted. It’s ridiculous,” David Zaparanick, the Atlanta’s arboricultural manager said of fees developers pay to cut down trees at an Aug. 10 Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods meeting.
Developers pay into a city fund that is used for planting, maintaining and protecting trees as a recompense fee for cutting down trees during construction. Zaparanick agreed with residents and the two other people joining him on the panel, Christina Gibson, the canopy conservation coordinator at Trees Atlanta, and Ellen Bruenderman, volunteer coordinator at Parks Pride, that fees should be raised.
The statements came after Gordon Certain, the president of the North Buckhead Civic Association, suggested fees be based on property values instead of one standard fee for the entire city. The tree ordinance currently calls for a fee of $100 per tree destroyed plus $30 per inch of tree diameter.
“It’s chicken feed up here in Buckhead to cut down a tree,” Certain said. “It should be an economic hardship to cut down a tree,” he said, adding raising the fee a substantial amount across the entire city would “cripple” less wealthy parts of Atlanta.
Zaparanick also explained the appeals process to residents at the meeting who may object to tree destruction happening in their neighborhood. Residents can appeal a decision by the city’s arborists to allow the trees to be cut down if they live inside the NPU the trees are being cut down in or are within 500 feet of the border.
An orange sign is posted outside the property for 10 days to notify residents a plan to cut down trees has been submitted to the city. Once it is preliminarily approved, a yellow sign is posted for five business days, during which residents have the opportunity to file an appeal. The appeal must be based on a violation of the tree ordinance and will then go before the Tree Conservation Commission, a citizen-appointed board.
Some residents, including Mercy Sandberg-Wright, a board member of the Tuxedo Park Civic Association, said those signs are sometimes not staying up and the city, which is responsible for posting the signs, needs to monitor them.
“What happens with the signs after they are posted, I don’t know,” Zaparanick said. Sandberg-Wright replied, “They disappear.”
Some residents said the process plans make their way through city departments needs to be rethought. The arborist division is one of the last departments to see the plans, and by then, it is often too late for developers to change plans, Zaparanick said.
“Unless someone’s willing to go back to the drawing board, you could say it is too late,” he said.
Zaparanick also said his “hands are tied” in most instances. Typically, as long as a plan complies with the zoning code and fees are paid, developers can cut down any trees.
“As long as you can afford it, you can clear cut a lot,” Gibson added.
“What I’m hearing is, there are no teeth in the ordinance,” Tom Tidwell, the chairman of the Council of Neighborhoods said.
The tree and zoning ordinances will both be rewritten in the near future, giving residents and the city an opportunity to make changes and accomplish the stated goal of retaining the 48 percent tree canopy coverage in the city, Gibson said.
The ordinances will be rewritten as part of the Atlanta City Design Project. The Department of City Planning is currently working on obtaining funding for a study involving all stakeholders that will last a year. Once, it begins, which Zaparanick said he hopes will be in the next few months, public meetings that residents can offer input in will be held.