The city of Atlanta is responding to the Buckhead Council of Neighborhood’s concerns that parts of the Tree Protection Ordinance are going unenforced, acknowledging some problems and urging public input in a rewriting process that is underway.
On Jan. 10, the BCN voted to support a litany of complaints by an advocacy group called The Tree Next Door, which claims the city is not enforcing six specific sections of an ordinance intended to prevent the needless destruction of significant trees on private property.
Elizabeth Johnson of the Department of City Planning countered some of those complaints, while acknowledging others, including a lack of quarterly reports and pre-construction conferences. She noted the city is in the midst of a rewrite of the tree ordinance as part of the “Urban Ecology Framework” planning process, which is expected to deliver a final report this year.
“Citizen input is critical to the adoption of a successful ordinance,” she said. “As such, the Department of City Planning aims to include a great deal of public input and transparency moving into the rewrite of the Tree Protection Ordinance.”
To get on the list for Urban Ecology Framework meeting announcements, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Johnson also said anyone with specific concerns can contact the Arborist Division at 404-330-6874 or email@example.com.
The following are the specific complaints backed by BCN and Johnson’s response to them.
Section 158-34(c): Metal tree fencing
Complaint: Heavy-duty tree protection fences on construction sites are not being used or are moved.
Response: “Arborist Plan Reviewers and Field Arborists exercise the option to require enhanced tree protection fencing on sites where additional tree protection is needed, on a case-by-case basis.”
Section 158-63(4): Standards of practice
Complaint: Since 2011, the city appears to have no consistent standards of practice for such activities as assessing tree health, posting tree-removal signs, and keeping field books.
Response: “Plan reviewers and field arborists have been trained to follow current procedure and standards; however, the Standards of Practice (SOPs), dated June 2009, need to be updated. These SOPs will be updated in the near future.”
Section 158-63(5): Tree master plan
Complaint: There is no master plan for the citywide tree canopy, such as a fully inventory and planting plan.
Response: Johnson said the ordinance dictates that the Parks Department is in charge of that master plan, and the city Arborist Division will be “supportive” of it.
Section 158-101(e)(4): Notice of tree removals
Complaint: Tree-cutting approvals must be posted in the city arborist or parks offices, on the city website, and on the property; but the first two are not being done.
Response: Johnson did not fully respond to the complaint, instead saying that tree-cutting approvals can be found in the online Accela permit database.
Section 158-103(f): Quarterly reports
Complaint: The city is no longer issuing quarterly reports on the amount of trees removed and the amount developers pay into a tree planting fund.
Response: Johnson said the reports have not been produced due to the lack of a staff member who can code them into a newer city records software called Accela. An Accela administrator left in August and a replacement was scheduled to start in January. “Reporting for the Office of Buildings, including the Arborist, is a main priority for this individual,” she said.
Section 158-106: Preconstruction conference
Complaint: On-site conferences between developers and city arborists are not happening, sometimes allowing trees to be cut or damaged before review.
Response: “We are implementing this practice based on available resources and staffing. Currently, pre-demolition inspections are required on every site. In addition, we have posted a job advertisement for a staff arborist to increase staff resources.”