Dead or dangerous tree removal and using trees in sidewalk buffers were important topics during a discussion of Brookhaven’s new tree ordinance. 

The city’s tree ordinance, which has rules for the preservation of trees in the city, was originally written in 2014, but hasn’t been updated since 2015. In light of tree-cutting which angered residents in 2020, the city decided to rewrite the ordinance, holding meetings throughout 2021 to gather public input. 

At a June 2 meeting, Brookhaven planning commissioners raised questions about the most recent draft of the ordinance. Commissioner Kevin Quirk expressed concern about unclear language in the ordinance regarding the removal of dead, dying or hazardous trees.

On the first page of the draft, the removal of a dead or hazardous tree is listed as exempt from the removal process detailed in the ordinance. However, Quirk pointed out that the ordinance later states that a tree must be assessed by a “qualified professional” before it can be called dead, and a tree removal permit will still have to be submitted for city review. 

“Let’s say on my front lawn, I’ve got either a dead tree or one that’s leaning towards the house … does the ordinance apply to me?” he said. “Would I have to come and get a permit for the removal of that?” 

Community Development Director Patrice Ruffin said a property owner would not have to request a permit for removal if the tree posed an imminent threat. However, if the tree does not pose immediate danger, they would have to send in pictures to the city for review and request a no-fee permit. Quirk suggested deleting the language that listed dead or hazardous tree removal as exempt in order to avoid confusion. 

In a later section of the meeting, Commissioner Michael Diaz asked if it would be possible to add trees into buffer zones between sidewalks and car lanes along roads with a lot of traffic. 

“We’ve been having, for quite some time, this conversation about safety strips, as we talk about sidewalks being right next to heavily trafficked areas,” he said. “I wasn’t sure if there’s a way for us to weave that conversation from the sidewalk section into the tree section. It’s certainly … an opportunity for us to be able to not just … save our trees, but to be able to increase the canopy and potentially protect sidewalk users.” 

Ruffin said that topic is not covered in the draft, and it would depend on the area and sidewalk in question. She said for state highways, the Georgia Department of Transportation’s rules for trees would supersede the city’s, but there were some areas where it might be possible. 

Ruffin also went over recommendations from the Brookhaven City Council. The council went over the tree ordinance draft at its May 25 work session. 

According to Ruffin, the council agreed to an earlier Planning Commission recommendation that the recompense amount – or the amount to be paid into the city’s tree fund when a specimen tree is removed – should be increased from $200 to $240 per Diameter Breast-Height (DBH) inch of the tree. Diameter Breast-Height is the standard measure of tree size, according to the draft. They also suggested that the number of inches subject to a recompense fee should not exceed 300 inches per acre. 

The council also recommended requiring signage denoting a tree removal five days ahead of time and requiring that the property owner mark the tree with tape for all permit types. Posting requirements would not apply to dead, dying, or hazardous trees that needed to be removed. 

Ruffin said the City Council is expected to view the draft again at its June 15 work session, and then hold a final vote on the ordinance at its June 29 regular meeting. 

Sammie Purcell

Sammie Purcell is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers.