Decatur Asks Residents To Weigh In On Proposed, Broader Tree Ordinance

The city of Decatur is looking for feedback from residents regarding a proposed new tree ordinance that would require permits to remove any tree from a property with a “capilar” that’s 6″ or more.  (It sounds like the “caliper” is the diameter of a tree’s trunk 6″ off the ground.) Currently, you only need to retain a permit if you’re demolishing and replacing a house.

Here’s the city’s introduction to the question…

The City’s current tree ordinance does not require a permit to remove trees from existing single family residential properties. When the current tree ordinance was adopted in 1989, infill development of single family homes was not an issue and additions to existing single family dwellings were relatively modest in size and scope. When a single family dwelling is demolished and replaced with a new house, the tree ordinance requirements must be met. However, there are no provisions that prohibit tree removal for additions to existing single family dwellings or for simply removing trees.

As part of a comprehensive review of the City’s development ordinances, amendments to the tree ordinance are being considered that would require a review and permit process to remove trees from single family properties. In addition, the ordinance would switch from a density based formula for tree measurement, which measures the width of a tree’s trunk, to a canopy based measurement, which measures the maximum expected size of the tree canopy. In the past ten years, scientists have been able to determine the ecological contributions that tree canopy provides including the canopy’s ability to clean air and water.

And here’s the official question…

To what extent do you support or oppose changing the City’s tree ordinance to regulate the removal of healthy trees of a minimum size (e.g., 6” caliper) on existing single family properties where such trees do not interfere with permitted building improvements?

Provide your official answer HERE.  You have until February 20th to weigh in.  38 people already have!

115 thoughts on “Decatur Asks Residents To Weigh In On Proposed, Broader Tree Ordinance”

  1. As a long time resident of Decatur, I have noticed the remarkable destruction of the tree canopy in the several neighborhoods that I have lived in these past 35 years. Trees are so important to our property values and future ability to survive as a community; I certainly support having to obtain a permit before another tree is destroyed. I would also support a replacement requirement.

    1. DM cites a six foot caliper, while the city proposes six inches. The former would be a substantial tree; the latter, not particularly large. I think this particular law would only be practical for large trees, which take decades to grow.

      Another way to preserve city trees might be to sponsor tree health education, get a city arborist to go around and help homeowners save trees, watering them during a drought, proper trimming, etc.

      Big difference between preserving a nice big oak or magnolia and saving a mimosa or a sweetgum, IMHO.

        1. Oops, it looked like you only used one apostrophe…that means six foot. Two apostrophes generally means an inch, i.e. 6″. But when I enlarged it, I saw I was wrong. My apologies.

          1. I think what someone was trying to quantify is that the diameter (caliper, not capilar…that is a spanish word) of the tree would be measured at a height six feet from the ground. It was pretty garbled on the city’s site as well.

  2. Clarification? Does this mean after an arborist tells your tree is dead and must be removed before it comes crashing down on your house, that then people from the city need to confirm this before it comes down? Or if you want to put an addition on your home, they can deny you a permit because a tree would be removed? I was a little surprised reading here last week that any in-law suites built couldn’t have stoves which seems incredibly absurd. It sounds like there are more than enough existing rules already governing private property.

  3. I think we need to make a distinction between goals and tools here. A healthy tree canopy, with all its inherent benefits — personal, environmental and community — is a goal, and probably one that the majority of Decaturites share.

    The regulation being discussed is a tool — one of many — for getting there, and a blunt one at that. Being against the tool, because it’s a punitive rather than incentivizing device, is not incompatible with being for the goal. I’m all about the canopy. For building awareness about its benefits, for making its preservation a more desirable choice, and for encouraging its ongoing replenishment. That’s how you invest in the future.

    Clinging to a diminishing canopy planted 80+ years ago is an investment in the present. We should take the long view by helping people see the value trees present. Making them behave in such a way as to avoid a ruler slap to the hand doesn’t change culture. It just breeds resentment.

    1. I agree about the diminishing canopy. I also agree with most of your points. I have heard talk about replacing the older trees. I wish I felt better about good intentions.

    2. +1 another whole bunch! Clearly reasoned and articulated, as usual.

      And as usual, I can’t resist adding my two cents, even at the risk of being superfluous…. I agree with the importance of preserving our tree canopy and even expanding it. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into preserving every individual tree that currently exists. The canopy is a resource that we ought to preserve. The one tree that dumps sap on the car or makes the nursery in the new home addition shady all day, might not be.

      1. Really? Trees that make your car dirty and/or provide shade are not worth preserving? Am I reading you right?

        1. The fact that you’re looking for an absolute is exactly why such regulations are not ideal. The point is that it *might* not be worth preserving, and making that determination requires someone’s subjective judgment.

          Under the ordinance, the homeowner’s ability to apply such judgment, to make a determination based on pros and cons that acknowledge complexity and competing interests, is taken away.

          I trust my neighbors in myriad ways every day as it pertains to my health, safety and/or property value. I trust them to drive competently and not run me over. I trust them to not operate a meth lab and blow up their house (and mine). I trust them to be at least semi-considerate in their paint color and yard upkeep.

          So far, I’ve found fellow Decaturites tend to make reasonable choices. I have no problem trusting them with their trees as well.

        2. Provide shade? What if I want solar power? What if I want solar fans in my attic anything else solar? If I have a tree on my property that I want to cut down in order to use solar power, are you telling me I can’t?

        3. If that’s what you think it boils down to, then no, you are not reading me right.

          I think the City should encourage private property owners to help preserve the tree canopy across Decatur. I think developers should be incentivized to preserve trees whenever possible. I don’t think regulating the removal of individual trees on private property based strictly on size is the way to go about it, regardless of whether they use trunk size or canopy size. The possible combinations of home site, drainage, tree species, and particular circumstances are infinite, and IMO passing an ordinance as described would simply create yet another arena for the seeking of variances, which just sucks up a lot of time and energy and money on both sides (City and homeowners). All trees are not created equal — some are more beneficial than others in various ways. For what it could potentially cost the City to enforce this ordinance and process variance applications (which would be constant and unending), I’ll bet they could do a lot in the way of education, consulting and incentives, e.g., instead of making me get a permit to remove a certain size tree, offer me a free sapling to replace it with and help me make good choices about species and placement.

          I’d campaign for a beefier noise ordinance LONG before I’d support such a sweeping regulation about trees. [insert rant about leaf blowers, re. both noise and air pollution]

          1. Well, I think anyone who would cut down a perfectly healthy tree just because it puts sap on their car is a bad person and I wouldn’t want them as a neighbor.

            Likewise, I think anyone who would build an addition onto their house with no regard as to how the trees in their yard might factor in is a stupid person, and I wouldn’t want them as a neighbor.

            I’m not a tree nazi, but I think you should have a valid reason to cut down a tree. Sap and more shade than you’d prefer are not valid reasons.

              1. Can we stop throwing the word Nazi around? That was a time of great evil.

                As far as shade, sometimes you want full sun to put in roses or herbs or veggies. Trees must be cut in that case.

                1. Point taken re: nazi. While we’re at it, no more fake moustaches and let’s ease up on the constant Portlandia references.

                1. In your subjective view, what were the valid reasons? What if I disagree that they were valid? Or more imporantly, what if the city does when you apply for a tree removal permit? A lot of the opposition to such an ordinance is based on the fact that the granting or denial of a tree removal application is based on someone’s sujbective opinion. Perhaps your neighbors think you are bad and/or stupid and want you to move b/c they don’t agree in the validity of your reasoning.

                  1. One was sick beyond the point of rehabilitaion. The other was so close to the house that it was causing damage to the foundation and was hanging over the house in such a way that if it were to fall at night, my entire family almost certainly would die.

                    The tree that dumps sap on my car is still standing and I have no intention of taking it down.

                    I find it fascinating that after all the bragging about how great/responsive/forward thinking/etc. the CoD government is, all of a sudden they’re jackbooted thugs who can’t be trusted.

                  2. Don’t you see that the tree could also be providing a communty benefit that should be balanced agaist a private property right. And what about the right of the tree to live?

                    1. I am not taking your bait. However, I would like you to explain from where these supposed rights of trees are derived. This should be good (rolls eyes).

                    2. I love to see beautiful trees in my yard and the yards of my neighbors. But, the community does not pay me for when one of my trees fall and knock off the electric box to the house (happened twice, cost big bucks) they do not show up to rake all the gum balls and branches that are constantly shed from them, they do not pay to have them hauled away when they die, and they shouldn’t.. they are my trees. I understand others enjoy them, but they are my responsibility and should continue to be my choice. Removing a tree is not the same as paving a parking lot, so I do not buy the runoff argument so much either, I am pretty sure we get similar if not better permeation in our yard now after removing 30 percent of the trees than before since the soil is recently tilled and mulched. i like trees but wish to use my yard as I like. And the tree’s right to live?? give me a break…..I pull up sweet gum and pine seedlings almost every time I go outside. They are so renewable it is scary.

                    3. DM, c’mon dude. I know my reputation precedes me (although I am trying to change it with a less confrontational approach) and I have certainly earned extra scrutiny, but, you have people calling each other nazis in these comments (and those posts remain unedited 7 hours later). All I did was make a sarcastic comment, but yet you call me out for being disrepectful. Of those two, which is more direspectful? Plus, if there were no sarcastic or snarky posts, it would be very, very quiet around here.

                    4. In the end, it’s about respect. I don’t like and generally don’t tolerate – when I see it – when people roll their eyes and laugh at each others commentary. That’s a very slippery slope. An eyeroll is no different than calling someone a idiot. It’s disrespectful and doesn’t do anything to advance the argument. It’s only purpose is to make the giver feel better about THEIR argument and tick off the receiver. Totally unnecessary if you’re goal is to advance discourse (or at least HAVE a discourse). Anyone else remember “Rick”? I believe AnotherRick is named so, because of “rick”). That guy used to come on here, and while he usually didn’t name call, he was very disrespectful of the right’s positions. Implying they were foolish on every front in so many words. I moderated him incessantly until he got sick of me and left.

                      As for it being very quiet around here without snark…thanks for the insight, but after 4+ years of doing this, I’ve discovered that it’s a lot more gray than that.

                    5. I can’t resist butting in here. Dawg, I had noticed that you have been dialing it down a bit lately, and am glad. As for this particular instance, you didn’t get edited, you just got a little caution notice. Moderating these discussions is not an exact science, and I’ve observed over time that DM is pretty consistent. I agree with you that a certain amount of snarkiness adds spice to the discussion, as long as it’s well-aimed and well-timed. Any of us can misfire from time to time. But IMO your reference to eye-rolling wasn’t snarky, it was borderline belligerent. That doesn’t add anything to the proceedings. It’s a fine line sometimes and we depend on DM to decide where it lies on any given day.

                      BTW, the nazi thing was neither snark nor belligerence, IMO. When Jeff used “tree nazi” I heard it in the spirit of “soup nazi” and repeated the reference. AMB disliked the slang usage and said so. Nothing wrong with any of that because none of was attacking each other, we were challenging each other’s opinions. That distinction what keeps this blog above the fray.

                      (Sorry if this comes across like a lecture. Actually, I guess that’s exactly what it is and I’m not really all that sorry about that. What I’m really sorry about is that most people dislike receiving lectures, because I so much enjoy delivering them!)

                    6. STG, please note that Mrs. J_T has decreed that you can come lecture me anytime you feel the need 😉

                      In all seriousness, this is making me think we need a second attempt at a DM happy hour. I find that people (other than me of course) are a lot less eager to cast stones and aspersions, whether real or virtual, at others after they’ve partaken of Belgian beer and other such spirits with one another. Last time I tried this, only DTR showed up. If I can get him and one other person this time, it will be a success. I’m thinking Friday. Who’s in?

                    7. W Poncer, someone with a better understanding of it may have to explain it better, but trees actually do help with runoff b/c they soak up groundwater. So, if the soil is less saturated, more rainwater will permeate and there will be less runoff. The bigger the tree, the more water that is soaked up.

                    8. Re. Friday: pretty curious, but unable to commit this week as there’s been lots of disruption with taking car back and forth to the shop, and yet project deadlines stand with no mercy. I’m a ‘maybe.’

                    9. You are quite right Dawgfan, The deep tree roots do soak up a lot more groundwater over a period of days than the grass and mulch that is currently there. But I was making the point that the runoff from our site is really no different during a QUICK rain event (like the one discussed a week or so ago on FFAF) now than before because the compacted soil is now softened with all the earthwork. Yes the recovery between events is quicker with more deep rooted trees, but since we are on top of a hill, gravity takes most of our groundwater anyway. The trees that remain (there are quite a lot of very large ones left) can now grow wider at the top and I assume underneath at the roots, though I am no arborist, so that is a guess.

                      It was painful to cut the trees both financially and because I don’t like killing things, but it was a choice we made after much careful thought. I think long term it will be for the best for the remaining trees and the ones we will plant as well as the beauty and health of the neighborhood. I think most people in this city are going to put careful thought into any financial and aesthetic decision like this. I believe a city policy that encourages tree canopy and educates on tree selection, placement, pruning, etc. is great, but a one size fits all ordinance that is costly to homeowners is a bad idea.

            1. “I think anyone who would build an addition onto their house with no regard as to how the trees in their yard might factor in is a stupid person”

              Well, I think anyone who takes this position is a hypocrite. Unless you carefully studied the plans of your house before it was built and are sure no tree was taken down in the process, unless you have no wood in your home, floors, doors, trim or other, then you are no better than everyone you are pointing the finger at.

  4. I may be in the minority here, but I am opposed to this proposed ordinance.
    I do believe if you take a tree down; the property owner should have to replant one in its place.
    However, I am not comfortable with the City saying you can or can not take down a tree on your property. It opens the City up to a TON of liability issues.

  5. I believe we are losing much of our tree canopy. I dread taking a walk after a storm… afraid I will see yet another fallen oak lying across my path.

    If we conducted a poll asking if the tree canopy was important to Decatur… I am sure 95% would answer in the affirmative. When the devil meets the details, i.e. limits on property rights and government regulation….. it gets messy.

    I agree with Scott, incentives and education.. not punitive measures… may be the best route.

    1. I don’t think telling a property owner they have to replace a tree that they get a permit to cut is punitive. I also don’t think a requirement to get a permit is punitive. Some of the comments in support of private property rights may also be against the city’s ability to control land use through zoning. I guess I am asking if your support zoning. If my neighbor cuts a tree on his property, the adverse effect also affects me.

      1. If the tree belongs to someone else, why can’t they do what they want with it? If you want shade, etc., grow your own. What if you want sunshine in order to grow vegetables but your neighbor has a huge tree that shades your yard? Is it your right to force them to cut it down?

        1. +1 * 1 million. Why is it that people in this “liberal” city continually advocate trampling on other people’s private property RIGHTS?

  6. I’m all for a healthy and strong tree canopy but I am firmly against anyone telling me what I can and cannot do to the trees on my property. What if I want to grow vegetables in my yard and need a to remove a healthy tree in order to do so? Am I going to be told I can’t do this?

    1. Amen. And conversely, will the homeowner who has a mostly or all-grass or open lawn be required to plant trees to contribute to the collective canopy? This stuff gets pretty crazy pretty quickly…

      I think most folks enjoy trees. What you need is information about what kinds of trees are suitable for the space (city lots). That means educating people about what species are available but also varieties and other options (dwarf, semi-dwarf trees).

  7. Strongly oppose. The city simply cannot make a case that this is necessary. And gods forbid, they deny a resident permission to remove a tree – and that tree falls in a windstorm and hurts or kills someone. (And if you think that wouldn’t happen, you haven’t been reading the news every spring for the last 20 years.)

  8. Agree with both [email protected]:10 AM & [email protected]:17 am. I wholeheartedly support requiring replacements of trees that are removed, but not the “blunt instrument” proposed by the City. Do they really want to add yet another layer of oversight to what residents can do on their own property?

    1. Do we really want to require people to plant a tree if they take one down? As Scott says, that should be encouraged not forced. Why should my kids not get a bit of grass in our yard if I wish to remove some of those ratty sweet gums that planted themselves. And as Cat pointed out above, are we going to next require people without “enough” trees to replace the canopy in those yards? This is headed in a very scary direction.

      1. I think it’s a fair exchange for not having to get a permit to take down a tree. I’m all for the free exercise of property rights as much as reasonably possible, but there does have to be a balance. If there’s no provision requiring tree replacement, we’d all too quickly deplete not only our current canopy, and there’d be slim to none for the future. It’s fairly easy to make a replacement requirement reasonably accommodating (i.e., types of trees, appropriate locations, etc., as STG & others have so artfully pointed out), as opposed to simply hoping property owners will feel sufficiently “encouraged” to replace trees. I don’t think anyone here is arguing that trees aren’t necessary & good for our environs, and I agree with you that a replacement requirement has the potential to be onerous if not carefully thought through & implemented. I just think if there has to be an ordinance addressing canopy concerns, there’s got to be a better way to do it than what’s currently proposed.

  9. Strongly oppose. A violation of private property rights, period. Some people have way too much time on their hands.

  10. Technically, it’s not “my property.” I pay a mortgage. Thus, it would appear that the mortgagor should be the one to decide whether trees stay or go on “my property.”

    1. Hah! Sounds like an excuse for someone who innocently “found” marijuana plants growing on “the Bank’s” property. I don’t think that will fly. 😉

  11. A city’s right to regulate private property when it affects the public good, e.g., tree canopy size, is well founded. That’s not the issue.

    The questions to ask are how long will it take to get a permit, how expensive will it be, what guidelines will determine their approval or denial, etc. It’s hard to say whether the proposed changes are reasonable until you see concrete examples of who will be negatively impacted.

    The other issue, switching from a trunk-size measurement to a canopy measurement, sounds like a solid, science-based policy.

    1. Sorry Rob, but that is EXACTLY the issue.

      Lets say I plant a tree. I purchase, water, fertilize, that tree and the tree grows. The city has done nothing. As the tree matures, the tree provides shade to the pblic sidewalk, oxygen to the air, habitat for birds etc. all because of my efforts in orginally planting and nourshing that tree. All along I have received nothing from the city in the form of compensation for the shade my tree has provided to the sidewalk or the habitat for the birds, etc. and none would be expected.

      Then one day I decide to have the tree removed for reasons of my own and the CIty sweeps in to tell me that this tree that they have benefitted from for all these years, the tree that they have done nothing to foster, is now due to their habit of receiving the benefit of the shade and the size of the tree, the City’s ward and I must now ask the city’s permission to remove?

      If the city wants to increase the tree canopy, they need to find a way to encoutrage that behavior.

      This proposed ordinance, like the previous version that Amanda Thompson floated a couple of years ago, needs to be shot down and shot down fast.

      BTW, anyone know why it is that this is coming up again? The community spoke very loudly that we didn’t want a new tree ordinance a few years ago and yet there is apparently some sort of agenda to try to get it passed with this new angle of tying tree canopy to runoff. Who is pushung whose agenda here? It does not seem to the the agenda of the community as a whole.

    2. A city’s right to regulate private property when it affects the public good, e.g., tree canopy size, is well founded. That’s not the issue.

      Rob…this line scares me. It is the issue…

      1. I had the same reaction to the comment. With that logic, what can’t the city regulate? WIth that logic, do I own my property or am I merely a custodian of it for the government?

  12. Yes, we should have a more robust tree ordinance, especially for new construction. There are too many folks who would just like to remove trees and there should be a good reason to cut down trees. That said, the city should bear some responsibility by supporting a tree inspection program that works with residents on tree removal based on disease, danger to all adjacent property, and so forth. There should be a community work group to help the city and its residents figure this out in a Decatur traditional process that includes community input. This is a form of zoning

    1. Who is to say what a “good reason” is? You? or even better me?

      Someone has to sit and decide.

      Do you really want someone else coming onto your property telling you you can’t put in your locally sourced organic vegitable garden because 15 years ago you decided to plant a tree where you now want a garden and the tree has grown big enough to come under the city’s guidelines.

      Lets stop and think for a minute. How much meddling in our neighbors lives, yards, and other property do we really need.

      I think we have way too much of this sort of “I know better than you what is good for you” ordinances and attempts at new ordinances as it is.

  13. Re. @Skeptic’s comment about the city encouraging the desired behavior, what are everyone’s thoughts around how to do that?

    We’ve benefited greatly (particularly in Oakhurst) over the past years from Trees Atlanta’s involvement in putting new trees in public right-of-way, the DBA has funded tree care downtown from Beer Festival proceeds, and now Nalley is doing their Tree Campaign & giving away saplings.

    What else could the city be doing to encourage folks (us) to care for our existing trees and/or plant new ones?

    1. Create a virtual tree tour, or a series of them. Identify desirable and undesirable species, especially invasives. Illustrate good placement that is healthy for the tree and contributes positively to the surroundings and explain how/why. Illustrate poor placement, unfortunate choices, explain why. Point out species that tend to be long-lived and those that don’t; which ones are more susceptible to drought; which ones do better in low-lying areas; how fast they grow. (as a brand-new homeowner, I ignorantly planted a sycamore sapling in my narrow front yard. It grew rapidly and beautifully, but I had to cut it down just as it was getting nice and shady, because it was too close to my sewer line. Wish I’d known better than to plant it in the first place.)

      Offer seedlings or saplings to people who lose trees in storms or due to disease or other mishaps. Provide specific information about the economic benefits of trees, to encourage people to think long and hard before removing one “voluntarily” and help them think about ways to mitigate the loss, e.g., replace that tree with a new one elsewhere on their property.

      I’d love to see a fraction of the energy that goes into Touch A Truck Day directed toward a Treasure Your Trees program.

      1. How about going out and hiring an arborist to take you on a tour and then go to a nursery to buy your own saplings. Is there no end to relinguishing of responsibility for self to government?

        1. KC asked what the City might do to encourage tree preservation by private property owners. I offered some suggestions. You accuse me of abdicating personal responsibility. I’m insulted.

          1. Do not fret, STG. Mises appears to be an equal opportunity insulter. He’s just so superior to everyone who doesn’t subscribe to his classic liberal capitalistic fear of anything potentially socialist that it’s hard for him to engage in civil discourse with poor, misguided mortals who understand that Atlas Shrugged is a silly fairy tale (and a Grimm one at that)!

          2. STG, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to insult you. You’re a favorite of mine and I agree with you more than I disagree. I think we agree on this subject but for different reasons. My comment was using the general “you” in response to the general ”(us)” in KC Boyce’s post you were replying to, not really directed at you personally, just challenging your opinion, which is OK, right? However, lately I’ve been a little worried. Last week you were annoyed by David’s persistent use of McMansion, which is different from your view and then NB1197 and you (by your +1) proceeded to lecture him because you didn’t like his lectures or use of “some such off-putting know-it-all nonsense that invariably turns me off completely,” which resulted in running him off, someone who I thought was a knowledgeable and interesting contributor. I just hope you can be more thick-skinned because I’m worried that if you keep getting insulted and annoyed so easily you might leave too.
            Your Individual-Rights Zealot, Mises.

            1. Mises, I accept your apology. The immediate segue into a critique of me kind of diluted it, but whatever. I think you got across exactly what you meant to.

              I will say that if you think David is a knowledgeable and interesting contributor, then by all means be sure he knows that. You probably will enjoy what he posts at his own website. I disagree that nellie and/or I ran him off. He just tried to lead the discussion over to his own site, as he typically does. My personal opinion is that he drops in here (and at the Oakhurst listserve) from time to time in an attempt to pull traffic to his own site.

    2. KC Boyce says: “What else could the city be doing to encourage folks (us) to care for our existing trees and/or plant new ones?”

      That’s a great question. I am generally not a supporter of the enactment of laws and regulations that reflect the view of the majority…. but often are more of a blunt club… often with unintended consequences toward the individual. On the other hand, I am very concerned about the obvious loss of many of the hundred year old trees that make up Decatur’s tree canopy.

      Perhaps a more aggressive form of outreach to property owners.. particularly those who have lost a tree to the elements, disease or age. The offer of free or subsidized plantings.. not just on the street right-of-ways… but in the front or back yards. Perhaps a call or visit from a volunteer arborist with options for suitable species, etc. It seems to me that most of the fallen/removed trees are not replaced. Perhaps it’s because it is such a long term type of thing that people have a hard time visualizing a tiny sapling one day replacing their lost majestic oak. I am just wondering how many would be receptive if nudged a little….

  14. On a completely different tack, there is a very significant economic impact of trees on both the parcel & city level – they do everything from increase property values (see, admittedly a pro-tree source!) to mitigate stormwater runoff.

    Doing a quick calculation based on the city’s recent tree canopy study, the stormwater benefit for a quarter-acre lot that has 60% tree coverage is approximately $2500/year (FWIW, the Global Ecosystem Center did that report for the city, and I don’t have access to the assumptions that they made in arriving at their stormwater benefit, unfortunately).

    For the sake of illustration, if we completely denuded our city, we’d need to come up with approximately $24m more per year to manage the increased stormwater runoff. That’d mean reduced services or increased taxes (speculating here, but probably the stormwater utility fee).

    So…how do we address the split incentive issue that @Skeptic raises? Should the city tack an additional fee on to a homeowner’s stormwater utility fee if they take down a tree & don’t replace it? I don’t know about y’all, but $2500 extra in taxes/year would motivate me to plant some trees in a hurry!

    (As an aside, I’m typically a strong proponent of private property rights & a lot of these comments resonate with me. Still, there are real economic issues at play here & I raise this comment in hopes of hearing your thoughts.)

    1. I find it impossible to think coherently about this in economic terms without knowing more about the assumptions underlying the referenced study, and also having more knowledge of the variables in play when it comes to managing runoff. As it is, it kind of makes my blood boil to imagine getting dinged financially for taking a tree down, while watching houses get built that I’m pretty darned sure obtained lot coverage variances. I’m not saying any specific project should not get a variance, I just don’t have confidence that the code is consistently applied. What if I have a really big lot — do I take a bigger hit than my neighbor on a tiny lot for cutting down a tree, or a smaller hit? How does existing lot coverage play into it? What if I have a gigantic lot and a tiny house? What if my whole yard is nothing but forest? Why am I obligated to maintain that, when other people could be raising cotton in their backyards? Unless the City is going to make everybody maintain a minimum canopy coverage on their property, including planting trees if they don’t have enough to start with, I don’t see how this could work.

      The zoning code is a big, old, blunt instrument to start with, which is why there is a task force trying to refine it. I generally lean toward more regulation because IMO people generally demonstrate that they can’t be counted on to exercise good judgement or to prioritize our collective well-being and future survival. (I know that is offensive to many individual-rights zealots and to y’all I say, don’t get upset, I only get to vote once.) How-some-ever, in this case I think the City ought to concentrate on getting our existing ordinances into more workable shape before coming up with new ones. This proposal reflects the same blunt-instrument approach that we’re struggling to modify in much of our existing code.

      Wow, I feel better having gotten that off my chest. I’ll be shocked (and possibly appalled) if anybody read to the end.

      1. you seem to have an internal conflict…in one paragraph you acknowledge personal rights and all the issues people have with the heavy hand of government…the second you want more regulation because you don’t trust your neighbor to make good choices.

        I like your first paragraph! I do trust my neighbor to make good choices…I’m not in favor of forcing everyone to do something because a small few make poor choices.

        1. I’m not conflicted, really, I just don’t see everything in all-or-nothing terms. We have lots of laws and regulations because people can’t be trusted to behave: sanitation ordinances, speed limits, code governing public decency, truancy laws, etc. There are a few more potential regs we don’t have, that I’d love to see on the books. But when it comes to taking care of trees and making responsible choices about individual trees while keeping the health of the overall canopy in mind, I think the community has a vested interest in preserving/expanding the canopy. But I don’t think the best approach is blunt-instrument regulation that focuses on individual trees and tries to apply cookie-cutter requirements to what will surely be infinitely various situations. Defense of private property rights is not the primary reason for my opinion. I think it will simply create more complexity and expense for both the City and property owners, without accomplishing much (if anything) toward the stated goal.

          1. So I believe this has already been touched on, but is a net increase in canopy always the “best” solution?

            As has been stated, part of Decatur’s tree canopy decline must be attributed to the fact that we have so much old-ish growth that’s the same age due to the clear-cutting 100 years ago. So it seems like we all universally agree that a more diverse (in age) canopy is a healthier ecosystem than the current one that is all of roughly the same age.

            If that is true, don’t we need to view this “more tree canopy is better” with a bit more nuance? Sure – in pure tree terms – cutting down woodland and replacing it with impervious surface isn’t good, but what about the rarer 30 year old trees that now exist, which assumedly contribute less to the overall canopy?

            Determining which tree is “better” seems like a good topic for a high school debate team.

            1. I don’t understand your comment.
              I’m not necessarily advocating a net increase in the canopy, but I understand and accept that we’ll be doing ourselves a favor if we figure out how to avoid a net loss. (Although, I keep thinking the biggest bang for the public buck might be ripping up all that unused pavement at the defunct car dealerships on Scott Blvd. Not in the City, I know.) Yes, we are seeing a lot of trees of the same species that were planted around the same time now dying of old age. That is why I favor education about the characteristics of various species, to help people make more informed choices about what to plant and where, what to remove and why, all of which would also help increase the diversity of the canopy. I think it’s rare that anybody can support a judgement that a particular tree is better than another — it depends on where it is being planted, what else is around it, lots of variables. I don’t think “which tree is better” is a worthwhile subject for debate. I think it’s a case-dependent question that benefits from knowledgeable input. Different species have different root zones, different canopy spreads, different requirements for light/soil/water, different tendencies to drop limbs, split their trunks, etc., so ideal placement varies widely. Add in lot size and existing impermeable coverage, and it becomes obvious (IMO) that removing a particular tree from one location would not have the same impact on runoff or any other consideration as removing the same tree if it happened to be growing in a different situation. How could a one-size-fits-all ordinance be helpful?

  15. As for a slightly different tack, what is the problem that we are trying to solve with this ordinance? I’ve lived in Decatur for quite some time (can you guess what street?) and I’ll admit, I haven’t noticed a bunch of healthy trees being cut down for no reason. My neighborhood has a beautiful canopy as well as every part of Decatur I visit however, a number of trees have fallen down due to storms. Are people in other parts of Decatur just cutting down trees for fun?

    1. In our neighborhood healthy trees have been cut. Most often related to renovations. Especially true with contractors who buy houses then renovate to sell. Since these finished all have pretty much the same footprint, I’m guessing tree preservation is not a high priority during the design process.

      1. So that really wouldn’t fall into the “for fun” category that Melrose referenced. I think it’s fair to be concerned about trees and gargantuan renovations, but people shouldn’t have to jump through even more hoops to add a bathroom or bedroom to a 8 or 900 square foot home.

        And she was on the right track by asking, what problem are we trying to solve? Cutting down trees is expensive, and I highly doubt there are large number of homeowners looking for something to cut down just for the heck of it. If someone is spending $2,500 or 5k to have a tree chopped, I’d be willing to bet there’s a well thought-out reason behind it.

        1. I guess we must fall into the tree murder for fun category. We recently moved into a home with a large overgrown lot and removed around 40 trees that would fall into the category the city is describing. Boy it was fun to pay those tree guys and watch them fall! Can’t wait to save up our money and do it again.

          Seriously though, my husband took over a year to remove by hand, all the vines from the base of the trees so we could identify the trees and decide which ones were to be saved and which needed to go. Poison ivy, english ivy, wisteria, and other vines, some with a caliper of 4 inches. We struggled with whether or not to leave bushy forest in the back, but since our backyard neighbors were using our lot as their personal dump (not just lawn trimmings but furniture and trash), we decided it needed to be at least viewable to the fence.

          Should we have had to pay for a tree survey to identify to the city which trees were important to the canopy and which ones weren’t? I am guessing that would add a couple grand to our cost and I do not see how it would have benefitted anyone but the tree survey company. Should we have to replace the 40 trees we cut? Well we still have about 60 trees on our lot, Most of the ones we cut were too crowded to grow to a nice shape. If we put 40 back they would be way too crowded. Many were pulled over by wisteria or broken in the top from other trees falling. We do plan to plant some more trees but are taking our time about what kind and where they go. I do not think the city should dictate this. And, we may decide to remove more. I have my eye on a very large water oak between my house and the house next door that grows a coral like mushroom thing on its roots twice a year. I would hate to lose the cover, hate to pay the tree guy, but much more hate for it to fall on one of our homes. I do not think the city should be involved in this decision.

          I believe most homeowners in Decatur have sense enough to value trees in this city, and should be allowed to make the personal choice with their property as to whether it is a bushy forest or veggie patch. I am a little insulted to read some of the comments added to the city’s site that make it sound like anyone that cuts a tree is ignorant of the benefits of trees. I am sure that not all our neighbors agree with what we did, but it is my property, so I should be able to make my own choices without justifying it to them.

      2. So maybe the meet-in-the-middle solution here is to start requiring a permit for renovations as well as new construction?

        Can anyone justify why we permit for one but not the other?

        1. I think you are mistaken there DM. Any construction requires a building permit. If the construction is new construction or an exterior addition (thereby affecting the site) a land disturbance permit is also required. A land distrubance permit requires that tree save areas, tree removal, tree replacment, silt fence, storm water detention, etc. be addressed before the permit is issued.

          1. What’s this then?

            “When a single family dwelling is demolished and replaced with a new house, the tree ordinance requirements must be met. However, there are no provisions that prohibit tree removal for additions to existing single family dwellings or for simply removing trees.”

            1. I have to admit that I’m not sure. I am in the industry and I’m familiar with the requirements of land distrubance permits etc. and know that the items I listed must typically be shown. I have not had to permit a lot of work in Decatur but when I have, I have had to identify these items on the plans. Perhaps they require this from an informational standpoint. I do know that if these items are not shown you don’t get the permit.

    2. I am. You truly haven’t lived until you’ve felled a large oak with a two-man crosscut saw.

      Dream of the 1890s…

      1. I’m beginning to think that the only way to unseat Daren as the king of the Decatur festivals is to host an annual 1890s festival.

        Wood-cutting, chicken-raising, beer brewing, phonograph playing, old book page-turning, garden growing…

        OMG, I’m getting worked up just writing it in this comment!!

        1. Great idea, as long as you realize that you will need to host two separate festivals. Of course, if you specify that they are pre-1896, you don’t need to bother with the pesky fiction that they are equal.

          1. Right you are, J_T. And if anything about it needs to be put to a vote, you guys will have to work it out. And I mean that literally — we weaker-minded folks weren’t allowed to cast a vote back then.

            1. OK, so some things *were* better back then 😉

              I kid, I kid! Just testing to see if Mrs. J_T is keeping up with DM nowadays!

          2. I must be culturally ignorant, but why the dividing line at 1896? The quixotic run for the presidency by William Jennings Bryan informs this comment? The last grasp of populism and the gold standard? Tell.

              1. Of course! Thanks- my honors thesis in high school was on the Bryan folly and 1896 is forever and indelibly linked to him!

    3. I am a little surprised you have not noticed the oak trees on Melrose and Drexel and Adair that have died and been cut down as a result over the past 10 years. I have been a homeowner on all of those streets for nearly 40 years (at various times) and while it has not been as drastic as say in the Olmstead Parks, we have had numerous trees die.

      1. Yes, numerous trees in that area have died and had to be cut down. That’s called nature, life, whatever. It happens. Lo and behold, I’ve seen numerous trees planted in that exact same area. Others that were small trees are quite large now. Again, it’s not as if people are running around with chainsaws or a two-man crosscut saw just cutting down trees for the heck of it.

        A concern of mine that has been mentioned numerous times is the fact that our canopy is aging or at the end of life and numerous trees are coming down in storms. It is only a matter of time before a falling tree does serious harm or even kills someone.

        I’d much rather see the city take a pro-active approach with regards to our canopy. Without really thinking this thru because I’m still having coffee, how about sending an arborist around to identify sick and dying trees and make recommendations on a replacement for the ones that need to come down? NOTE: recommendation, not forced via ordinance. I think that over time, we would have a much healthier and diverse tree canopy.

        1. Melrose suggests, “It is only a matter of time before a falling tree does serious harm or even kills someone.”

          Actually, it happens all the time, every year, and even in the City of Decatur, on Kathryn Ave, which is behind Westchester Elementary (now the city schools admin office) – Here is a headline form the AJC, 7 years ago-

          “Falling tree kills man as he sleeps
          Atlanta Journal Constitution ^ | July 12, 2005 | KAREN HILL”

          This obviously happened without any ordinance in place, but if the city passes this new tree ordinance, people will be afraid to touch a tree without the facing the wrath of their neighbors and city officials. It will make dangerous trees more likely to remain in place and do harm.

          1. I remember the horror of that incident well. The parents in that family were informal leaders in the Westchester community. The mom was a co-president of the first year of the combined Westchester-Clairemont community. After the dad was killed by the falling tree, despite neighbors renovating a rental for them, the family needed to leave Decatur and live closer to family elsewhere. One of my children was frightened of falling trees ever afterwards. Me too.

            I have to admit that I am more interested in the city providing advice on what trees need to come down for the safety of us and our neighbors than I am in protecting the canopy. Intellectually, I care about the latter; emotionally, I want to know which trees need the $1,000 or so that it costs to remove them.

            Question: What happens when homeowners cannot afford to remove a tree that needs removing because it poses a danger to either the owners or their neighbors? Does the city have any programs to assist?

  16. How am I supposed to plant my organic vegetable garden when my lot is covered in dense shade because there are so many trees on it?

      1. They should have the FREEDOM to do what they want on THEIR land.

        plus, what if they don’t live near a community garden, or have a disability that makes it difficult to get to the community garden, are private people etc etc.


      2. “Get a plot in a community garden.”

        NO. I already bought a house and pay taxes on the land. Why should I go spend more money on a lot elsewhere, that is likely too small and likely inconvenient in a number of ways? Furthermore, community gardens are not always the answer. Been there, done that, met petty tyrants, and returned to my own yard.

        Another question: would the City be subject to these same regulations? If a tree at the cemetery or on other public land is deemed to be “in the way”, who reviews the request, who approves it, who pays the fines or permit fees if any? Will there be a community rep a these meetings. Nuts, I tell you, NUTS!

  17. If you have a small tree on your yard that isn’t subject to the ordinance and you think that it may be in the way of a planned long term addition or may become dangerous one day or may be too close to your house or may be getting to the point that it will start providing too much shade on your garden, don’t you take it down immediately if the ordinance is passed?

  18. If it has been addressed, I haven’t seen it, but I’ll put another angle up for consideration. I, as I’m sure many others are, am a procrastinator by nature. If I have a tree that needs to come down because it has become a danger to my house, my vehicles, or my neighbor’s home and family, I will automatically become less inclined to do something about it if it means dealing with government red tape. If all it takes is a call to the tree guy and writing a check, no big deal (I’ve done it). If forms and mail and waiting and wondering and waiting and calling and calling again are part of the process, forget about it. God put it there, God can take it down when he sees fit. (That last sentence was fun to type, because I paraphrased my 102 year old Iowa grandfather who used that reasoning for never shoveling his sidewalk!!)

  19. I have already posted my strong opposition on the city site, but here are a few more points:

    1. No one, not even an arborist with 10 degrees can predict the future with certainty. I have paid for some expensive opinions on trees, and the answers I get, are, “you have a 5 to 10 year expected remaining life” in this tree. What if he/she is wrong by a few years? My point is that the person who SLEEPS under a tree should be the ONLY person who should say whether it comes down or not.

    2. Trees are a very renewable resource, and trees grow like weeds in Georgia. Every year tons of additional leaves and trunk material grow that were not there the year before. Where is the study that shows we are net losing more tree material, canopy, call it what you want, than we are adding each year? If the canopy grows 1% a year, are we really removing more than 1% of the Decatur trees every year? What are the real numbers? Is there really an issue?

    3. I suspect that the people who really want this ordinance really, truly want something else. And that something else is control over, and recourse against their neighbors who may or may not be making an idiotic decision about tree removal. There is a better way people. Let’s not setup a system that forces neighbor against neighbor, we are all in this together. If you are walking your dog regularly, talking to neighbors, actively and productively engaging in your neighborhood and neighborhood associations, then preventing an idiotic decision is as simple as a phone call to a friend, and a conversation, and some understanding and compromise. Not a fight in a variance hearing.

  20. Atlanta has a policy like this and it is a disaster. The law truly gets in the way of reasonable efforts better left in the hands of homeowners. And, that replacement schedule can add ridiculous expense to the already costly job of taking down a tree. The city also requires posting of adverse tree actions to give neighbors time to complain in advance before you take a tree down.
    This is a really bad idea.

    1. Trees Atlanta has done great work planting hundreds if not thousands of young trees through Atlanta and Decatur.

  21. Oh for crying out loud!

    Well, we have two oaks that are at the very end of their lives and are quite large. Both are potentially dangerous to us. We have had them inspected frequently over the last few years and have gone to considerable trouble and expense to try to keep them going for another couple of years. They could last another decade. Most likely, they will need to be removed within the next three years.

    If this ordinance gets traction, we will be taking down both trees immediately rather rather than waiting for what is most likely another two years. We’d much rather take them out now of our own accord and on our own terms than have to go to the City begging to take them out a year or so from now. It’s not worth the trouble and expense.

    We have dealt with the City on very minor renovations/updates, and they are a complete nightmare. I’ll be darned if I’m going to get involved with them again just to keep our failing trees around for another year or two.

    We of course plan to replace them with similar trees, but we won’t put our safety at risk or let a government official decide what is an appropriate risk.

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