Decatur Releases Draft of Tree Ordinance and Details Next Steps

Decatur’s Public Information Officer Casie Yoder sends along this statement from the city, which includes various linkage and the path for the ordinance draft…

As requested, here is some updated information about the development of the proposed tree ordinance:

On behalf of the City of Decatur, we would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to participate in developing and reviewing the proposed tree ordinance.  We know that people have strong feelings on these issues, and we are working to ensure our processes are transparent and understandable.

We know that there will be questions and comments about various elements in the proposal, and encourage your readers to submit them at DecaturNEXT.com.  The summary document will be updated periodically based on your input, and we will do our best to respond to questions as we receive them.

The consultant is working to finalize the ordinance and develop administrative standards based on comments that will be received this week from the City Commission and the Environmental Sustainability Board.  We anticipate having a final draft available by 1/15.  The current draft represents what has been developed to date, and should be reviewed with the understanding that many of the elements are subject to change.  Download the draft here.

We highly encourage anyone who is interested in this topic to also review the presentation materials from the City Commission work session.  These materials accurately reflect the policy goals and operational structure of the proposed ordinance.  A recording of the presentation is available online here.                         

Presentation Materials  

1.       Trees! Work Session Presentation

2.       Flowcharts demonstrating how the ordinance applies

3.       Summary of Proposed Ordinance 

Tree Factsheets

16 thoughts on “Decatur Releases Draft of Tree Ordinance and Details Next Steps”


  1. So the maples formed a union
    And demanded equal rights.
    “These oaks are just too greedy;
    We will make them give us light.”
    Now there’s no more oak oppression,
    For they passed a noble law,
    And the trees are all kept equal
    By hatchet, axe, and saw.

    “The Trees”

    Rush

    1. The oaks’ claim that the sunlight trickled down to the understory apparently fell on deaf ears.

  2. I am still unclear on what problem this major regulation is intended to solve. Decatur is loaded with trees despite being fully developed, and I don’t see a trend of that changing. A tree being taken down here or there on residential teardown lots doesn’t materially offset the hundreds of trees being planted already by Trees Atlanta, by individuals, or by nature itself. And there are tens of thousands of trees in this city that continue to grow and mature every year.

    I already live in a historic district that has tree removal restrictions, despite the fact that the neighborhood was an open field when developed 100 years ago.

    As others have noted, this will significantly penalize individual homeowners seeking to plant gardens, manage risk, adapt their home to family growth, etc. This isn’t an anti-developer ordinance, it’s anti-us.

    I’m sure our commissioners read the comments here, but I also think it would be helpful for all of us to contact them directly to voice our opinions, and hopefully balance out what appears to be a special interest/lobby that is working against us all.

    1. I am also interested to know what is the problem we are trying to address. Simply saying that canopy is 45% is not really enough to convince someone that there is a problem. I am a treehugger and love the mature trees and absolutely think we should save as many as possible, but when you impose new rules that inconvenience people, you have to communicate how it will benefit people in the long run and WHY it will be worth the costs. I am not sure the city has done a good job with this.

      I am ignorant about a lot of this, wasn’t at any of the meetings and just following through the blogs/ decatur website so maybe this came up in the presentations.

    2. The person that helped start all this fuss is a Decatur resident that used to work at the EPA, and had a neighbor impact the roots of a tree that was a “boundary tree” – not even on their property – when adding on. I believe there was a MoveOn.Org petition linked to from a story in DM when the moratorium was being discussed that tells some of the story. Furthermore , the consultant hired by the city suggested during the info meeting that even driving under the canopy of a tree could cause severe damage – and such actions should be considered when crafting this ordinance. I think the “Best Practices” they are implementing are the Sierra Club’s rural guidelines . It’s called the CITY of Decatur.

  3. Everyone keeps citing the 45 percent figure as our current tree coverage. Just want to point out that the most recent data in this report is from 2010, and we know there has been very strong building activity, including a record number of building permits, in the past 3 years. I think its a safe bet that we are below whatever percentage was most recently verified.

  4. I agree with the others. I am unsure what this solves. All it seems to do is severally penalize a person that wants to become a part of our community.

    1. Just think of commercial lots. 55% coverage rate – really? Take the lot by Sharian”s – or the $25 Million piece of property Decatur just bought from Dekalb next to Decatur HS…. or Trinity Triangle … etc. And we think we can win the annexation battle – good luck!

  5. IF this does not go into effect until May 5, what about the people waiting to build or remodel? What steps will they need to take? The current moratorium is in effect until Jan. 24. Does the city have something planned for handling things in the interim?

  6. Can someone explain the 55% rule to me? So if I need to plant enough trees to get me into 55% canopy coverage, does that mean 55% immediately, or PROJECTED when the trees mature? That seems to be a big difference. A 1/4 acre lot for mature trees only needs about 3 big trees but if it’s immediate, that would seem to be 10 or more trees?

    1. Ben, the way I read the draft is that you get future coverage for new trees only if they are 2.5″ trunk diameter or larger, and you must follow their guidelines for type and how many of each kind. There is a little chart showing the credit you get for the type of tree somewhere in the documents. However, 2.5″ is a pretty large tree and most people would need to hire someone to plant it using a bobcat, not a dig-a-hole-yourself job. I am surprised the arborist is not worried about which type of tree is appropriate in a tiny lot or concerned about foundations/pipes/sidewalks etc. But I guess that would mean they were more concerned about the welfare of the people living under the canopy than the life of the trees, not the case here.

      This seems to be a done deal in the minds of the commissioners. Several times in the meeting, Baskett made comments like “when we pass this”, never saying “if we pass this.”

      And all that feedback that was given by many people before this on the open city hall site a year or so ago was somehow not included in this. If I remember correctly they had hundreds of responses and it was very evenly split on if a tree ordinance was even needed, much less a ridiculously strict/expensive one like this. I guess it did not give them the answer they were looking for.

      1. I hope it’s not a done deal. I’m going to contact the commissioners and do all I can to introduce some sense into this discussion and try to balance out the special interests that are pushing this.

        And I promise that if it passes I will work with many of you to unseat the commissioners who voted for it, and get it overturned.

  7. @ TeeRuss: I’m doing the same and hope to see you and many others at the meeting on Jan. 21. These special interests are drunk on the idea of power and don’t realize (or care) how much this would negatively impact the entire city. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

    If the commission does ignore the public and pass this junk, please count me in for whatever we need to do to clean house as well as any lawsuits that arise. I believe Fred Boykin’s and Patti Garrett’s terms expired last year?

    One of my follow-up questions is: If they’ve supposedly been working on this since 2008, why are they trying to rush a 6 year proposal through in 2 weeks during a holiday period without any real details (cost benefit analysis, fee schedule, name of proposed arborist, etc), zero meetings in between the proposal and vote, or sufficient time for public input? In my corporate management experience, if I tried to circumvent the process and proper channels without details and a reasonable timeline to vet concerns, I’d be fired. No questions asked.

  8. Agree on all points. Appropriate channels and processes are required at the State and Federal government levels as well – not sure why it is different at the city level. Unfortunately I have not seen any valid cost/benefit analysis associated with the proposed policy. It would seem that an independent assessment of the ordinance, particularly it’s likely outcomes post-implementation, would be a reasonable request from the Commissioners.

    The 55% coverage figure might be arbitrary and capricious.

    Additionally, it seems that such a significant change in the law would be open for further debate and even a city-wide vote. This rule as proposed would have a great impact on several hundred million dollars worth of commercial, residential and institutional real estate. The final draft has not even been published and the city would like the commissioners to vote on it January 21st. Shouldn’t we have a deeper understanding of the law and its outcomes before it is passed? And shouldn’t there be a city-wide vote for a rule this far-reaching?

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