Decatur City Commission Tables Proposed Tree Ordinance

After hours of public comment and discussion by the commission, the Decatur City Commission voted 4-1 (with Mayor Baskett casting the only “nay” vote) this evening to table the tree ordinance until early March.

The vote included noting that they planned to accept revisions to some of the numbers that have been much discussed here over the past few days – the 55% coverage, the 10% lot coverage, the $1.50 a square foot cost.  The Commission stated that they had asked staff lower all of these figures prior to the meeting.

We can go into further detail on these tomorrow.  Or if anyone wants to report out more details in the comments, go for it.

184 thoughts on “Decatur City Commission Tables Proposed Tree Ordinance”

  1. And I sat there the whole time. It was interesting, excruciating and eye-opening, all at the same time.

    Scott Drake got it right early. Kecia Cunningham was uneasy and took some time to express her misgivings. I had no idea where Patti Garrett was headed, but she got there. And I was surprised at Fred Boykin’s final decision to table it.

    Jim Baskett pushed hard, and I was happy to see Scott stand his ground against pressure from Jim and Fred.

    I was also gratified to see that the comments on DM, Decaturish, Open City Hall, email and other places are being closely read by at least some of the commissioners. Our voices are being heard. We still may not like the final outcome (then again, maybe we will), but I really felt like we are being taken seriously. Scott nailed it when he said they should trust the citizens of Decatur.

  2. I really appreciate Commissioner Garrett leading the way in tabling this ordinance so that the single family homeowner impacts can be revisited, and to Scott Drake for voicing his concerns early on as well. Commissioner Cunningham was the third voice in support of tabling until the ordinance has been further re-worked for single family homes. Our Mayor just wanted to move forward and discount the comments of at least 2/3 of the packed house.

    If you want to make your voice heard on the tree ordinance, NOW is the time in which to do so.

    1. The esteemed Mayor Baskett not only wanted to ignore the overwhelming sentiment against the ordinance, he completely misrepresented what his own damn fellow commissioners said at least three times. And then he tried to intimidate them into voting for the ordinance as-is with nothing but his assurance that they could “tweak it” during the 90 days before it was implemented (presumably with zero input from the public). In his defense, he did apologize for not responding to all the individual emails he had received on the issue. He was so busy working on railroading the ordinance through approval that he just didn’t have time to read them all. But rest assured, he would get to them all later. Presumably, he hoped, after he had already voted to pass the ordinance.

      And no, I did not make any of that up, I swear. There’s video to prove it…

      1. Don’t forgot his shocking arrogance in completely blowing off two City of Atlanta official’s warnings about the issue’s with ATL’s ordinance, also crafted by Ed Macie.

        1. Where did you find that Ed Macie wrote this now tabled ordinance? Or was that stated during the meeting? It was my understanding it was not Mr. Macie but the consulting firm hired by CoD.

          1. He doesn’t have his name on it, but if you know Atlanta’s ordinance, you see his ghostwriter fingerprints all over it. I’m pretty sure the City brought in the ‘expert from afar’ to publicly distance Ed from this ordinance. Plenty of people have had issues with Ed’s decisions, and not everybody thinks he’s the tree whisperer.

          2. 40 seconds into the work session last night, Amanda Thompson started off with the bios of Ed Macie and Connie Head, the team that crafted this ordinance. Watch the video for the Work Session and Entire Meeting, if you have not yet.

        2. Hey BikeBoy. Sorry to disappoint you, but I did not write Atlanta’s tree ordinance. And, it does not have my finger prints all over it. Have you ever read it? Do you even know me and what my “finger prints” might look like? FYI, I also didn’t write this current draft tree ordinance. I did provide review and comment (as a volunteer and a citizen), and as someone who is familiar enough with Decatur trees and issues surrounding them to know what I am talking about.

          1. Thanks for correcting this Ed. I find it unfortunate that assumptions about neighbors like you, who is NOT a public official, keep showing up in this discussion.

            1. Ed may not be an official, but he is the consultant that currently approves and reviews all the tree plans for CoD. So let’s not pretend like he’s just some guy.

              I’ve had plenty of direct interactions with Ed regarding tree plans so my personal feelings are crafted from first hand interactions.

              He’s actually the first name I fling out to people asking about an arborist for an opinion.

          2. Answers are:

            Yes & Yes

            If you didn’t have anything to do with ATL’s ordinance then I’m very sorry I said you that you did and formally apologize.

            If that’s the case however, should however hire a PR person as every developer I know in ATL has laid the ordinance at your feet.

    2. Let’s not forget to thank the commisioners who heard the voice of the majority on this issue. While there was pressure to move forward with the ordinance as-is, with the hopes of fixing it, three people did stick up for the majority voice. Thank you much to Commisioners Kecia Cunningham, Patti Garrett and Scott Drake. There is plenty of discussion ahead and I am confident their doors will be open.

      1. A very good point. Scott, Kecia and Patti should be roundly applauded for standing up to the pressure that Jim and Fred tried to apply. Those 14 votes in the last election are starting to feel like 14,000!

  3. Thanks to everyone who showed up to state their opinions in person. My schedule did not allow me to attend, but I did catch the deliberations online and will watch the rest of the public comments later (maybe when Baskett is reading his e-mails). It was also fun to guess which DM players were there.

  4. Yes, a big *thank you* to everyone who went to the meeting and represented the majority sentiment! (I had a feeling my young daughter would not enjoy hours of civic debate, so did not attend.)

    What is a good next step? Do we need a petition suggesting new guiding principles? I only mention this since the tree petition was cited so often as a proof point of support for the ordinance.

  5. I hope that Peggy Merris wishes she could take back the “Peanut Gallery” comment:

    PEANUT GALLERY noun 1. Informal. the rearmost and cheapest section of seats in the balcony or the uppermost balcony of a theater. 2.Slang. a source of insignificant criticism: No remarks from the peanut gallery!

    This ordinance needs more than “tweaking” but I’m glad they did the right thing and at least tabled it. There were some great comments tonight – one of the best ones was “letting the Environmental Sustainability board write the regulation is the same as letting developers write the regulation – where is the balance in that? “

      1. After public comment closed and the Commissioners began deliberating, there were a couple of instances (or maybe just once) when the audience reacted to what was said. It would have been appropriate for the Mayor to remind people that any comments or response from the audience were (1) out of order, and (2) would simply impede the discussion that needed to occur. Instead, Peggy Merriss very briefly admonished the audience, characterizing it as “the peanut gallery.”

        1. In particular, it was when Mayor Baskett (after much discussion) proposed passing the ordinance as-is. Some of the gathered residents shouted “no!” Then Ms. Merriss made her admonishment.

          1. exactly.

            Anyone who was unable to attend or watch the proceedings live, and is interested in this issue, should find the time to watch the video of both the work session and the meeting. Much was said (and not said) that was telling, in terms of how things came to the current pass. One passage (among many) that is worth checking out is during the work session when Ms. Thompson summarizes the Open City Hall feedback for the Commissioners. At the risk of outing myself as a complete dork (and unable to completely let go of Decatur yet), I’ll say that I read all of the comments and I certainly didn’t get what she got out of them. Or at least what she reported to the Commissioners.

            One reason Scott Drake’s position that “we need to put more trust in the citizens of Decatur” is so resonant, IMO, is that the Planning Dept and the arborist are essentially saying, “Trust us, whenever there is a disagreement, we’ll work it out in conversation,” and yet, they are not saying or doing anything that would foster trust.

  6. I agree with everyone else’s assessment so far. Toward the end, they mentioned (kind of derisively, imho) the blogs and online commentary around 3 times, so someone’s paying attention.

    Chris Billingsly definitely turned some heads. In fact, there were a lot of great, constructive comments and a few duly earned criticisms (If you’d respond to my emails, I wouldn’t still be up here talking!)

    To me, though, one of the main things gained by this tabling was the opportunity to steer this toward encouragement and away from punishment. After all, this is about trees and not a revenue stream or agenda, right? Toward the end, Commissioners Drake and Garrett kept mentioning shifting toward incentives, instead of punitive measures, for homeowners and potentially other parties to the point that they were openly searching for more ideas.

    DM: In addition to the conversation starting to shift toward what constitutes reasonable canopy cover for an urban (and growing) area, a post asking readers what kind of incentives, volunteer programs, etc. they would suggest, if any, in place of the controversial punitive measures and restrictions might make for an interesting read. Citizens and the city might be surprised by the responses, similar to Chad Stogner’s comments that citizens get behind the city when it does things well. And if we’re supposed to have more input sessions over the next few weeks, we could definitely use the head start.

    1. DM, a post about possible incentives may be extremely helpful, as our City Planner Amanda Thompson states during her final statements to council that while she had heard people championing incentives she hadn’t really heard of any but for the parcel tax/fee proposed by Mr. B last night. I don’t believe that as I’ve made suggestions myself, but maybe now her ears will be open.

  7. I thought Mayor Baskett came across as trying to strong-arm the discussion, unwilling to listen to input and clearly has his mind made up, residents input and wishes be damned.

    Great input from the Atlanta Deputy COO on ‘reality’ once there is an ordinance, Wesley Knapp’s comments and memorable ‘if you’d reply to my emails, I wouldn’t have to take so much time’, Atlanta city arborist, and a couple lawyers describing how poorly drafted the language is.

    I was also very surprised to hear about the horse trading with the canopy cover target, trigger build percentage and fee structure. Just not a credible position when you drastically change fee structure (cut it in half), increase trigger by 50% (from 10 to 15) and reduce canopy target by 10 % (55 to 50) in the hour before the vote. That just demonstrates that there is no real basis for these numbers and by definition, the ordinance.

    In one sense, I was wondering what would have happened if Baskett tried to force the vote. Not sure what the dynamics are and if Drake would have abstained, but I think the swing would have been Ms Cunningham. She had misgivings for sure, but…

    1. I too was wondering what would have happened if Baskett or Boykin would have forced an earlier vote. This came very very close to passing last night, with some “tweaks” to follow. I can’t emphasize enough that people need to talk to their neighbors, get the story out and make your voices heard in the next few weeks, starting now.

    2. You nailed it, Brad. There is no basis for this ordinance. It is a solution for a problem that simply does not exist.

  8. I walked away from the meeting unimpressed with our elected leadership.
    The mayor pushed hard for an ordinance that was overwhelmingly hated and clearly not ready for prime time with the bizarre logic that you should just pass it and then fix it later.
    That was surreal.
    And he never could produce any evidence of the so-called emergency that required action right then, or what? So, what if a few trees have come down. Others have grown larger and still others have been planted anew. He kept talking like the canopy is static and trees don’t grow. Often cutting one large tree can allow for 2/3 others to blossom.
    Fred Boykin was right there with the same so-called logic.
    The three who turned the tide were so timid it almost appeared they’d be steamrolled just out of fear of disagreeing. You don’t need to be mean or unpleasant to say this ordinance is not ready and there’s no emergency. We can take a few months to rework it to make it not so onerous and expensive and rethink the basic theories that caused the city to rush into it over the holidays.

    How hard is that?

  9. The Mayor’s fundamental premise was that trees are a public resource. However, unlike national parks and oceans, these exist on private property. Does Decatur as a whole want to treat trees as a public resource? Isn’t that level of private property rights incursion something that should have a strong majority mandate from CoD property owners?

    1. +1, but I would say CoD voters rather than CoD property owners. This needs to be voted on by everyone.

      1. That’s a great point. What qualifies something for a referendum vs. something that is simply passed by the commissioners? Since this will specifically impact the property owners, why can’t we have that opportunity?

    2. But we have to remember that in fact trees are part of the common good and not simply for the property owner as the tree impacts the larger community in many ways. The founders of this country employed the British common law definition of property rights- you have a right as long as the exercise of that right does not interfere with the rights of others. If a group of giant trees has an overall positive impact on a community, then yes, your right to your use of your tree can be limited. It is why municipalities can practice imminent domain. It is much more complex than simply saying something is on your property, then therefore it is yours.

      1. but Nelliebelle, most people living in decatur want trees. we should (as scott drake said) “put more trust in the citizens of decatur” and use more carrots and not sticks.

        I am not really thrilled that the proposed change now makes it cost half as much for a developer to clearcut a lot. There should be a two tier system for this, developers and short time owners should have a higher cost to clearcut.

      2. I don’ think the analogy to eminent domain works at all. Remember that use of eminent domain requires the government to pay fair value to the property owner. Under this tree ordinance, however, the costs are being foisted on the property owners, not on the government. If anything, it should be the other way around — i.e., if the community is truly benefitting from specific large trees and wants to prohibit their removal, it should pay just compensation to the owners whose rights are being circumscribed.

        1. Thanks Dem for understanding the issue. If my trees help the community then figure a way to help me in return. This ordinance does the opposite.
          My neighbor removed several trees within falling distance of her home. I didn’t agree w/ her fear but it is not my call.
          Why do some in this community think it can make private ‘life’ decisions for others? Seems arrogant.
          PS To exist with large canopy trees is expensive. In 33 years in this City I’ve had limbs dent 5 vehicles, crush 1/2 my deck, crush 2 metal chairs on a terrace, 2x break a brick walk,
          5x pierce my roof causing leaks and plaster damage, 2x breaking not only the roof deck boards but also the rafters, 2x dent my garage roof and 3 times break down my fence. But to coexist w/ ‘my friends the trees’ has been my private decision not yours.

          1. I am not for the ordinance, but I do get uncomfortable with people forgetting that trees are a community resource, not just something they alone own

            1. The “people” to whom you are referring aren’t the forgettful ones. Homeowners do, in fact, own the trees on their property. Although my trees may provide you benefits and although you may deem them a community resource, you do not have any rights into privately owned trees. The reason so many people oppose this ordinance is because it drastically infringes on private property rights, perhaps to an unconstitutional level (only time and inevitable litigation will answer that question if the ordinance passes). So, yes, trees provide a community benefit. But, no, that doesn’t vest any ownership rights in the community.

              1. +10000 Dawgfan, DEM and Stephen. If you enjoy the trees I bought and planted: you are welcome. Say “thank you”, not “MINE!”

            2. I think we can get to common ground with a broader group of people if we say trees are a community good (instead of resource, which suggests ownership). This would feed in to the incentive based plan, whereby as a community we say the majority of us appreciate the good that trees bring our town and we are willing to help incentize residents to expand the pool of trees on public and private property. Now just to identify the incentives and means to pay for those incentives. I see ideas perculating on here, keep them coming!

              1. Re “The reason so many people oppose this ordinance is because it drastically infringes on private property rights: That’s not the sense I got. Certainly some opponents have expressed that sentiment. But others have seemed more concerned about whether the ordinance makes sense, is written correctly, and can be implemented fairly and without unintended consequences. The latter folks would be ok with this ordinance if they were convinced that it was truly for the common good, practical, based on good tree science, legally sound, and didn’t penalize the average well-intentioned Decatur homeowner who wants to do reasonable things with their property.

                1. Although I have many concerns about the proposed ordinance, private property incursion is very high on my list.

            3. I’m not sure everyone agrees that they are or should be a public resource.

              And if they are, I get uncomfortable with people forgetting they are a privately funded resource.

                1. Which way does it go? Does the tree owner pay the owner of the land in which the root has spread? And how far down do our property rights go? To China? Or does the person living under the tree canopy pay the tree owner for the shade? But then who is responsible for the leaves that drop and must be raked? And if a tree falls in Decatur and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound…?

        2. Yeah, I am stretching with that one (thank you for the spelling correction, DEM ;)). I was in a hurry and did not explain myself well.

          1. nelliebelle, Please consider:
            It has cost me an average of $1,000. per year in damages and repairs over a 33 year period to have a 50% canopy coverage. If my trees are community property for the enjoyment of all how come nobody ponys- up with their share of the $30,000 plus bill.

  10. Two points: city leadership kept making last night I struggled with. They kept calling the 55% number a goal, when in reality it is a mandate down the the level of individual lots. Goals are great. They give folks something to shoot for. Mandates on plantings and tree recompense are a far cry from a wonderful goal.
    And, 2, they kept repeating that this has been discussed for a long time. That’s just not reasonable. Have some folks talked about trees for years? Sure. However, the potential solution on the table last night had been around just 5 days. It had very little thoughtful review and what it had gotten was so overwhelmingly negative it was nearly universal.
    Finally, if the city thinks 55% is so great, then why not apply it first to all city-owned land? Probably because those ball fields and cemeteries and swimming pools don’t work if they are all covered by an “urban forest.” So, the city has been allowed to manage it’s tree cover to provide services, just like homeowners should be allowed the same.

    1. 1. Toward the end of the work session, they had Connie Head, the consultant, compare a few different enacted ordinances around Georgia. Although pretty much apples to oranges, considering the different circumstances, one area that was far less restrictive, costly, and punitive (and noted as successful) was Athens. The commission seemed to want to ignore this example…

      2. At the same time, even Connie Head mentioned that these ordinances usually take about a year and that rushing it in 90 days in Decatur was pushing it. She also noted that Decatur had provided significantly more input than other areas during the process, another fact the commission didn’t seem to acknowledge. When Amanda Thompson listed the most pressing concerns from residents, she ignored private property rights and stated (paraphrased) “pretty much what residents are worried about is the cost.”

      * Did anyone else catch Mayor Baskett’s comment “$85 for an arborist assessment is a good deal compared to the $300 I paid.” I’m sorry, you’ve had tree work done recently? Anything else we should know?

      1. “Did anyone else catch Mayor Baskett’s comment “$85 for an arborist assessment is a good deal compared to the $300 I paid.” I’m sorry, you’ve had tree work done recently? Anything else we should know?”

        Interesting. For his sake I hope he didn’t have some work done on the eve of the vote for this ordinance. For our sake, I hope he did as he would have to recuse himself. Then we could put this sucker up for a vote and have it defeated.

  11. The City Commissioners did the right thing here. Everyone in the room acknowledged that there were major flaws with the ordinance. Even the Mayor called the central goal of it (55% coverage) unrealistic. Asking the Commission to vote in favor of something that is that flawed (or to consider changes made just before the hearing) on the promise that it will be changed later is just fundamentally wrong. The Mayor’s statement that he did not want to hear more public comment on the matter was both shocking and revealing,

    1. The mayor’s statements were bad. His condescending attitude and attempt to strong arm a vote were even worse. His complete dismissal of valid concerns from an overwhelming majority of his constituents are beyond the pale.

      If you think I’m being unfair, I encourage you to watch the video of the proceedings. It was shocking to me. Had Scott Drake not come down on the side of sanity and thoughtful consideration, it seems that Jim Baskett and Fred Boykin would have gotten their wish to pass the ordinance as-is with some vague assurance that it would be “tweaked” in the 90 days before it went online. Thank God for Scott for doing that and for Patti and Kecia for realizing that he was right and that it would be irresponsible to pass the ordinance as-is with no real assurance of the specific changes that would be made.

      I like Fred personally, and I don’t know much about the mayor other than what I saw last night, but I’m fully motivated to campaign against both of them now. The arrogance and willingness to rush into law such a flawed and dangerous idea is something that could really damage our city. And yes, Ms. Merris, it is OUR city, and we will hiss and boo all we want from the peanut gallery when any of our commissioners say things that show their complete disdain for our concerns and welfare.

      So, folks, here we are. In five weeks they will vote again on a similar ordinance. Maybe we will have five days to review it, maybe not. Either way, we need to make our voices heard. Tweaking this catastrophe is not enough. The entire premise and approach must be reconsidered. Let’s make it impossible for them to ignore us.

      1. That is disappointing to hear that about the Mayor’s attitude.
        In politics, when something like this happens I always think, “follow the money.”
        I can’t quite get there on this issue though. What is the motivation for the steamrolling?

        Are they trying to get our City’s name in the press for being the *most* tree-friendly city ever?
        Anyone have a guess why this is so important to the Mayor that he is willing to alienate a large constituency?

        1. I don’t know his motivation and that’s why I did not even speculate. It could be simply that he’s a true believer and is trying to do something for our own good, in a “you’ll thank me later” kind of way. Or it could be something worse. Maybe some enterprising local journalist or reporter will take up that question to give us the answer.

        2. i don’t believe the Mayor is running for re-election, unless he is lured to stay by the factor of now being Mayor (boy he loved trying to steamroll via his roll last night). He almost didn’t run again the last election cycle, telling at least one very good potential candidate that he was not running- then all of a sudden filing his papers to run shortly before the deadline. I believe he has regrets about not passing a tree ordinance when this came up for consideration in 2008. What I don’t understand is his open acknowledgement that the 2008 ordinance was flawed b/c it was written by the Green Commission. Whey on earth did they put this with the Environmental Sustainability Board and not expect the same one-sided result?! Middle ground people, middle ground.

      2. So, when is the mayor up for re-election? One of the things I tout about Decatur is the small town feel in a big city, and a part of that is due to the availability and responsiveness of our elected officials. If our elected officials (and city managers) have now decided that they know what is best for us, and we should just keep our mouths shut (i.e. the Mayor trying to quash public comment), they might be in for a shock on election day. Hopefully some well qualified individuals are taking note and seriously considering running for the commission. If nothing else, a few contested races might remind the commissioners who they work for.

        1. Do we have a recall vote? Or no-confidence? While I realize they are completely unrelated, from the description of the mayor’s attitude and the letter we saw on DM a while back from a FAVE teacher telling us to stop suggesting getting rid of FAVE and adopting a K-5 model, I’m getting very antsy with the idea that we should have no say in our lives. (I get that I am completely conflating two separate incidents, but you don’t tell me that I don’t get a say!)

          1. I too have a problem with how officials for both the city and the schools seem unconcerned with the taxpayers concerns. The position of Mayor is an appointment and I wonder if Jim Baskett could be replaced as Mayor before his current term is up. It is very good to see the new members stand firm and perhaps it is time to get even more new members on the Commission. With as much money as we pay for the privilege of living here and as smart and invested in our community as we are, we need to demand to be heard.

    2. “The Mayor’s statement that he did not want to hear more public comment on the matter was both shocking and revealing,”

      Regardless of his motives/reasoning, this is pretty much what turned my opinion of our Mayor 180 in the other direction. Maybe residents of other municipalities aren’t so finely attuned to being dismissed by their elected officials, but what goes in those places will definitely not wash here. If Mr. Baskett thinks people won’t remember this attitude, he’s sadly mistaken. Since Mr. Boykin seemed to pretty much echo this attitude, he’s lost my support. At least Scott Drake showed some interest in our concerns, and acknowledged some of the flaws in the proposed ordinance. All of this will be kept in mind come next election.

      Here’s hoping “Peter in Decatur” lives in District 1, & that he decides to run for Commissioner. He’s got my vote!

      1. Oh, please no! I’m too honest to be a politician, but happy to help a viable candidate campaign against Commissioner Boykin; I’m not overly impressed with him or Mayor Baskett right now, either.

        In a semi-related note, where can one find a map of commissioners by district? I couldn’t find anything on the city’s site.

        1. On the home page, under City Government/Elections and Voting you will find a page that contains a thumbnail of the voting district map. Click on that. It’s pretty simple: Patti & Kecia represent the south side, Fred and Scott the north side, and Baskett occupies the at-large seat.

  12. One fundamental question that has not been raised is what is the cost of all of this to the tax payers? Clearly there is a cost for government but who decides what should be studied or not. The public or the city? This mirrors the round and round debates we seem to be having up in Washington but on a micro scale. I would be very interested in understanding the number of hours taken to draft an ordinance or the cost of consultants that crafted this package.

    I am however glad that the voice of reason was heard last night.

    A second question I have is what do they expect to accomplish by March? If they have truly been talking about this as the Mayor referenced “for a long time” what is 30 days going to do. Clearly it will cost more tax payer dollars and might waist more time.

    I do not claim to have the answer to this question. I would support a “thoughtful” tree plan focused around the promotion of planting. Can they (the City) start with something that all appeared to agree on like grassroots plans to plant new trees, or incentives to development teams who save or plant more trees than are required. Stupid Simple can often be the best path!!

    1. March was the commission’s way of avoiding both absolute defeat and rolling the proposal into the general UDO.

      I agree about the cost that the city still has yet to quantify. Given the results so far, I also see no reason to throw more money at the same consultant to “tweek” the proposal, as Ms. Merriss suggested.

  13. Also of note- other than a few realtors, none of the actual developers spoke out against the ordinance. Super-regulation people, what does that tell you?

  14. Like Mr Knapp, we are former Decatur residents but still have friends and business interests in Decatur. It seems to me that the main issues are 1) current residents do not want to pay a penalty for cutting down a tree for need (elderly parents moving in) or safety, and 2) the ordinance should discourage clearcutting by developers. One potential solution would be to gradually shift from penalty to incentive according to how many years you have owned the house and whether you have homestead exemption. If I am buying a house to flip it (homestead or not), cutting down trees in the first 3 years would result in financial penalty (paying into the tree fund) whether I replant or not. If I am expanding because my sick mother is moving in with me after having lived in the same house for 10 years, there would instead be an incentive for me to not cut down trees.

    Another approach would be to use the penalty vs. incentive system based on ownership and homestead status. If the house is owned by an LLC, then there is a penalty for cutting down trees at much higher rates than now. If the house is owned by an individual and there is homestead status, then there is an incentive.

    Finally, I think the tree fund will need to be administered with transparency if this is to pass. In order to make sure that the money going into the tree fund is to maintain the canopy, there should be something like an annual planting on Arbor Day in different areas of the City. This will ensure that the money is not repurposed to build new showers in city buildings.

    1. “This will ensure that the money is not repurposed to build new showers in city buildings.”

      Or pay the salary of a full time arborist who has an incentive to keep the bank funded.

    2. 1. What if I’ve owned my house for 12 months and I need to expand in order for my parents to move in? I’m not flipping it.

      2. I’ve seen some rental properties in Decatur operating under LLC; it doesn’t take that much to form one. What if they need to remove a tree on a rental property for safety reasons? Would we penalize them?

      I know you’re just offering ideas, but since we’ve veered the commission away from outright misdemeanors and fees, why not keep it simple and stick strictly to incentives?

      From what I’ve read, Arbor Day plantings are popularly used, but rarely cost very much as landscaping companies and nurseries are happy to donate the trees for tax write-off and name recognition purposes.

  15. As one of the lawyers who spoke (later bashed along with all lawyers by Amanda Thompson for having opinions), I think we need to make the most productive use of the next 5+ weeks before they take this up for a vote again (in some form) on March 3. Can anyone suggest a time and place for a meeting to divide the work of (1) outreach to our less-plugged in neighbors; (2) getting a petition started; (3) engaging the media in this issue; (4) coming up with carrot approaches to replace the sticks in the proposed ordinance; (5) keeping the pressure on the City to release the next draft more than 5 days in advance of March 3, so we all have time to review and weigh in on it; and (6) other?

    1. I was stunned by something Ms. Thompson sort of threw into her comments. In trying to make the maintenance requirements for new trees sound like no big deal, she said yes, you have to mulch, etc., but are we going to check whether you’re doing that? No, we’re not.

      This was an attempt to convince people that Decatur isn’t going to enforce all aspects of the ordinance, so they should not get all worked up about them. Well, if not, then what is the point? Setting that aside, these sorts of unofficial and completely unenforceable winks and nods are telltale signs of a really awful law.

      1. And if not, why do they require an easement to your property?

        And, BTW, where’s the language for that required easement?

        If it’s anything like the easement required for your stormwater detention system, it’s fairly onerous.

      2. Precisely! Poorly written laws lead to arbitrary enforcement where enforcement is even possible at all. Until the meeting last night I was unaware that the primary drafter of this mess was the Sustainability Board. That explains quite a bit. I strongly suggest that they engage with someone with experience drafting legislation. It matters very little what your intentions are if they are not written down in a way that people can understand or implement.

        1. Another questionable aspect is the legal sign-off so far. Numerous questions were posed by self-identified lawyers last night on a variety of topics, from inadequately defined terminology and lack of required supporting documents to the impending legal fall-out and expense resulting from its hasty passage. The city’s dismissive response (stated by Ms. Thompson) is that the attorney has looked at it and doesn’t see a problem as-is. That’s it. During the draft proposal meeting on Jan. 6, the city stated that legal hadn’t even reviewed the document to be considered yet.

          What in the world? I’ve never worked on a major project that didn’t involve a team of lawyers wanting to vet and sign-off on everything, including amendments, over an extended period…

    2. I found the following link which describes how a tree ordinance should be considered. It is mainly about Oak preservation – which is mostly what we are talking about with our canopy – and is mostly descriptive rather than proscriptive.

      What I like about this essay is what many of you have been trying to say to our commissioners:
      – balance private property concerns of the residents versus outside developer concerns
      – Using carrots/incentives rather than sticks/punishments
      – focus on “management” not policy
      – get community buy-in before implementing any plan

      Also, I did notice one example, that the canopy-replacement regulation should look 20 years in the future and that each lot/parcel is different with different requirements. What a common sense thing to propose.

      1. You make some good points.

        The only caution I have is that this is California regulation – California has a very different ecology and tree species makeup than Decatur. We have more trees that grow faster but also don’t live as long.

      1. I’m in. Sunday evening would be best for me. Since I’ve been outed enough times here already, I’ll suggest that anyone interested in this email me ([email protected]) and I can compile an email list to coordinate a meeting time/place and so that people can talk directly even if they can’t make a meeting.

        1. Thank you to everybody who has responded so far (and there’s been at least a half dozen of you)! I may be off-line for the next few hours but I will send a mass email to everyone who has contacted me, and also everyone who contacts me in the meantime, later this afternoon or evening so that we can begin talking amongst ourselves.

    3. My recommendation, if folks are looking to meet up and organize, is that you begin the process by determining exactly what it is everyone wants to accomplish. I say this because WhatAboutConifers’ list above prioritizes three political tactics before any discussion of what might actually work in place of the proposed ordinance. This might lead some on the sidelines to conclude that this could be more about organizing a witch hunt than it is about solving anything.

      That’s fine if what everybody wants is more division and rancor. But my take away from all the comments over the past few days, as well as those in last night’s meeting, is that most people simply want a reasonable, incentive-based way to respect our tree canopy while not penalizing homeowners.

      I encourage folks to organize and believe it’s got the potential to really get us somewhere. But my hope is that everyone devote at least a little time to gathering creative solutions before strategizing their press release to send to the Action News Team.

      1. Witch hunting is not my intention. That didn’t work so well in Salem and I doubt we’d have a better result in Decatur. My primary objective in having folks meet up and talk via email is to do precisely what you propose – come up with goals and objectives that we can agree on and then brainstorm ways to actually achieve them. If you’re worried that it could devolve into an unfocused media circus that will lead to more rancor and division, there’s one really good way to help assure that doesn’t happen. Whatcha doing Sunday?

        1. I’m not worried about it. I was just pointing out that, taking WhatAboutConifers’ initial post at face value, it seems a distinct possibility. Which, for those contacting you looking to help fix the ordinance, would be a distraction. Carry on wit yo bad selves!

          1. I completely agree and feel the idea to engage the media sounds like a very defensive stance. It’s great to see a group organizing. Please don’t forget to include Good Growth Dekalb in the discussion. In all seriousness, I hope this grassroots effort will try to include people like Neil Norton, or perhaps even the ESB themselves, to truly have a community effort.

      2. And here’s an observation from what could fairly be characterized as the Peanut Gallery (at least, I wouldn’t be offended): Now is the time for folks to sort themselves out in terms of who thinks there should not be a tree ordinance at all, and who wants to work toward creating a fair, effective, enforceable approach. The latter group might include people who think it’s not really needed but also see it as inevitable and so want to help make it good. All opposed to this ordinance naturally made common cause to put the brakes on it, but going forward is a different matter.

        1. re whether or not a tree ordinance is inevitable- from my observations at the meeting last night, 4 of the 5 Commissioners are clearly for a tree ordinance of some kind. Baskett and Boyd would pass as amended ordinance (50% canopy requirement, 15% increase in impermeable surface as trigger for canopy requirement, moving to 75cents from 1.50 on unit cost for tree bank), with a few further small improvements. Garrett and Cunningham seem to favor passing some form of this ordinance, but with incentives in place for single family properties rather than punitive measures. Drake seemed to think this was not needed for the most part, but a) may be amenable to supporting an incentive based ordinance, and b) it doesn’t matter what Drake is going to do because an improved tree ordiancne already has the votes to pass.

          I pass these observations along to encourage people to contribute to the brainstorming of incentives for preservation and other middle ground changes we can suggest to provide real alternatives to what is currently in the ordinance.

  16. I am assuming the “emergency” that is prompting the mayor to push this through is the expiring temporary moratorium, which was spurred by clearcutting lots for teardown construction.

    I was not at the meeting- do people think that the mayor realized the ordinance as written will not likely alter this clearcutting behavior?

    1. Remember, at the same time they also proposed a residential demolition moratorium that was rejected. There was more to this than just trees.

  17. Our family has lived in Decatur for 13 years and cherish the relationship we have formed over the years with some of our neighbors. We thoroughly enjoy the outdoors in Decatur. I attended some of the work session last night and the meeting, but had to leave before I could speak.

    The citizen turnout and participation was truly inspiring and everyone’s stated goal is protecting the tree canopy. The vast majority of the citizens spoke out against the tree ordinance in its current form. Commissioner Cunningham expressed that perhaps there were proactive ways to protect trees and maintain our canopy. A carrots vs. sticks approach was also expressed in relation to the ordinance.

    With this in mind, I want to encourage proactive action instead forced fees on Decatur residents to protect the canopy. I am willing to contribute an initial $1,000 of my own money at the next City Commission meeting if my efforts will be matched by each member of the Environmental Sustainability Board (ESB) and Mayor Baskett. This amount is much less than the economic examples of fees that were expressed during the working session by Ms. Amanda Thompson. With 9 ESB members, the Mayor, and me that is $11,000 that can be used to purchase trees for the city. Moreover, I will volunteer 3 hours of my time on a designated Saturday to plant the trees if the ESB members and the mayor agree to match my efforts. This would be $11,000 raised during a single effort by 11 individuals and demonstrate to the community and commissioners that there are different approaches to achieve the goal of maintaining tree canopy. Again, $1,000 is less than the examples of fees associated with tree removal that were presented by Ms. Thompson during the working session.

    Finally, there needs to be a transparent mechanism to ensure that all donations are utilized on purchasing trees. Let’s work together to protect our tress in Decatur.

    1. Also, Trees Atlanta would help us get trees. FWIW, many, many trees have been planted in the city.

  18. I do not care for addressing my opinion on blogs because I feel that they are not representative and are often anonymous, but it appears some of the commissions derive a lot of their information from them, so here I am. There seemed to be lots of misconceptions that went uncorrected last night. The biggest misconception seemed around the cost to residents if they want to remove a tree. Any tree can be removed, and replanting is only required if your lot is less than 55% canopy. Residents can replant using a 15 gallon tree and developer/builders 2.5 inch trees. It will cost $85-$150 to have the arborist come out or if necessary the City Tree Manager can do it for the cost of the permit (I heard $20). So for a home owner it can be done as cheaply as $60 ($40 for the tree, $20 for the permit) not to mention that they might save money on tree that did not need to be removed. The average wait time for the City Arborist in Atlanta is 2.8 days from day of request. There also seems to be a question of how many permits will be sought. One person mentioned 2000. City of Decatur is .03 percent the size of Atlanta (aprox. 3000 acres vs. 91,000 acres) and they had 4500 tree permit request last year, so I am guessing around 500 maximum for Decatur and that is assuming we have 3x the traffic that Atlanta has. That is probably around 1 in 200 households.
    There was very little discussion of the impact on redevelopment. The new ordinance allows the replacement of a 100 year old 3000 ft. canopy tree with two 2.5 inch trees that cost about $400 each. Many spoke of incentives, such low recompense encourages the removal of large trees. because at $800 it would not make sense to keep them. If there is no room to plant the trees, they go to the Tree Bank at a value that was about the same in the old ordinance until the commission discussed cutting the $1.50 to .75 per square foot.
    Replanting trees is expensive. The biggest is expense is having to wait 100 years for the tree to replace the one that was removed. Organized tree planting is also expensive because it requires management of the fund, land to place the trees, the oversight of planting properly, and maintenance of the trees. In the last ten years the Tree Bank planed 138 trees or about 14 trees a year which is testament to its difficulty and limitations. Land is a particularly important component in Decatur as we are the densest City in Georgia and our land values are high. One large 100 year oak could have 7000 square feet of critical root zone, that type of space is not readily available cheaply, hence the importance of retaining exiting trees. On a lot in Oakhurst that could be worth $300K. On commercial it is even more expensive to plant a tree properly which we do not do in Decatur. Typically it can cost up $30K to plant a street tree properly (creating area underneath sidewalks and such for the roots to grow), and if not planted properly as the tree grows it creates all kinds of damage to the infrastructure of which the tax payer is left to pay at the end of its life for the mitigation. Sadly the trees are blamed for this but it really is a tree planting issue and not spending enough at the front end.
    I know this Tree Ordinance is not perfect as you can see from my comments let alone many of yours, but I do feel it is a step in the right direction if our desire it to slow the rate of decline of canopy in Decatur. Ultimately, we all have a responsibility. I do not want this generation of Decatur resident’s legacy to be the one that did not plant the trees for the future.

    1. “Any tree can be removed, and replanting is only required if your lot is less than 55% canopy.”

      Neil, are you 100% certain this is the case? Your statement seems to be contradicted by Number 15 and 16 in the City’s FAQs.

      1. I am certain that is the case. While a permit will be required, if you are equal to or more than 55%, there will be no required replant. This of couse begs the question if it is fair that people are penalzied for have less than 55%. I would prefer the rules are the same regardless of your canopy coverage. It also allows someone to remove 45% of their trees with no consequence. The promblem with that is our current existing canopy number depends on the lots that are heavily forested. I am guessing that most then canopy exists on 20% of the lots. At first I was against the idea of residential property being involved, but lately I like the idea everyone participating at an equal level.

        1. Neil, thanks for weighing in. One of my big sticking points with the ordinance as drafted is that everyone is NOT equally impacted or participating. As others have stated in this thread, if you don’t have to develop anything on your property or have property with a canopy greater than 55% not in your buildable footprint, you pay not a dime- this when your neighbor could have expansion needs or developing the same type of project (and cutting down no trees to do the project), but due a different tree coverage on their lot, pay something like $3308- one of the real examples provided during the work session last night. I find that outrageous and not like the community spirit of coming together that Decatur usually has.

    2. Neil,
      I heard your comments last night and appreciate you attempting to clarify here. Respectfully, I wholeheartedly disagree.

      1. “Any tree can be removed, and replanting is only required if your lot is less than 55% canopy.” Correct, but missing an important point. If I am at 35% and cut a tree down to bump out the back of my house that takes me to 30%, do I pay the tree bank for the 5% difference or for the now 25% difference? So, is it $.75 (or was it $1.50) x replacement sq ft or is it $.75 x cost to bring it back to 55 (or was it 50 % now) target? It is the latter as written.

      2. “On a lot in Oakhurst, a 7K sq ft tree can be worth $300K”. Your calculation of tree value. I am not sure I follow you in your post, but in your comments last night, you tried to make an argument about how valuable trees are on property. A flaw in your reasoning is that you are not accounting for existing R-60 limitations on lot coverage. One can’t build on 100% of a lot, I believe it is set at max 40%. For simplicity sake, assume lot is 10 K sq ft and trees dont cover house. That means I get 500 sq ft of yard/sun, the rest (5,500) has to be covered by trees — or, 92%+ of my property has to be covered by trees. Could you revisit your calculation utilizing real numbers?

      3. You really want our city to enact an ordinance that is ill-defined, open to interpretation and in its current form substantially penalizes homeowners? A terrible precedent to set. Why not just follow Commissioner Drake’s advice and trust the citizens of our community to do the right thing, most of us like trees, want to be neighborly and are proud of our hometown — we won’t scrape it bare.

      1. 1. Depending on the size of the lot, you could just replant to bring you up to 55%. If you planted two 15 gallon white oaks (around $80) you would get 3200 square feet of credit. If you had no room for the trees you could then bank up to 50% to the tree bank but that would be much more expensive so almost would never take place unless you covered every square inch of lot which is unlikely.

        2. That is my point exactly. No large existing tree in most any form of development or redevelopment can be kept on such a small lot because there will be not way not to impact more than 20% of the critical root zone. The tree will be removed and be replaced with two 2.5 inch white oaks, around $800 with a CRZ of around 60 square feet. If your goal was to protect that tree you would have to have penalty that is tied to the value of the land it sits on, other wise $800 is not going to discourage its redevelopment. For more info on this read my blog, Why large Urban Trees are removed at

        3.This is the crux of the matter. I do believe we all enjoy trees and want to do the right thing, especially in Decatur. This ordinance may not save existing large trees but it does get us thinking about it and replanting. The issue is that the value of the land exceeds the value of the trees and because of that there is very little land to plant them (intentionally or voluntarily) and very little incentive to retain them, especially if the foot print of homes continue to increase and we place more pressure on the land. So if we do nothing and do not address it as a community, Decatur will look very different in 100 years.

        The problem is not you or that the me it is that trees doYou really want our city to enact an ordinance that is ill-defined, open to interpretation and in its current form substantially penalizes homeowners? A terrible precedent to set. Why not just follow Commissioner Drake’s advice and trust the citizens of our community to do the right thing, most of us like trees, want to be neighborly and are proud of our hometown — we won’t scrape it bare.

        1. Neil – I don’t understand what happens when a property is pulled into the “canopy coverage process” two or more times. Let’s say I create a disturbance and have to plant your hypothetical white oaks for 3200 sqft credit to get to the arbitrary 55% level . Then, 5 years later, let’s say I need to do something else, and those credit tree’s do not have a canopy coverage of 3200 sqft per the canopy measurement process in the administrative document. Lets say they are only at 400 sqft after 5 years of growth.

          In that case, do I still meet the arbitrary 55% requirement? Do I need to plant even more trees, or pay into the bank since there may be no room for more trees to grow in a healthy manner.

          Going to the extreme – Is it possible that someone might have to pay into the bank several times per year in the case of extraordinary circumstances. What is the impact on a facility such as Agnes Scott College, Columbia Theological Seminary or one of our local churches. I just don’t know based on the documents provided.

          None of this is clear in the document as it is currently written. This example is just ONE problem with the language. As a member of the peanut gallery, it was scary watching Baskett and Boykin push for a vote on this thing with the promise of fixing the problems.


          “1. Depending on the size of the lot, you could just replant to bring you up to 55%. If you planted two 15 gallon white oaks (around $80) you would get 3200 square feet of credit. If you had no room for the trees you could then bank up to 50% to the tree bank but that would be much more expensive so almost would never take place unless you covered every square inch of lot which is unlikely.”

          1. It would not be difficult to track trees by property, not by owner. So the canopy credit a tree receives is always the same regardless of the the number of permits. If the tree grows to exceed that credit, then that vaule can then be used. If the tree dies, a new tree can be planted for $40. Everyone seems confused by the Tree Banking. Recompense to tree bank is an option if planting is not desired or possible, it is never a requirement.

            1. If that is the case, let’s be sure that is written in any ordinance going forward. It has to be very clear.

        2. I heard you speak last night and wanted to address a mixture of that and your post.

          1. You can’t ignore property rights. Anecdote: Would you ever tell your friend how to raise their child? I might enjoy being around the kid, but if I’m not paying to feed and clothe him, that’s a hornet nest I’m not willing to touch. So why is the property they live on any different? By this logic, if trees and children are both our future, then we should also require a fee from parents to dictate how they raise their children from now on. Since you advocated last night for higher than $1.50 per sq ft, what would you propose we set the child raising fee at? Or should we recognize that outside influence should have its limits?

          2. I don’t recall concern about permit numbers. I do recall a) concern that the new ordinance will make it cost prohibitive and a bureaucratic burden for homeowners to remove and maintain trees on their own property and b) that there isn’t a defined problem. Neither the consultants, nor the city have yet to provide any material that convinces the majority we have a problem. The city claims its canopy shrunk by 0.12% per year from 2005-10, or 12 trees per 10,000, during a large construction boom. You can’t legislate emotions or morality, just facts. If we put this to a vote and the citizens defeated it, would you accept their decision?

          3. I agree, space is increasingly limited. Hence the push for density, which creates walkability, a closer social community, multiple personal health benefits, encourages more public transit (helping trees), less land use per person, and less traffic, i.e. less noise pollution and exhaust fumes, which harm trees. Walkability requires development, though. You can plant some trees, just not a lot. You can’t have everything both ways. Density here, however, means less focus on development further out and more potential preservation there. What’s so bad about that?

          4. Many have discussed redevelopment. Commercially, this ordinance would make me reconsider locating my potential new business to somewhere nearby that didn’t attach the extra cost, like Avondale Estates or north of the city. How does attaching more fees or tree requirements help promote business development in areas like East Decatur Station, which helps our commercial tax base and encourages further development and density in an otherwise bare light industrial area. Cities change; Decatur didn’t look like this 100 years ago and won’t 100 years from now. You can’t control everything.

          5. “I do not want this generation of Decatur resident’s legacy to be the one that did not plant the trees for the future.” Who says people haven’t been planting trees?

          1. Hey Peter,

            1. I consider property more of a privledge than a right. If I am a good steward of my property than it is unlikely that I will impact others negatively, however if it my right than that allows me to do all kinds of things that might not be neighborly. Trees are different than kids because they inexerably linked to the land so I am having a hard time understanding the metaphor. I guess if the kid threw a rock at me, I might have something to say.

            2. I would accept it but I would not agree with it.

            3. I believe that being surrounded by trees and green space makes us better mentally and physically. There is a lot of science that supports this premise (see Kathy Wolf of University of Washinton’s studies at For this reason, I believe green infrastructure should be interdispersed where ever humans reside, so particularly in Cities. Obviously, these spaces need to be smaller given the land limitations, but present.

            4. Trees have been demostrated to give a sense of place. People spend more and visit areas with Trees and shade ( Trees cost money, so you pay to play in a area with trees, what ever makes sense for your business.

            5. People are planting trees all the time. Although my obsrvation is they are planting smaller species with less canopy as air conditinoning has become ubiquitous. Also,trees are planting themsselves less via self propagation as more land is either highly managed to remove young trees and/or is impervious.

            1. Sorry, man. You lost me completely at your first statement, “I consider property more of a privledge than a right.” Any statement you make after that is completely irrelevant.

              It IS my property, and it IS my right, because I paid the hundreds of thousands of dollars to OWN it.

              With that one sentence, you have proved that all your arguments for the ordinance are baseless.

              1. You own it or the bank owns it? 🙂

                Property ownership will mean little if the earth is hit by a meteor or is flooded by polar melting or fried by global warming. So I think we have to think a little bit outside the box of “MINE !” Our founding fathers clearly cared about individual rights but they also cared about the power of reason (Age of Enlightenment and all that).

                I’m known for being gullible but do have faith that the collective good and rights of the individual can co-exist.

                1. I own it. Mortgage is paid off.

                  I agree that just because I own it, I can’t just do anything I want with it. But individual property rights are not a privilege, which was my point to Mr. Norton.

                  1. Well, there was a time when the king (or, rarely, the queen) owned everything. And, at other times in history and in other places, the state or a tribal or religious group has owned everything. So, in that sense, property rights are a privelege of being born in this time and country.

                    I admit I’m biased. Of all the individual liberties, I’ve only found property ownership moderately satisfying on balance, given the responsibilities as well as the benefits. Clothes, food, toiletries, work-saving devices, entertainment, and children I enjoy owning. Land, buildings, and complicated electronic devices not so much.

                    1. Property rights are natural rights, just like the freedom of speech. The government doesn’t exist to grant them, it exists to protect and preserve them.

                    2. And the evidence base for property rights being a natural right is? (Just playing devil’s advocate. Had a discussion with a colleague at work yesterday about whether all policy and decisions should be evidence-based. What is the role of values?)

                    3. There’s no hard evidence as such, it’s just a matter of centuries of political philosophy, supported by long experience showing that treating basic rights as privileges leads to tyrrany and oppression.

                    4. AHID, some thoughts from the Father of the Constitution…Life and liberty, of course, can be maintained if property is lost. Property lost can be regained; liberty lost can be regained only with the greatest exertions. Therefore it is wise to take alarm at the slightest inroads upon the rights of property. The right to property thus serves as a kind of “early warning system” to invasions of life and liberty. Madison’s emphasis on the right of property stems from his awareness that life and liberty are mainly jeopardized through the violation of property rights—that government’s demands on citizens bear most immediately and visibly on their property, whether through direct taxation, confiscation, or regulation of the use of property. It is therefore prudent, Madison reasoned, to make property the test and measure of liberty.

                    5. I’m no lawyer… but I did take an Agriculture Law course back in college.

                      As I recall, property rights flow from common law that predates the US constitution.

            2. “I consider property more of a privledge than a right.”

              The food in your refrigerator is property. Is it a mere privilege to own it, to be taken away at the whim of a bare political majority?

  19. One thing I find interesting about the results on the Open City Hall is in the demographics. The 30-49 groups are overwhelmingly strongly opposed to the ordinance. The 50-79 groups are much closer to 50/50. Why is that? One of the more articulate commenters last night talked about how the ordinance created winners and losers – I see it more as the “I’ve got mine, you can’t have yours” phenomenon. It’s easy to see tree protection as the highest priority when you don’t have to worry about expanding your home to accommodate your growing family. I am happy the Commission did not pass the ordinance last night, but I don’t think this thing is over by a long shot. The folks behind the ordinance will put a little lipstick on that pig and bring it back out next month. The Commissioners (with the exception of Drake who appears genuinely opposed) will hope the opposition is worn down and distracted and they will try again to pass it. Be ready!

    1. I’d be interested in seeing what trends are identified with more specific questions in a city-wide survey. In this case: What year did you buy your house? How much did you pay? Have you renovated your house? Do you have future plans for renovation? What size range does it fall in? What income level? Pro or anti-development or it depends? Do you support commercial expansion? Do you place more emphasis on A or B? B or C? Do you have sufficient trees on your lot? Are your taxes too high? Do you have children or extended family living with you, i.e. how many live in your household? Is gentrification bad? Do you like to garden? etc..

      My point is, I bet the data would not only identify the different main groups with common preferences on the opposition and support sides of different issues, but also reaffirm a common goal for citizens and give everyone a better starting point to reach consensus while removing outliers, like special interests.

      1. I design surveys for a living (good ones that yield valid and actionable findings). I’d be interested in hearing more of your thoughts along these lines. If you are interested in chatting offline, DM can hook us up.

  20. The Mayor’s vote to not even delay the vote is inexcusable. Even most proponents thought it should be delayed. He needs to resign. That is all.

    1. Seriously? Did he steal our tax dollars, buy a home in Belize, and spit on the city from the plane on his way out? Calm down dude.

      1. Yeah, no.

        If you saw and heard the overwhelming majority of the commenters last night and knew their credentials, the Mayor did indeed spit on the city from the plane, unfortunately, not on his way out.

  21. Since it’s been brought up a couple of times here, I want to address the Environmental Sustainability Board’s role in the tree protection ordinance development. As full disclosure, I have served on the ESB since its inception in 2008, and currently chair the board. Also in disclosure, I am planning to build a garage/driveway in a couple of years that will require removal of two boundary trees on my property, so I will personally feel the impact of any ordinance that the city adopts.

    First off, the ESB was established to advise the Commission on matters related to environmental sustainability in the city – not to push any certain agenda. Second, the Commission asked the ESB to serve as the steering committee for the development of the tree protection ordinance. We did not write the ordinance (that task fell to Connie Head, who the city hired as a consultant), but rather helped facilitate community involvement & feedback on it. The meetings that happened with the community and real estate/development professionals happened because the ESB pushed for them. We have also provided our individual and collective feedback based on the many conversations we’ve had with friends and neighbors and comments on the blogs and neighborhood listserves.

    I don’t think anyone on the ESB believes that an ordinance is the “be all, end all” to protecting tree canopy in Decatur. Incentive programs, education, and other similar initiatives are critical to achieving continuous vibrant canopy. If that is what we want as a community, the question then becomes how to fund it. The tree bank established in the proposed ordinance is one way – and has the advantage of tying payment directly to impact – and the per-property fee like Chris B proposed last night is another. But we have to find funding somewhere if that’s what we want.

    I think the challenge in this process is to appropriately balance private property rights with the property rights of neighbors (e.g., in protecting their trees & mitigating against adverse storm water impacts) and the quantifiable ecological services trees provide to the community.

    Speaking now for myself, I am personally uncomfortable with writing a requirement in an ordinance (i.e., “shall”) but then saying that it’ll be applied at the discretion of city staff. If discretion is intended, it should be clearly written that way – language should match intent. I’ve pushed the city on that point. I and others on the ESB have also pushed to change other areas of the ordinance that were written – intentionally or not – as being overly restrictive/punitive to homeowners.

    I welcome everyone’s continued constructive thoughts and feedback on this ordinance and what we can do to ensure a ecologically vibrant Decatur for ourselves, our kids, and our grandkids. Please talk to me or any of the other ESB members (and of course our Commissioners) about your thoughts and ideas. We are your neighbors & we want to help get this as right as we can.

    1. KC, I think your second-to-last paragraph nails it. If you serve on the ESB and shared those concerns it becomes even more puzzling why the City pushed this flawed ordinance so quickly.

    2. So if I understand KC correctly, some of the language of the ordinance contradicts the intent of even the Enviromenal Sustainability Board? It seems like the consultant in this case has really done the City a disservice. Even more reason that the Commission should table this ordinance indefinately (rather than intentionally passing a bd law as the Mayor pushed) and start back at the drawing board.

      What a mess!

      1. I wouldn’t go as far as to say “contradicts”. Some of the feedback the ESB provided was not incorporated into the ordinance language for various reasons. I’ll let city staff discuss those reasons if they so choose.

        Also, FWIW, I think that the general framework of the ordinance is sound. I don’t think it need to be scrapped entirely. Could it be tightened up to better address my (and others’) concerns? Absolutely.

        1. I am not a COD resident, so I ask simply as an interested observer:

          Isn’t it the case that two ESB members spoke on behalf of the proposed ordinance last night, with neither disclosing that certain ESB feedback was not incorporated? At least I don’t recall them saying that.

        2. I appreciate the insight into the “behind the scenes” discussions and your request for criticism. But, I just don’t agree that the general frawework is sound and will not agree so long as the starting point is that homeowners could face huge expenses or penalties if they choose to exercise their rights to expand their home, or cut down a tree they feel is unsafe and is keeping them up at night every time a storm blows through, or even if they want to start a garden and need a little less shade. I also will not agree with the framework so long as boundary trees grant residents some level of control over their neighbor’s yards.

          Noone has articulated why 55% is the number we must hit. The fact that it suddenly was dropped to 50% confirms just how arbitrary the number is. Noone has articulated why, for example, we would face armageddon if we fell to, gasp, 35%. The “look” and “feel” of the city isn’t justification enough to impose those burdens on homeowners. And I won’t get behind any ordinance unless the target canopy coverage can be justified. If you can show me and other opponents that we actually have a problem, you would have much more support in your efforts.

          You want an incentive idea? This may not work, but I am throwing it out there. Why not freeze tax assessments for three (or two or four, whatever) years after an expansion so long as a homeowner replants trees and obtains a or doesn’t fall below a reasonable (say 25-30%) coverage. Or, perhaps it could be on a sliding scale – if you replace half of the lost canopy, no increase in taxes for three years. If you don’t replant, you are subject to an immediate reassessment. This doesn’t cost anyone a thing and would provide a sizable incentive to replant.

          Although I personally don’t agree, if people want to target developers, have more strenuous rules for developers building a spec home (you would need to apply the same rules for renovations to homeowners who own the property and hire a contractor to build them a house).

          1. Let me add that I firmly believe we don’t need a tree ordinance at all. We didn’t obtain the nearly 50% coverage we have today by accident – it is the result of conscious decisions by the residents of CoD. I also believe that damn near all of us appreciate the canopy, its look and feel, etc., and although we (excluding developers) may take down a tree or two for the purposes stated above, I don’t know of a single resident clear cutting his/her lot, and I have no reason to believe that will change. So, I am not advocating that we adopt the tax incentive from the above post. Rather, I am just illustrating that we can incentivize residents to replant without costing anyone a dime.

        3. Interesting to me that the ESB is trying to distance itself from the Ordinance a little bit. You laid the groundwork for this last night with your comments about not agreeing with all the points in the Ordinance.

  22. What is the status of the moratorium? Does it still expire on the 24th or is it continued until this is resolved?

  23. ONe of the reasons the city has its current canopy is that in pre air conditioning days, trees were valued as helping to cool homes. That alone gave people an incentive to plant and maintain large trees.
    I rarely hear anyone mention that benefit anymore, although it does still apply in keeping the AC bill a bit lower.
    Our canopy has aged, and combining that with hotter summers and more frequent droughts, trees appear to be a threat as much as a benefit.
    The other reason we have a canopy is homes used to be a lot smaller, and there was a lot more room on the lot for trees. It’s pretty hard to find anyone who wants to raise a family in a 1000 sf home with one bath, although that was the intended use when those homes were built. Bigger homes mean there is less room for trees.
    I don’t agree with the statement that since we have an existing canopy it will always be with us. I think there are several factors that have changed . I would like to hear more about the Athens ordinance, how it is structured, and how its worked.

    1. “an existing canopy it will always be with us.”

      Nor should we pretend like it’s always been here. Decatur wasn’t a ten thousand year old growth forest when the initial subdivisions were started, it was farmland. There’s a reason the canopy is all the same age.

  24. I agree completely that there is no need for this regulation.
    Property owners don’t chop down trees for fun and to harm their own property values. They choose to for good reasons. The comments from the meeting about MAK proved there was no need. 5 trees in a year. There’s a real emergency.

    I also don’t buy the concept that trees are a shared resource owned by the entire community.
    They are plants, and part of someone’s landscape. The trees on my lot are part of my landscape.

    In fact, even without being forced to, we planted a dogwood last year. We wanted a tree, so we planted one. Now, I wonder if we should just whack it so it doesn’t get regulated.

    Are my azaleas a shared resource,my begonias? They really brighten up the street during the spring and folks love to drive by and see them. The add to the ambiance of the community.
    Why are trees any different? Just because they are bigger?

    1. Amen. And my dog, which is a helluva watch dog and, in all seriousness, has given warning to my neighbors, is appreciated by them and an asset to the community. Is he now community property?

      I also wish I had less tree canopy so I could have pretty grass. Instead, I have brown crap. Grass produces oxygen (yay oxygen!) and its attractivness no doubt adds to curb appeal of my property, which certainly adds to Decatur’s appeal.

      And, FWIW, I don’t like an overgrown, overwhelming tree canopy. There. I said it. It’s messy. And the “designated wildlife sanctuary” yards? Look like Fred Sanford’s truck oughta be parked in there.

  25. Are fig trees a community resource? If so, I’ve seen some delicious looking community resources in Decatur that will save me some money at the farmer’s market next summer. Thanks in advance fellow residents! 🙂

  26. Having read the ordinance only once, perhaps i missed it.

    How are residents of Decatur who are not homeowners contributing to the preservation of the shared resource of trees?

    Also, what is the estimated economic cost in aggregate for city of Decatur homeowners per year? Examples were provided for different situations during the working session, but a total yearly estimate was not provided. This analysis would have to be a part of any planning.

  27. The only thing I will say is that if you don’t think we are losing tree coverage you simply aren’t looking.I’ve had 2 teardowns on my street and 1 was completely cleared and replanted with 3 small trees,not to mention a LOT of other throughout the neighborhood.Look at the lot on the corner of Candler and Brower,it was full of trees,gone,also the big subdivision going on down on midway.This ordinance may not be the one,but something has to be done and fairly soon

  28. I don’t think that the City has properly laid the groundwork for explaining to residents why there is a crisis. Secondarily, could the City determine a goal for the entire City? Instead of applying an arbitrary tree canopy coverage percentage to EVERY LOT individually, determine a city-wide projected goal. Then you could line up your strategies for meeting that goal. Start first with City property. Then address incentives for individual lot owners….etc. This would provide flexibility so that areas that need to be left tree-free (baseball fields, gardens, pools) can. Some areas will have higher percentages….other areas lower. If trees are being promoted as a common resource, then we need to measure canopy across a broad area instead of trying to create an urban forest on each individual property owner’s lot.

    1. “instead of trying to create an urban forest on each individual property owner’s lot.” — The crux of the matter?

    2. This makes more sense to me than anything else I’ve read on the topic. We all have something to contribute to the common good. In my case, it’s more likely to be brownies or fundraising for school than anything green. Hopefully, if I overdo the brownie thing, someone else can contribute my share of the canopy. I don’t remove green things from my yard but I expect them to plant themselves, water themselves, and spread their own roots and canopy.

      1. AHID, this is a major point that I’ve been hoping people would get. Please get involved in the discussion across the political aisle to move us in a more positive direction. My email address is above ([email protected]) and my cell number is 404-414-3110. We can do this!

  29. I was intrigued when I saw there were 123 comments on this topic. I was disappointed to see that half of the comments were from the same 8 people who keep whining amongst themselves!!

    I am confident some version will pass in March and honor the vision of the majority of Decaturites. I am fine if this vocal minority does not support this ordinance…but I hope no one confuses the vocal minority from the rest of us who share a similar vision of respect for the environment. It is probably the same 8 people who were against the ban on smoking in public places and we now know, looking back, how myopic the vocal minority was over that issue.

    1. The opponents are in the minority? You need to go to Open City Hall and take a gander. It’s not even close. I’ll tell you what happened here. A vocal minority got in the City’s ear and stayed there for years. The City decided things had to be really bad so something must be done. Then that same vocal minority crafted this piece of crap that won’t even prevent the one thing everybody talks about – teardown clearcuts.

    2. [ Ignore self moderated guttural reactionary response preemptively deleted]

      Then I’ll move on to ask if you actually read the overwhelming 5 to 1 oppose vs support comments in the Open City Hall responses? Or heard the bulk of the commentary at the commission meeting last night?

      When it comes to your phrasing and the use of the word ‘majority’, I can only respond –

      “You keep using dat wurd. I dunna think it means what you think it means.”

      1. these majority/minority arguments are interesting because Decatur has a population of about 20,000(give or take) and 200(again give or take )voted on the online petition and even less on here.I wonder what the outcome would be if the whole city got involved,which will never happen I guess

    3. Is all you have managed to gather from the conversation from the 500+ comments on this site, and the commission meeting (including words from commissioners) is that people who didn’t support this particular ordinance as-is, don’t respect the environment? For reals?

  30. What have we done as a community to address the issue fisbn? I’ve only been reading DM for about 2 months but I don’t recall anyone bringing up the topic in the areas you share. Also, there seems to be disagreement over whether there is the goodwill for residents to protect our natural environment on our own, without ordinances. I don’t recall a city wide initiative promoting tree planting. Was there an initiative? There are a lot of good folks in Decatur who would volunteer their time and money if we could communicate better with one another.

  31. On the notion that trees are a shared resource that benefit the entire community — that may be, but so is the city of Decatur’s reputation. If the city gets a reputation as a place with overreaching government and excessive regulation, it will hurt the entire community. It will be harder to sell your home when the time comes and make it harder for the city to maintain its tax base. That will have consequences for all the programs the city likes to fund and be counter-productive in the long run.

  32. Neighbors,
    I get that many of you are fired up about this tree ordinance, but we really need to step back and evaluate where this discussion has been going. So far on this topic on DM we have

    1.Incorrectly accused Greg Coleson
    2.Incorrectly accused Ed Macie
    3.Assumed the ESB was 100% behind this ‘nefarious’ ordinance and plan to pass it
    4.Suggested we involve the media after what I consider was a win for opponents to the ordinance
    5.And some are now calling for the Mayor’s resignation

    Our Mayor is not Rob Ford. Although you may have disagreed with his commentary at the meeting and position on this issue, it seems a far reach to ask him to resign.

    We are a community full of intelligent, passionate, and generally good-hearted people. Let’s channel this passion for a positive outcome to this discussion. Let’s have lawyers, arborists, and AHID to help draft an improved ordinance. As I suggested earlier, please extend the olive branch to Neil Norton, Ed Macie, the ESB, heck even Mayor Basket, to come up with a wholly supported path forward.

    We are better than this.

    1. I agree with this sentiment. Except, to quote a stereotyped character in “Gone with the Wind”, I don’t know nuthin’ about birthin’ no ordinances. A lot of you good folks do and I’m behind all reasonable efforts that attempt to build consensus.

    2. I am guilty of these things and completely agree with the general intent of what you’re saying.

      However, people aren’t reacting so much to what the Mayor said, but rather his wanton disregard of the will of the majority. His actions revealed his true intentions regarding this ordinance and the difficulties that bringing a better solution will face.

      And as an aside, I’m glad you feel that the ATL tree ordinance is so bad that it’s authorship is something to be ‘accused’ of.

    3. It would be nice for Mayor Baskett to explain his inexplicable desire to ram this ordinance through, or anyone that supported the ordinance really.

      1. Did he honestly believe exorbitant fines on homeowners was the will of the majority of people?
      2. How did he believe this ordinance was anything resembling the developer tree ordinance that many people were originally on board with? Was it oversight, or did he just not care?
      3. Is he going to continue using tunnel-vision when it comes to environmental issues?

      Before I’d offer an olive branch I’d need to know to the answers to some of these questions.

    4. I believe Mayor Baskett owes the community (and Commissioner Garrett) an apology. He blatantly mis-stated Commissioner Garrett’s position to serve his own purpose, he continually refused to acknowledge any opposition to the proposal, and he insisted on passing an ordinance that he acknowledged was broken and would need to be fixed before it became effective. I have much higher expectations for a City of Decatur city council member. He has a deep hole to climb out of. An apology from him would be a good first step.

  33. Hello Curious – I am happy to engage in an open discussion on this forum as my time allows. I have some questions. Perhaps you or some of the folks you mention can provide some simple information to DM readers.

    Can you share the text of the petition that acquired 700 signatures utilized to advance the ordinance? Does the petition mention fees on homeowners? Are all individuals who signed Decatur residents? I think it would be very interesting to compare the specificity of the petition text to the specificity of the ordinance text.

    How are residents of Decatur who are not homeowners contributing to the preservation of the shared resource of trees?

    What is the estimated economic cost in aggregate for city of Decatur homeowners per year? Examples were provided for different situations during the working session, but a total yearly estimate was not provided.

  34. Savannah Ga = beautiful tree City. It has a tree ordinance. But under “EXEMPTIONS” to the ordinance and permitting requirements states: “Residential lots w/ existing single family or duplex provided the residential use continues and the property is not zoned for other use.”

  35. Just to follow up on some posters’ reactions to my initial suggestion to engage the media. The media was at the January 21 commission meeting, the camera guy/reporter stood right next to me those long hours and I asked him as he left if he was a reporter and he confirmed he was.

    The issue has already made the news.

    Involving the media in a public controversy is something we have the freedom to do in our country. It can also help get the word out to people who may watch the news but not read DM.

    1. Trees benefit our community in many ways, such as: aesthetics; decreased urban noise and air pollution; energy and soil conservation; minimize flooding; food and cover for healthy urban wildlife; and economic value and stability to business and residential neighborhoods.
    2. Tree canopy cover in Decatur has decreased 4% over the last 17 years. This loss is due to more and larger commercial and residential developments in recent years. A reversal of this trend is essential to the quality of life in our community.
    3. Decatur’s tree ordinance and administrative guidelines are weak and need revision to improve clarity, consistency; and strength including: tree canopy conservation requirements; updated standards and a recommended tree species list.
    4. The capacity for program administration is inadequate to meet current community forest management goals. Decatur should hire a full-time City arborist and utilize a Tree Preservation Board (Environmental Sustainability Commission) for a more cost-effective administration and an improved Tree Protection Program.
    5. Community Education and Involvement is a critical component of the Tree Preservation and Protection Program. The City should help educate homeowners and businesses about benefits of tree proliferation/preservation; use of good practices to ensure trees remain healthy; local requirements and more.
    6. Tree Protection Plans and resulting tree fees from new development and redevelopment projects must result in actual tree protection. Swift enforcement should be taken against developers or other individuals who impact trees previously designated as protected. Repeat offenders should be publicized and not be granted additional development in Decatur for a specific time period.
    7. Tree Bank Funds must be used exclusively for tree protection and canopy preservation purposes with emphasis on preservation, protection and/or replacement of trees in immediate neighborhoods affected by significant canopy loss due to development activities.
    8. Decatur must evaluate and publicize the recent comprehensive tree inventory and designate historic and specimen trees for recognition and additional protection.
    9. Decatur should create an incentive plan for builders and renovators to keep existing trees in buildable lot areas rather than removing them. Incentives may include (but not limited to) yard signs/flags recognizing tree-friendly site development plans; discounted permit fees; fast track permitting and variance request privileges; and special taxation considerations.
    10. We concur with the conclusions and recommendations of the City of Decatur Community Forest Plan (November 2012) that support the statements presented above. We believe improvements should be made now, not later, to slow down the on-going destruction of the City’s urban forest.

    There are currently 132 signatures. NEW goal – We need 200 signatures!

    1. This gives me an idea:

      Citizens of Decatur,

      I implore you to each pay Peter in Decatur a dollar each month in perpetuity. It’s not much, he’s a nice guy, and come on, don’t you feel better helping someone out? If you agree, he promises he won’t bother you about it for a while and he’ll spend 30% of it at local watering holes. If you contribute more, he’ll throw in a hand-signed personal note. Please also see the pending Peter really wants a boat petition.

      Yours Truly,
      Someone Else

      Fingers crossed!

  37. DM has a link to Decaturish on the homepage.


    This is the downstream result of the above petition.

  38. Here’s another idea for incentivizing tree conservation and engaging people in the cause: some kind of cap-and-trade system whereby a tree needing removal over here prompts a tree being planted over there. Example: I need to take out an old, unsteady tree that imperils my neighbor’s house. The only space I have for replanting is in the same spot, but I’d really like to try my hand at growing tomatoes and am willing to forego whatever incentive I would have gotten for replanting. If a neighbor has space for another tree and is willing to plant one, then they qualify to receive the incentive instead of me. See? Nobody gets bopped on the head. There’s no net loss of canopy. Ideally, the program is administered in such a way that it incorporates some kind of corny little ceremony in which the two neighbors exchange some kind of token of the whole thing. Maybe the yard with the new tree gets to display a Hometown Tree-ro sign for a period of time, or something.

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