Decatur City Commission Discusses Tree Ordinance, Gives Sense of Changes That Will Be Made

During a work session at Decatur City Hall last night, the Decatur City Commission publicly discussed some proposed changes to the proposed tree ordinance.  You can watch the work session HERE, but here’s one stab at a summary of items that were discussed.

  • No net loss of tree canopy – Previously, the draft ordinance looked to increase tree canopy coverage to 50%, but now the commission is looking at a goal to maintain the current city’s 45% coverage.
  • Every tree removed would require a no-cost, “informational” permit, but residents would be able to remove up to 3 healthy trees in an 18 month period without activating the ordinance.  Also, any tree deemed to be diseased or dying could be taken down at any point without activating the ordinance. The ordinance would only be triggered when a property owner decided to take down a 4th tree in an 18 month period.  The commission discussed that this would allow residents to remove any trees they thought were a potential danger, while also preventing clear-cutting.
  • Increasing impervious coverage – if you increased the impervious coverage by 15% or more (the size of a very large shed) and you were below the 45% canopy, you would be subject to the ordinance.
  • Regarding boundary trees – there was general consensus about keeping the elements in the current draft that wouldn’t prevent a neighboring property from building on a site that would impact a neighbor’s tree, but instead would require the developing property to pay for the loss of the neighboring tree.

According to Decaturish, the commission is planning to have a draft of the ordinance by April and vote on the final ordinance in May.

11 thoughts on “Decatur City Commission Discusses Tree Ordinance, Gives Sense of Changes That Will Be Made”

  1. I would love for the staff or Commissioners to define what No Net Loss actually means. During the discussion last night, at some times it seemed like it would be a “tree for a tree” on individual residential lots- i.e. if an individual residential property owner had to cut a tree to develop, then you had to plant a tree elsewhere on your property or contribute to the tree bank. Then other times it seemed as if No Net Loss meant a 45% canopy requirement- though I never got the sense it meant that individual property owners would be required to plant their lots to 45% canopy if the lot didn’t have that much canopy prior to any development action that triggered the ordinance. However, the commercial development canopy requirement discussion did seem to say that 45% canopy coverage would be required (dealt with in tree bank funds in large part).

    1. Don’t worry. I’m sure the final draft will be crystal clear and resolve all ambiguities. They have high paid consultants for that!

      1. J_T, if laws were written clearly, it would materially limit the earning potential of you litigators. Between now and the time this thing becomes law, you should become a tree law expert. You can use your newfound fortune to cover your tree bank tab when you finally get around to expanding your home.

        1. I guess I’ll need to figure out whether I can make more money doing this or by becoming an arborist.

    1. The info permit is so that the city can track tree canopy status, plus let homeowners know replanting options- maybe even replanting via a tree funded by the tree bank. If not interested, the homeowner can just toss it. I think this is a piece of the incentive driven canopy growth that many have preferred (as opposed to mandatory planting as originally proposed). This part of the ordinance, I can get behind.

    1. As J_T notes, the details are still to be filled in, but basically by “triggering” the ordinance, replanting and/or tree bank fee requirements, and, in the case of boundary trees, financial tree bond requirements, will spring to life. Triggers will likely be the increase in impervious surface on a lot (15% or more), or serious ground disturbance in tree zones (yes, it seemed from the meeting they are keeping that ambiguousness in).

    2. The question that came to my mind is whether the first 3 trees were still “free”, or if you remove 4, you have to replant or pay for all 4. At this point, I am going to wait until the revised ordinance is made available. I don’t think anyone knows the answers at this point.

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