Decatur City Commission Unanimously Passes Revised Tree Ordinance

The Decatur City Commission passed the revised tree ordinance in a 5-0 vote last night.  The ordinance promotes a “no net loss” of the city’s current 45% canopy coverage.  

Under the new ordinance, residents will be allowed to remove up to three 6-inch diameter trees every 18 months without incurring a penalty, though owners will be required to file a free informational permit so the city can track canopy changes.  It’s a complicated ordinance, but highlights include a “no net loss” requirement is triggered when a land disturbance permit is filed and the replanting requirement is triggered when impervious coverage is increased on a lot by 15% or more. 

In remarks prior to the vote, Mayor Baskett noted the fact that the City Commission meeting room was less crowded then earlier this year when the first version came up for a vote.  “The fact that this room is not full of people tonight may be construed as we wore people down. It may be construed, as the fact, that we’ve addressed a lot of the issues people had and they didn’t feel as strongly about it.”  He continued, “We’re not going to make people happy that wanted to see something much, much stronger.  We’re not going to make people happy who want government to stay out of their lives.”  He also reiterated his personal experience with a border tree nearly being cut down adjacent to his property and his desire for revised border tree regulation.

Commissioner Patti Garrett noted that she believed they had addressed many of residents’ concerns, including that there’s no longer a canopy goal of 55% for every lot when something is done to a property, there are now incentives to replant, and there is double canopy coverage for specimen trees.

Commissioner Scott Drake closed out the commission’s comments on the subject saying that “we need to trust our neighbors, and talk to our neighbors.  Tell them what we’re doing, ask them what their input is.”  He continued “It is a confusing new ordinance, so there’s going to be an education that needs to happen.  I think the arborist is going to be busy answering questions and trying to put this in a digestible package for people who are looking to do projects.”  He went on to express hope that the arborist would continually flag any inefficiencies in the process and that the commission would make changes in the future if issues were identified.  The Mayor concurred on this point.

Decaturish also has a good article on the topic this morning.  You can review the full ordinance HERE and you can view this portion of the Commission meeting HERE (click on Item V and VI A)

The effective date of the revised ordinance is Monday, July 7th.

58 thoughts on “Decatur City Commission Unanimously Passes Revised Tree Ordinance”

  1. “He also reiterated his personal experience with a border tree nearly being cut down adjacent to his property and his desire for revised border tree regulation”

    Well, at least we finally know what was driving this ordinance. The Mayor was unhappy a neighbor of his planned to take down a border tree that wasn’t on his property, and so he decided to take property rights from all citizens just to make sure this didn’t happen to him again. Enjoy your time in office Mr. Mayor – it won’t last long.

  2. “we need to trust our neighbors, and talk to our neighbors. Tell them what we’re doing, ask them what their input is.” REALLY, Scott?

    If we trusted our neighbors we wouldn’t need an ordinance that gives us veto power over development on each other’s property, now would we? The boundary tree provisions are really the worst of this overall poorly conceived and realized ordinance. I will be shocked if the city doesn’t face a lawsuit over its enforceability within a few months. Just complete arrogance that you guys would ram through this unwanted layer of regulation. You let a fringe element sway you. So disappointing…

  3. I guess the “Open City Hall” is pretty much worthless. People who commented continued to be against the ordinance but yet that feedback was explicitly disregarded.

    I still don’t believe everyone actually read the document in its entirety.

    I had hoped for a decision based on a majority of the opinions of residents, not the loudest voice.

    This isn’t democracy it’s “activistocracy.” I’m very disappointed in my elected representatives in Decatur government.

    1. “I guess the “Open City Hall” is pretty much worthless.”

      So are open meetings with public input. The opposition by a majority of residents couldn’t have been any clearer to our commissioners, but they passed the ordinance anyway.

      1. The commissioners seemed very relieved that the turnout was low last night. I got the impression that they were well and decided to pass this thing regardless of the number of people who spoke against it, but it made the experience much more pleasant for them when the attendance was low and there were only two people speaking against it. There was some mention of “other input” from constituent sources “outside of DecaturNext” (not direct quotes, just the way I remember what was said) but no specifics about from whom or in which direction. Kinda makes me wish someone would request copies of all of their emails under the Georgia Open Records Act…

        1. This is an excellent idea! Too bad we don’t know any local social and news bloggers who might have the time and inclination to do it…

        2. Considering they seem ready to hire based on a couple of things I had read, I also got that impression. I’m just curious to see who it will be, I’m sure they interview many but ultimately they will probably choose a connected name we’ve seen before.

          And count me in to the group who would like to know exactly why they voted how they voted. If the majority is a against, what precisely did they make the decision on? I agree someone needs to dig up some dirt on their decision making process. I think when you serve at any level for a number of terms/years (or apparently even a year), you can get a level of arrogance regarding your knowledge and abilities. Changes in leadership are a good thing.

  4. I’m glad that the commission approved the ordinance. The old days of looking at property rights as a god given right need to be filed away with the wild west.
    We are, hopefully, beginning to realize that what our neighbors do has an impact on all of us. Whether it’s polluting our rivers, polluting the air or chopping down trees, it all has an impact.
    The greatest problem is really recognizing it.

    1. “The old days of looking at property rights as a god given right need to be filed away with the wild west.”
      You scare me. And fyi – polluting the air and rivers is very different from taking down a tree.

    2. No one thinks property rights are god given. However, they are protected by the Constitution, and this ordinance flies in the face of that.

      BTW, leaving a tree up also has an impact, often times negative. It just happens to be one you prefer. Don’t kid yourself – this is about you and like-minded indviduals desiring to exert your will over your neighbors’ property.

      1. They are protected by the Constitution precisely because they are natural rights, granted not by government, but inherent in the rights of free people. That doesn’t mean they aren’t subject to some reasonable, narrowly tailored regulation. But they are as natural — God-given or however you want to describe it — as the right of free speech.

        1. OK, but I’d make one distinction: unlike speech (expression), which is inherently a part of one’s being, property, in the form of land anyway, will be there long after an individual is gone. I’m not defending this ordinance, which I’m not even sure I understand, but I don’t think the right to cut down trees on one’s property is on the same level as the right to say “I should be able to cut down trees on my property.”

          1. I think the law recognizes that distinction — property rights are afforded less protection under law than speech, generally speaking. But the source of the rights is the same.

  5. I think the most discouraging thing about this is that it indicates our city commission has become untethered from the will of the residents of this city,. That’s a fundamental failure of government. Yes, we can vote them out in a couple years, but does anyone really trust them in the meantime?

    In addition there are the cultural aspects – this will drive up the cost of living and accelerate the gentrification of this town. Whether you think this is a good thing or bad thing is up to you, but it will happen. My reasoning is that existing homeowners of limited means will not be able to afford the added costs of expanding/renovating their homes to meet their needs, and will sell to people and/or developers who can. And this will just reinforce the perpetuating cycle of more supply, then more demand, then more teardowns.

    Let’s stop fooling ourselves that this town is some kind of combination of Mayberry and Berkeley. Berkeley has taken over and is driving Mayberry out from the top down.

  6. I am also glad that the Mayor and City Commission worked hard to listen to all the concerns and adjusted the ordinance as needed to meet the goals of the Comprehensive Plan, Environmental Sustainability Board and most residents and business owners. We desperately needed to update our tree regulations. I understand that some individuals do not want regulation of their property. There are still many areas of the state and country where most people agree with you. Go live there.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion, Long-time. After we sell our 1,200 sq ft 1940’s ranch to a developer who will demolish it to make room for a 4,000 sq ft, $750K McMansion, we can buy a huge place with several acres of land in one of those OTP places you think we belong!

      1. Don’t do it! I think you’d literally explode from frustration if you were living in Johns Creek.

        In all seriousness, I observed as many people that were strongly in favor of this ordinance as there were people strongly against it. Remember, it only came to be because of long-standing advocacy from an environmentally active group of Decatur residents. There’s a lot of people in Decatur who fit into that category.

  7. I would characterize this tree ordinance episode, from beginning to end, as a fiasco. Plain and simple. It’s absolutely changed my view of our local leadership, for the worse. I’ve said before that I could support a tree ordinance in some form. But what we end up with, and how we ended up with it, is/was really not good.

  8. In my personal experience, trusting your neighbor to do the right thing is feckless. I’ve had my property encroached upon many times by my neighbor. Without sensible regulation, property rights aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. I think this is a good ordinance, and I will support the commisioners in the next election cycle.

    1. Why do you get to decide which thing is “right”, especially when it comes to their property?

      1. When they build on or over the property line, without notice. When they try to build on or over the property line, hoping I won’t notice. I don’t think that’s right.

        One of the points made at last night’s meeting by an opponent of the ordinance was that we needed to “trust our neighbors to do the right thing, and to talk to neighbors who might be affected by anyone’s planned construction or tree removal or what have you”.

        That actually used to happen on my street, but not recently, at least not in my experience. An attitude of “it’s my property and I’m going to do what I want prevails now.

        It’s too bad, because if we all took the attitude that what we do affects those who live around us, and tried to accomodate any concerns that might arise, the tree ordinance and other property regulations might not be necessary.

  9. Everyone please try to be respectful to each other. If not, I’ll have to shut this thread down. Here’s a hint, if you’re writing a lot of “you”s to make your point then you might be getting a bit too aggressive. Dial it back or go elsewhere. Thanks.

    1. I don’t see anything here worth getting that snippy about. This is a contentious issue and that shouldn’t be downplayed. WB calling me a racist a while back? Not a peep from you (not that I wanted you to step in). I feel like I’m starting to see a trend. I guess it is time to go elsewhere.

        1. I stand corrected. My apologies…
          Warren Buffett says:
          February 28, 2014 at 9:45 am

          Walrus – Did you own a Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, NC once upon a time?

            1. Walrus, I don’t think you’re a racist and shouldn’t have implied it. I apologize.

      1. Thanks Walrus. I’m sorry I didn’t step in where you didn’t want me to. ???

        If anyone insists on using lots of “you”s in their commentary – which can easily be made without them – then yes, probably time to move on.

        Glad to have this seemingly annual conversation with you.

        1. You didn’t know I didn’t want you to. You pick and choose when to edit and when not to. You’re entitled to that, though.

          1. Interesting. So you’ve never expressed your frustration with my moderation practices before or provided any hints that would give me the impression you didn’t like your conversations being moderated?

            1. I don’t think you are being fair here. Yes, I am glad you didn’t moderate that conversation. I preferred to have WB show his true colors. However, had I said anything close to that, you would have moderated me. So it appears you chose to stop moderating my conversations when someone said something about me. Interesting timing to start listening to me…

              Look, I ain’t mad at ya. Just time to step away and have more like minded people dominate the conversation.

              1. There are folks on both sides of this conversation who are using “you”s here, so I’m not sure how I’m being unfair in this instance. And if you just walk away and don’t explain any further, there’s not much I can do to further understand your POV.

                I don’t pretend like it’s a perfect system, so I do appreciate your regular feedback on this.

              2. Walrus, don’t you dare step away– or at least not from the board permanently! For what it’s worth, I believe your assessment of how moderation’s worked out for you is pretty accurate. DM needs to give it a bit more thought.

            2. Casting a vote for- I don’t like it when you close the boards! If people are being straight up d$cks and totally name calling that’s one thing, but not just because the conversation gets heated. There are diverse opinions here that I actually a learn or 2 thing from occasionally. No need to get all goody 2 shoes on us man 😉

      2. Walrus, don’t sweat it – everyone gets called a racist around here. The charge gets tossed around so frequently and without basis in these comments that it’s nothing more than the online version of sticking your tongue out at someone.

          1. Now you are just being an a$$. You are wrong – you called him a racist. Time to fess up and apologize. Or time to man up and stand behind your insult. Your choice.

            1. I also note that you said I was being an a$$, which is different than actually calling me an a$$.

          2. Warren Buffett, you’re just plain wrong if you don’t apologize to Walrus for your Woolworth counter remark now that you have this opportunity to make things right.

            And TeeRuss, best I recall, you’ve been accused of being a racist exactly one time on here, and it was brought on by the person’s interpretation of your own smartass remark which you did nothing to try to clear up. Not saying the person was right, but you contributed to that mess.

            1. I’m not sure if anyone called me a racist around here, but it wouldn’t surprise me, as it gets tossed around so casually. Again, not a big deal to me. I was thinking more of situations like the recent conversation where everyone in Good Growth Dekalb were labeled racists.

  10. Serious question here: Do the commissioners receive a salary and, if so, how much are they paid?

  11. Another serious question: anyone know of a publicy traded tree removal company that does a lot of work in Decatur? I want to go back in time and buy a ton of stock as we will see a lot of trees come down in the next 46 days (in addition to the numerous trees which have been preemptively removed in the last few months). Plus, given the homeowners’ urgency, I imagine we will see a spike in the cost of tree removal.

  12. To those expecting this vote to mark the end of our commissioner’s careers, Scott Drake’s opponent was a dozen votes away from being a commissioner running solely on an environmental activism platform. I don’t think the commissioners feel that their job is in jeopardy due to this vote. Having met several of them over the years, I also don’t think they would care that much either. They make a very small salary in that role, certainly not enough to live on. It’s no a full time gig.

    1. No dispute with your assessment.

      Given there disregard for their constituents, the small salary, and your (probably correct assessment) that they would not care too much if they were removed from office, perhaps they would please take this opportunity to resign their posts and let someone else take a shot filling these roles.

      Yeah, and I am holding my breath for that to happen…

    2. In fact, I would say it is very likely the first version of this ordinance would have passed back in March if Scott Drake had lost the election. He was the first one to speak up and say “hold on here a minute” which ultimately led to the tabling which led to a significantly scaled back ordinance (that doesn’t address the real issue – I know).

  13. Let’s not forget the city employees who push for and write these ordinances. There was a time when City of Decatur employees listened to the citizens and worked hard to make this the type of place the citizens wanted. Now it seems that many of the employees, whose salaries we pay, have their own agendas and push that rather than promoting what the taxpayers want. Time for some changes at City Hall.

  14. so with all the talk of what the Majority/Minority wants,are we talking about the Majority of Decatur Metro readers and the Minority of people who like trees?
    The population of Decatur is close to 20,000(?) people.I think 300 chimed in on the online petition thing(whatever it was).So who polled the rest of the city?Why didn’t more people show up last night to voice their opinions?

  15. I wonder about that too. I’m guessing a lot of older, retired people with no interest in expanding their houses are indifferent to or maybe pleased with this ordinance. After all, many of them bought here, in part, because of all the trees. Would people in that age bracket be commenting frequently here? I’m not sure.

    1. brianc, geezers like me who have lived here for 35+ years use the internet, too. 🙂 And while I don’t comment frequently, I follow this blog, was opposed to the tree ordinance, and said so on OpenDecatur or whatever it is, for all the good it did. Many of us oldtimers feel at least as ignored as younger, newer residents, we’ve just been paying for the privilege a lot longer. And I’ve been hearing “If you don’t like it, leave” for.ever. My friends and I tend not to be indifferent to issues because we know about unintended or unexplained consequences.

  16. Why is every single comment I have written over the past 2 weeks hit moderation???

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