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