Decatur’s New Tree Ordinance is Now in Effect

As announced of Monday, Decatur’s new tree ordinance is now the law of the land.

There are many changes to the ordinance, but the first one to be aware of is that you now need to register tree removal with the city by applying and receiving a free permit.  You can apply for a permit online HERE.

The city’s dedicated webpage on the new ordinance contains a lot of info on the intricacies of the new ordinance, but here’s their high-level summary…

According to the Tree Canopy Conservation Ordinance, property owners in residential zoning districts are allowed to remove up to 3 healthy, protected trees during an 18 month period. A tree information permit shall be filed with the City to track the reasons for the tree removal, the amount of tree canopy removed and a plan for replanting if applicable. No recompense or replanting is required if only 3 trees are removed within the 18 month period. 

Note that residential zoned properties that are pending real estate sale or title transfer, have been sold or title transferred in the past 18 months, are pending demolition, or have had a dwelling on the site that has been demolished in the past 18 months, are subject to the tree removal permit requirements and must comply with the tree conservation plan required.

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.

Decatur Tree Ordinance Up For Vote at Monday Meeting

As previously reported, the revised update to Decatur’s Tree Ordinance is scheduled for a vote this coming Monday.  You can view the full ordinance HERE.  A letter from City Planning Director Amanda Thompson to the City Manager summarizes the 9 month effort and the major points of this version of the ordinance.

The purpose of this memo is to request that the City Commission adopt a new tree canopy conservation ordinance and administrative standards. The 2010 Strategic Plan identified creating an urban forest master plan and adopting amendments to the tree ordinance as a community goal. In September 2013, the city initiated a tree ordinance revision process based on improvements identified in a 2008 draft ordinance as well as requests from various community groups. Public input workshops, online forums and work sessions have been held on this topic for the past 9 months. The proposed ordinance incorporates the best management practices recommended by the city’s urban forest consultants, feedback from the public and the Environmental Sustainability Board and the specific revisions requested by the City Commission. It acknowledges that the city has lost tree canopy over the past ten years and the city has identified the tree canopy as a community resource that requires conservation.

The proposed ordinance represents a significant improvement over our current standards. It switches from a tree density to a tree canopy measurement system which aligns the city’s regulations with the most current scientific knowledge about the ecological benefits o f trees. It establishes a canopy goal for residential and commercial properties. It provides protection for boundary trees and requires a more thoughtful approach to the design of construction projects to mitigate the impact on existing trees and ensure the success of newly planted trees. It includes updated management practices and a tree species list. Commercial properties are required to maintain a 45% tree canopy cover. Residential property owners can remove up to 3 protected trees within 18 months by filing a free, tree removal information permit. Residential property owners are held to a no net loss standard for projects that require a land disturbance permit or for the removal of the 4th protected tree within 18 months.

The most recent amendments include defining specimen trees and allowing double canopy credit for projects that preserve specimen trees. An additional amendment has been prepared for your consideration that allows residential property owners with greater than 60% tree canopy on their site to have more flexibility in the amount of replacement tree canopy that can be paid into the tree bank (Amendment A).

The ordinance has an effective date of Monday, July 7, 2014. In the next six weeks, the city will designate a City Arborist, hold public workshops on the new ordinance, recommend permit fees where applicable and create the necessary administrative forms for implementation. If adopted, the new ordinance will be integrated into the Unified Development Ordinance process with special consideration given to the relationship between stormwater regulations and tree conservation. City Commission approval of the proposed ordinance and Amendment A is recommended.

City Requests Resident Feedback on Updated Tree Ordinance on Open City Hall

The city is asking for feedback on the updated tree ordinance on Open City Hall.  You have between now and May 2nd to submit your opinion.  Here’s the intro from the Open City Hall forum…

The City of Decatur has released an updated draft of the Tree Conservation Ordinance, and we are coming back to you for feedback. Based on concerns voiced by the community, the City Commission requested that the ordinance proposed on January 21, 2014 be revised and brought back for consideration at a later date. A summary of the process was posted to the Decatur Minute blog in February. You can also see the Open City Hall topic here.

UPDATED Ordinance Materials:

Feedback on the new ordinance will be accepted through May 2. Comments will be summarized and presented to the City Commission at a work session on Monday, May 5th. The Commission will then decide if they would like to make further amendments to the proposed ordinance.

Decatur Releases Updated Tree Ordinance

Interested in seeing the revised version of the Decatur Tree Ordinance based on feedback the Decatur City Commission gave to city staff last month?

View the updated ordinance draft, the summary of proposed revisions and the presentation from last night’s commission meeting HERE.

The summary of the proposed revisions is also shown below.

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Parkwood Annexation Public Hearing and Tree Ordinance Update This Evening

The Decatur City Commission has scheduled its public hearing regarding the Parkwood neighborhood’s request for annexation during this evening’s meeting.

The commission recently completed and made public a report that estimated the cost of annexing the neighborhood over the next 5 years.  While the city’s costs were minimal in comparison to tax revenue, the school system projections showed increases in student populations over the first 5 years.  The report estimates that initially 14 new students would be added to the school system with the annexation, though those projections rise in subsequent years.

The commission also has a “tree ordinance update” on the agenda during a 5:30p work session.  UPDATE: City Planner Amanda Thompson tells us that the city will present the Commission with the revised tree ordinance based on the feedback given by the Commission in March.

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.