Atlanta Gets Funding To Work On Updating Tree Ordinance

David Goldman / associated press file

Atlanta City Council members approved legislation late Monday that will fund work to update Atlanta’s tree ordinance.

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The council approved $1.2 million to fund the Urban Ecology Framework, a group that will work on a variety of projects from affordable housing initiatives to preservation. One project in particular: proposing changes to Atlanta’s existing tree ordinance.

The existing ordinance was put in place in 2001. If someone wants to cut down a tree in Atlanta, they have to pay a fee. That fee was supposed to deter people from cutting down that tree. But as the city of Atlanta grows, developers often include that fee into their construction costs.

“I don’t think the ordinance went far enough in fundamentally changing the way in which we think about trees in Atlanta. And people are upset that you can pay a fee in order to remove a tree,” says Atlanta Commissioner Tim Keane, who leads the Department of City Planning.

Keane says in 2014 changes to the ordinance were proposed to the Atlanta City Council, but developers and community members protested those changes because they felt they weren’t involved enough in the discussion.

“That’s just evidence that it’s gotta be a very public process, and everyone has to be involved in order to come to some kind of recommendation,” Keane says.

Of the $1.2 million of funding approved, about $450,000 is reserved for the Urban Ecology Framework, which will work with arborists, ecologists and designers to work on revising the ordinance.

Trees Atlanta is working on influencing the discussion.

“Developers can still grow and build in this city. I think it’s just figuring out the best way to grow where you can grow your forests and still grow as a city. And it’s the balance that isn’t quite there yet,” says Greg Levin, co-executive director and chief program officer of the nonprofit group.

Trees Atlanta plans to hold an event to get public input on possible changes to the tree ordinance in September. Keane says, now that funding has been approved, he can work to get a steering committee together to start working on changes.