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Decatur Diary | December 4, 2013

Trees! Join us to review and comment on the ordinance draft

How Decatur manages its tree canopy has always been a component of the Unified Development Ordinance initiative currently underway. However, recent community concerns brought an increased level of urgency to the subject, prompting city commissioners to pass a 90-day moratorium on tree removal and fast-track the UDO’s tree-related requirements. That effort is now in process and its work-in-progress will be presented and discussed Wednesday, December 11.

Please join us:

Trees! Crafting Decatur-Appropriate Regulations
Let’s find some common ground for a healthy canopy.
December 11 | 7-9:00pm | City Hall Commission Meeting Room

The meeting will begin with a 30-minute presentation by the city’s tree consultant, Connie Head of Technical Forestry Services, followed by an opportunity for attendees to consider various policy direction alternatives and provide feedback on their preferences.

Resident input will then be factored into the working draft and finalized recommendations will be completed. Those recommendations will be posted here for review prior to the Commission’s consideration, which will take place January 21, 2014 at 7:30pm in the City Hall Commission Meeting Room.

Join us at the meeting then check back often for updates. And in the meantime, provide your own considerations in the comments below or submit more general comments and questions directly to the city here.

Weigh In | Your Ideas Matter
Join These 17 Contributions
Ground Rules: We encourage respectful community conversation around planning and development issues in the City of Decatur. Participants are asked to login via Facebook, Twitter or Google, or create a user account through Disqus. Profane or abusive contributions may be moderated.


  1. The city of Decatur is certainly special in that no other citizens in the State of Georgia are taxed at a higher rate. Our City Government seems to want to tax and regulate at every turn. Often, new revenue generation is fostered by the unwitting cooperation of very vocal minorities who represent less than 5% of our City’s population. The latest mission (After WalMart) seems to be a “Tree Ordinance”, which is basically a new tax on all property owners. It is also anti growth and revenue negative. For instance, had the tree on Melrose been preserved the City would have received tax based on a property valuation of under $150 thousand. The new construction will allow the city to tax based on a valuation of over $500 thousand. The new valuation will deliver over $8000 in NEW revenue to the city. I would suggest to all that quite a few trees can be planted for $8000. Further restrictions and burdens are being placed on property owners based on roots! Yes, if some of the roots of your neighbors tree are under your property you will have to get permission (permit) to disturb them. You want to plant a small garden, or put up a swingset for your kids? Well you will be liable for the health of your neighbor’s tree. Should his tree die you will have to PROVE (at your expense) that you didn’t cause the death of his tree. Folks, are we going too far? Are there not enough poor to tend to in our city, do we have to find something else to nanny? Trees are wonderful, no one disagrees, but they die. If you want to see why the canopy is declining then look at the age of the canopy. It is old and it is dying because God only made these trees to live for so many years. The canopy is not receding because of re development of old neighborhoods, it is receding due to it’s age.
    It’s time for the people of Decatur to stand up and insist that the implementation of this tree ordinance be put to a vote of the property owners. Let the property owners (taxpayers) who will suffer the cost through increased taxation due to regulatory cost and unrealized taxes revenue due to a reduction in redevelopment. I think it is time that the citizens of Decatur take the city back and get the special interest groups out of the drivers seat.

  2. I very much appreciate the city’s efforts to preserve our trees. Just as we have regulations regarding the percentage of impervious surface on private property vis-a-vis storm-water runoff, we all have a common interest in a healthy tree canopy. Many of our trees reside on private property, but they are a shared resource. If any of us can cut down any tree we want any time for any reason, there is nothing to protect that shared resource.

    The economic, health, and aesthetic benefits of our trees are well documented. Increasing tree canopy city-wide from 45% to 55% by the year 2039 is hardly an onerous burden on the city’s property owners. (I say this as the owner of a home with a huge oak tree within the “buildable area” of the lot.)

    We have seen the results of having inadequate protection for our trees: the steady decline in Decatur’s tree canopy, and reckless removal and endangerment of legacy trees by developers.

    Attempts to sensationalize the new tree ordinance and paint it as a draconian government over-reach are ill informed. For example, did you know that the computation of tree canopy coverage on your lot includes trees on adjoining lots that extend over your property? And (quoting from the summary on the city’s web site): A tree can be removed without penalty, a) if a certified arborist designates it as a hazard that cannot be mitigated; b) if site plan modifications to prevent irreparable damage to the tree are impossible or not practical, based on a cost and benefit analysis; or c) if the intended use of property cannot be achieved without tree removal.

    According to the Georgia Urban Forestry Council, there are 141 municipalities and counties in the state with tree protection ordinances, so Decatur is hardly out of the mainstream in trying to preserve its trees.

    Many of Decatur’s older large oaks, poplars, and other species have many decades of life remaining. For example, the magnificent white oak we recently lost at 241 Melrose Avenue was obviously healthy, as observed by anyone seeing the dismembered trunk that stood in the yard for weeks after the limbs were removed. (There was no discoloration on any of the discs left when the limbs were cut off, nor was the trunk diseased.) A tree like that can literally live for hundreds of years when undisturbed by development or hazard. If you want an example, head over to Deepdene park on Ponce de Leon Ave. and spend a few moments with the grand white oak there that pre-dates the Revolutionary War.

    Obviously, not all of our trees will surpass the three-century mark, but to suggest that the oldest ones are all near the end of their natural life span is spurious.

    When we look around our beautiful city, we see many great reasons to live here: wonderful neighbors, excellent schools, a vibrant local retail economy, and careful planning that honors our history as we move forward. And all of it sheltered by our gracious trees. Let’s all do our part to protect this valuable shared resource.

  3. Catherine Fox says

    Increased tree canopy protection is critical to maintaining our community’s desire for a high quality of life in Decatur. The new Tree Ordinance offers important protection of boundary trees and education for residents and developers about how to make better choices to protect the today’s large trees as well as spaces for our future forest canopy. If we do not pass this ordinance now and continue subdividing large lots, tearing down smaller homes and clearcutting lots for mega homes often not in character with neighborhood homes, we will lose unique quality of life that makes Decatur so special. Please show your support of this ordinance and ask our commissioners to do the same!

  4. Babs Fiorentino says

    How about this folks we need those beautiful trees to screen out those unsightly card board boxes these people are throwing up! Look at what happened to the corner of Sycamore and Forkner ya know the lot where everyone in surrounding neighborhoods came to take pictures of the bearin lot which once had trees (old ones on the property)! One of the reasons I moved to Decatur Heights for the beauty of the trees and once charm of the bungalows. I have lots of disdain fornot only the developers who cut tese trees to build these (BOXES) and for the folks who bought these homes….. Be this is all about capitalism, private property lack of community. Oh yea I am no of those against Walmart Dekalb Co seems to think we need 1 every 5 miles full of crap from China. We deserve better I think again though if the beautiful trees are cut down what would keep these unsightly boxes from falling over when the wind blows? Yep

  5. Jill Jordan says

    As a long time Decatur resident, I believe that one of our greatest assets is our wonderful tree canopy. Watching development and other renovation impact these trees has been painful. No ordinance is going to be perfect, and Decatur government has proven to be far from inflexible or draconian. I say let’s get something passed now, changes can always be made in the future if certain rules are too onerous. I trust our city officials and truly believe that they are working for our collective best interests.

  6. What makes Decatur different, and I would argue better than the suburbs? The trees we have provide beauty and force us not to crowd too many houses on a lot if the lot is not clear cut. We have some new houses that are too close together and look shoddy. If the lots had some mature trees the houses would not look so awful. If we do not plan for a future with lots of trees, people are not going to pay premium prices for houses, which means less money for schools, etc. We do not want Decatur to look like the treeless suburbs you see all over Georgia.

    If we want Decatur to continue to be a desirable place to live, we have to plan for a future with trees held in high regard.

  7. Grace Ann Young says

    Herb and Grace Ann Young, Decatur residents, support the new/revised tree ordinance.

  8. Jennifer Curry says

    I feel sick every day that I walk down my lovely street (Sycamore Drive) and see dirt and porta-potties in place of the old trees and the perfectly good houses that used to stand on those lots. The sound of birds chirping in the trees has been replaced by hammering and staple guns. It’s shocking, the amount of devastation that can be wreaked in a just few hours of bulldozing.

    I wholeheartedly concur with the other posts on this forum, except for the one about the supposed burden on individual homeowners. Being inconvenienced by not being able to hang a swing from a particular tree is a “burden” I would gladly accept for the greater good of my community. And it is certainly preferable to my other option: moving away because I no longer want to live in a neighborhood crammed full of “from the $700,000s” McMansions!

  9. Ralph Kittler says

    I don’t think anyone who has watched the UDO Kickoff video
    on this site can take issue with a single comment or goal cited. These goals are essential if we want the fabric of Decatur to remain as is. I tip my hat to the good people of Decatur for recognizing this and working to strike a balance between development and preserving what makes Decatur so special.

    Decatur is a great place to live and any efforts made to
    keep it diverse, affordable and covered with green canopy while allowing for responsible development should be applauded and supported.

  10. Pink Otter says

    I am all for preserving trees within reason, however I think this ordinance goes way too far. I have serious safety concerns about large old trees looming over my house. We all know the destruction trees can cause when they fall during one of our many storms. Making it very difficult to remove trees puts people at risk.

    Also, these regulations will make it very hard for working families without deep pockets to build or renovate in Decatur. We’d love to stay here for the schools, but this ordinance makes it very daunting to even think about upsizing here in town.

    Please pursue a more reasonable measure that puts the safety of average residents before the zealotry of tree activists.

    • There’s nothing in the new or existing tree ordinances to prevent removal of dangerous trees. Such trees have been legally removed during the three-month moratorium that’s about to expire.

      If you have an unstable tree that’s threatening your house, I urge you to talk to city asap about getting permission to have it removed.

      • We did have unstable trees removed this summer. I think these new ordinances will make the whole process seem even more overwhelming than it already is, and people may not be as quick to act for fear of red tape and fines. Also, honestly, I do not want any potentially deadly tree looming over my house, officially unstable or not.

  11. Pink Otter says

    PS What I feel is especially alarming is people who support the proposal frequently cite not liking the style or size of new homes being built. That is entirely different from wanting to protect trees. I think the “tree issue” is a handy cover for trying to stop the building of new homes and the influx of new families.

    • Unfortunately, new construction that takes up the maximum allowable footprint on tiny lots will often mean the destruction of any trees on the property, either through outright cutting or through irreparable damage to tree roots. We’ve seen both scenarios all too many times in recent years.

      Many of us are alarmed to see developers buy habitable houses, tear them down instead of renovating, and proceed to mow down every tree to build a new house. Why should a developer — who more often than not doesn’t live in Decatur — have the right to further perforate our city’s tree canopy the instant they buy the property?

      • Many of the houses being torn down on Sycamore and nearby are not habitable, or at least not without massive reno. We are thrilled to see many of them go and be replaced with homes that will hopefully be loved instead of being abandoned eyesores. Agree there need to be some guidelines, but the proposed plan is too much of a burden on residents who aren’t lucky enough to be in our dream Decatur houses yet.

  12. culturesleuth says

    Glad to see some back and forth around the benefits and downside to a more thorough tree ordinance for Decatur. I am in favor of the proposed tree ordinance as it is balanced between protecting our old growth trees while at the same time allowing for trees that are dangerous to people and property to be removed and new trees planted.

  13. Great idea, the more trees in urban areas the better.

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