hosted by Eco-A 

April 25, 2017 – Emory University

presented in partnership with The City of Atlanta Tree Conservation Commission

 Some recurring themes include

  • Change the way we allow developers to clear-cut lots.
  • Think regionally. Do not limit a tree canopy preservation plan to the City of Atlanta. Include the entire metro area.
  • Improve and strengthen regional tree ordinances. Make them consistent.
  • Increase recompense fees so developers receive genuine incentives to save old trees and pockets of forest.
  • Put dollar values on the services and benefits trees provide.


52 audience comments

  1. Please bring suburban cities to the table of the Atlanta City Design Project. Have a plan that brings in the whole city and metro area, at least the Perimeter. Too many trees are being cut in Chamblee and Brookhaven. Need environmental economics that include the dollar value trees provide to clean the air and water, regulate water storage and release, and improve health and well-being of people. Plan for paths and parks, and citizen advocates will be there. Thank you for all you do.


  1. The city needs to change the tree ordinance so it costs a lot more when an old tree is destroyed. Developers in our neighborhood (Morningside) cut down 50 inch trees to make room for a McMansion because it’s cheap to do so. They can plant a few trees to “mitigate” the loss. There should be a BIG, HUGE penalty for destroying our tree canopy. Since so much of our canopy is in backyards, can we limit the size of building apartments and condos that eliminate backyard canopy? That should go into the evolution of how zoning takes this into consideration.


  1. If the forest to be preserved is in private hands, we need to educate homeowners by making water runoff an issue in any zoning adjustment. In a simple, one-pager, info on the importance of tree canopy, water runoff mitigation, impervious surface, etc. can be provided. If part of the ordinance is that the owner must discuss mitigation of harm before approval can be given, education will happen fast. Also, we could create a certification of Creek-keeper Homes and encourage self-report and compliance of new expectations. Robert Reed of Southface has designs for Creek-keeper Homes.
  2. I live in Virginia Highland-Morningside. The loss of trees in this area due to tear downs in recent years is substantial. The existing tree ordinance needs major revisions to truly protect Atlanta’s irreplaceable tree canopy. Tree recompense is a joke. Arborist fines are a joke. Builders and developers don’t care; they just pay what is basically a minimal fee. Raise the fees, make buildable area smaller and do not allow removal of large trees, period. Piedmont Hospital is heart breaking. Quit talking and walk the walk. The canopy is being lost every day.
  1. Can neighborhoods do a tree designation to protect trees and prevent homeowners from taking down trees on their property? Like a historic designation for trees. Need an alliance to quickly mobilize when developers come in. There are no laws to stop developers from clearcutting. Need people to pressure commissioners and lawmakers. Compel developers to plant canopy trees in parking lots and other spaces on their property in addition to the existing requirements. Form a metro- wide municipal tree alliance. Have Decatur, Sandy Springs, Stonecrest and others come together with strong requirements protecting trees.


  1. Make native plants and trees a prerequisite for new construction. Make native plants more available at local nurseries who could market the trend. Change county codes to mimic City of Atlanta about limiting the number of trees that can be cut. For instance, DeKalb County doesn’t enforce the five-tree maximum to cut per year.


  1. Eliminate the sale of non-native, invasive species by law. Educate, educate, educate about the value of native species and that we don’t really own our properties. We share them with many species and borrow them for a short time. Bring back recess and learning on the law in elementary schools. Require developers to also pay into a public transportation fund to create more space for nature, not for roads. Educate on the negativity of lawns. Plant trees and natives instead to benefit the animals and protect our water supply.


  1. How will changes in the watershed management and zoning be used to protect trees? Current storm water regulations are removing trees on every lot where large houses are replacing small houses. Zoning variances are loopholes and lax enforcement simply allows more trees to be removed.


  1. Share the Atlanta City Design Project’s plan more widely. Host booths at festivals similar to how the Beltline did it. Protect old growth trees with property tax incentives. Preserve more green space with wider buffers and watersheds. Educate the public on conservation easements. Publicize the work of the City of Atlanta’s Tree Fund.


  1. How can we get Atlanta’s billionaires to save forests instead of build stadiums? Bernie Marcus. Ted Turner. Haverty. The Woodruffs and Candlers. Mail Chimp and other high-tech moguls. Rappers.


  1. Will the city’s resiliency department actively support startup projects like vertical organic farms? Is there some effort to use urban agriculture to offset the pressure on traditional farmland, perhaps returning it to Florida’s? Could you incentivize farmers to become an urban farmer in a low-impact facility? How can West and Southwest Atlanta be protected from becoming the next fashionable area for redevelopment?


  1. Use the groomed office park green spaces for urban agriculture. There’s the land, the crews of people to work the land and then we can figure out distribution of the food. DeKalb County school board is building a 1,100-student elementary school at Skyland Park. Skyland Park will be destroyed. Brookhaven profited from the sale. Green space disappearing sucks!


  1. What investment support is being given to groups like Park Pride that are getting community-led input on how to improve access to beautiful places like our old growth forests? Does Atlanta have any cost-benefit data that quantify resources like forests are providing to the city, e.g. this tree provides X services because it’s 180 years old which would cost Y amount of dollars. Do we have any incentives and plans to incorporate trees into buildings like vertical forests in Singapore and China? How can we become involved as volunteers with the food forest efforts in and around Atlanta?


  1. We need to derive an economic system that saves trees. You cannot allow trees to be removed at $30 an inch and allow development at $250 a square foot. High-value trees cannot be removed unless developers pay the value of the land they stand on. This way an equal amount of undisturbed land can be bought. Use arborists to let people get educated about trees. Help subsidize having people look at their trees. Find public funding similar to Governor Barnes’ greenspace fund.


  1. Woodlands Garden in Decatur would be a good addition to your network. Contact Kate Baltzell, Executive Director at 404-373-2222 or It’s an excellent space for “eco-walks” and environmental/forest education.


  1. How can we broaden our planning from the City of Atlanta to metro Atlanta and the surrounding area? Many green spaces including old-growth forests exist outside the City of Atlanta. Metro communities and leaders need to be included in the planning to save these green spaces and old growth forests. Regional planning is needed. Have schoolchildren plant trees as part of an educational/community program. This could be done in conjunction with Trees Atlanta. Use the sign-up list for this program to help build a movement to preserve forests.
  2. Is it possible to limit or outlaw selling known invasive species such as English ivy, bamboo, privet and Nandina in nurseries? Or have a way to discourage homeowners and landscapers from using these plants. Thanks for your work!


  1. The single most important thing we can do is cut English ivy at the base of trees. Educate the public and landscapers that this is an excellent way to save trees in people’s backyards and on public property.


  1. How can a layperson see the Atlanta City Design Project components? We need funding and restoration money not just buying forests!


  1. A developer has purchased 1609 South Ponce de Leon. The backyard is heavily wooded with lots of old-growth trees. The parcel is approximately 1.4 acres. The developer plans to clear-cut this site to build six 3,500 – 3,800 square foot “cottages” plus sidewalks, driveways and two-car garages for each unit. There is wildlife on the plot, owls and hawks and at least one deer. The area has been undisturbed for about 50 to 70 years. We need to stop this massacre! It is zoned multi-family so zoning and landmark district regulations won’t help us. Can you give me some ideas on what to do next? We already have organized concerned neighbors and members of the community. Our group intends to either stop this completely or minimize loss of trees and wildlife habitat.


  1. Why must the City take out huge City-owned trees on Department of Watershed property so we can “expand” (rather than cleverly think about reengineering) a roadway? An example is at Moores Mill and Bolton Road. Hint: they are still there and could yet be saved.


  1. Establish a dedicated funding source for open space. Conduct a thorough study of natural resources and open preservation precedents. How can we apply those to stream buffers? Look at Fort Collins open space and natural areas. City of Boulder. Tucson preservation of saguaro cacti. New York City has committed to having a park within 10 minutes of every resident. Denver has many mountain parks. 3.4.1 land use code in Fort Collins has standard buffer distances and quality performance standards and enhancements to offset degraded resources. One-on-one mitigation for eliminated resource such as prairie dogs and wetlands. Preserve and restore intact ecosystems. I have more ideas and want to participate in any way I can.


  1. Who is responsible for the most destruction of trees happening today? What is creating the incentives for them to destroy forest? Is it possible to change those incentives so that they profit more from preservation? For example, it is easier, faster and therefore apparently more profitable for developers to clear-cut and grade a lot before building. However, if people value homes near trees, perhaps a number can be put to the value that trees add to the property. If houses with old trees and natural growth sell for 20% more, developers who know that would prioritize building around existing flora.
  2. I am the founder of Friends of Memorial Drive Greenway – a proposed stretch of park space along Memorial Drive between the state capital and Oakland Cemetery. We have recently completed a visioning with Park Pride and are looking to better understand how this idea can be brought to fruition more quickly and how it can fit into the planned design and ecosystem of the City of Atlanta resiliency office and City planners.


  1. Create maps and directions to Atlanta’s oldest forests that can safely be visited. Photograph them all and share widely with everyone in Atlanta so we can take ownership in our hearts.


  1. Take the City Council and mayoral candidates on walks through the old-growth forests and trees with Kathryn Kolb. How can neighbors and citizens identify old-growth trees in our backyards? Who do we contact for that?


  1. My neighborhood, Peachtree Hills in Buckhead, is losing over 800 trees between two developments along Peachtree Hills Avenue near Peachtree Hills Park. In addition to the 800+ canopy trees, the two developers – Isakson Living and Ashton Woods – have proposed to cut trees and encroach on the stream in Peachtree Hills Park for a private storm water easement. This is the first time in the City of Atlanta that a public park will be used for private benefit. The ordinance is 17-0-1132 and will be voted on Monday, May 1. All parks will be subject to private development if it passes. How do we protect our parks and old-growth forests when the political process is turning a deaf ear? I think we must change the laws to protect our trees more than the current tree ordinance. We should not allow old-growth hardwoods to be lost so easily.


  1. No top-down plans! They must be bottom-up from the community. Experts, vested interests and lack of transparency are the problems. Enforcement of existing ordinances. Acknowledge trade-offs (winners-losers). Openness about costs. Civic drive to raise appreciation of conservation through education. Consent of Governor. It is too easy and too cheap for developers to cut down all the trees on a lot and just pay a fine. When they are building a house that will sell for $1 million or more, the fine is not a deterrent for clearcutting the lot. The city needs to enforce its ordinances consistently. Enforcement is completely lacking.


  1. Create pocket forests, woodlands and parks within denser urban development such as Midtown high-rises. Collaborate with the media to create and update social media with news you can use like tips on living green. Designate urban tree keepers among 10-year-olds. Every five years, a new group is designated. Work with APS and Trees Atlanta. Or each kindergartner gets a tree or forest to protect and follow throughout their lifetime. They will learn about, journal about and study the ecosystem there. Engage the arts community in creating awareness through performance, concerts and other engaging projects.


  1. How can we find out who are the people we should vote for? Perhaps all the interested people in this room could act as a voting block. What commitment could be given from those who wish to be elected? Perhaps we need some hashtags such as #nature art. Thank you for a very special evening. It was not only educational but nice to see a community with a love and commitment to nature.


  1. Is there a network to call to protest when an urban old-growth forest has been purchased by a developer? I want to be in this network! FYI – the southern part of Dearborn Park in Decatur, DeKalb County with a slope into a stream was just bought by Redwater LLD developers. This slope goes directly into a creek and has two champion trees designated by Eli Dickerson.


  1. Identify and protect urban and old-growth forest by law. Acquire green space along streams and 75-foot buffer. Connect these green spaces for biological survival of ecosystems. Connect trails along streams from the City center to rivers like Chattahoochee and South Flint. Build cisterns to collect valuable storm water for community resiliency, to save energy and process less polluted water, less pumping. Use the water near where it falls.


  1. What is a good method for restoring a clear-cut area, step-by-step? Who are some people to consult with about bringing an area back to native forest? I work for Kennesaw State University’s sustainability department and am looking for advice for developing native tree canopy on campus. I would like to bring this initiative to Pickens County and the City of Kennesaw. I think it is important to look at areas surrounding the City of Atlanta as well, that might have fewer people who have such a vested interest. I would love to be an ambassador for my county or work with anyone already working in Pickens County. I am joining the Master Gardeners program this year and can hopefully generate more interest through my community involvement in this program. Thank you for all the information and inspiration tonight. I grew up in Chicago and am sad to see it at the bottom of the list for tree canopy of major cities. I will start educating people I know in Chicago as well.


  1. Please do not allow development in fragments of old forest, not counting the trees, but keeping the land as is. DEMAND that newly developed land NOT be graded wholesale, but the lay of the land be maintained. Impose really big fines! Redevelop previously built or paved areas FIRST!


  1. If most of the remnant forest of Atlanta is on private property, how can you protect it? No recompense is equal to the worth of the land. Elementary and other public schools are built on the same model without reference to the land, probably for political reasons. How do you change this? Buffers set aside for woodland protection in the metro area are degraded by erosion and invasive species. How do we fix this? There is almost no seed source left in the metro area of native plants yet streets are planted in double rows of Crape Myrtles. No wonder there is no rejuvenation! We need to change Atlantans’ ideas about what is good citizenship. It is not tidy green lawns but reforestation and prairie plantings. There needs to be city services devoted to removal of invasive and tax incentives for people to reforest properly. City creek systems need to be tested, cleaned and restored but that will require working and helping individual property owners. Clearing invasives and restoration requires a lot of work and maintenance at the start. The City must support this work with funding, personnel and tax incentives.


  1. We need a soil ordinance! Designate wildlife corridors using GIS integration with green space. Link English ivy control to homeowners’ insurance. If you let ivy go up the tree past 4 feet, you PAY. Glyphosate aerial spraying control to integrate with agriculture department for healthy air, water and insect populations. Integrate with other environmental organizations at the City level like Georgia Native Plant Society, Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and the NPU system. Integrate NPU system across all cities in the region. Storm water is key. We must base a storm water tax on usage to build our infrastructure.


  1. Why is it so easy to get a variance to cut down trees in the City of Atlanta? A plan doesn’t matter if it’s so easy to get around it. Don’t let developers break the rules so easily.


  1. Are there some best practices that the real estate development industry can follow and be induced to follow to keep from clear-cutting forests in Atlanta? I’m producing a publication inspired by the old Sierra Club Battlebooks about the loss of tree canopy in Atlanta. What are some resources and people who may want to sponsor or get involved?


  1. Understand each community and educate the community in a way that makes the community care. Activate the community to engage in the way alerts and raises awareness of whoever makes decisions so decision-makers are accountable. Form coalitions so the most important goals, as seen by experts in the community, are talked about and remain in the forefront of discussions. The Fox Theater was saved, so why not the forests? They have tremendous value.


  1. Many people tend to resent government telling them what they can and cannot do with their property. I believe community-based education is a must. Ecological literacy is so important. Think about educating realtors and appraisers, perhaps even insurers. They can educate new buyers and sellers. Offer courses on the value of saving trees at realtors’ and developers’ conferences. Reduce people’s fear of trees falling on their homes. Make this part of the education agenda.


  1. Work with Trees Atlanta and other concerned citizens to strengthen the tree ordinances in Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb. One speaker mentioned using tree bank funds to buy park space. That’s an awesome idea! A hotline is needed to call to report tree destruction. If a neighbor is taking down a specimen tree, there needs to be a network or place to stop it as it is happening if a proper permit was not obtained.


  1. How can we convince contractors and developers to not grade the entire lot or clear-cut it when they build a house on property with undisturbed earth and large trees? Why do we not have a system for using white oaks for lumber when trees are removed rather than chipping it for mulch? The current ordinances to protect huge specimen trees do NOT work. They are a joke.


  1. Why not speak to all the counties surrounding Atlanta like DeKalb and Gwinnett, etc. and try to aggregate forests and build community support and engagement? Decision-makers include county planners, commissioners and neighborhood civic associations. Tree ordinances need to be much stronger. We intend to revise DeKalb County’s ordinance. Education about trees and soil is critical, especially to control storm water and manage it for the future growth of the area.


  1. I have lived in Decatur since 2003. I love what the City of Decatur recently did to purchase the United Methodist Children’s Home (70 acres) on South Columbia in DeKalb County with the goal of preserving green space for our community versus development of more high-priced housing in an intensely developing community. I would strongly urge our City mayor and commission to educate itself to make the most of this rare opportunity. It would be amazing to see closer collaboration between Atlanta’s new urbanists and conservationists with those leaders and others interested in preserving and maintaining our green spaces.


  1. Emphasize what Joan Maloof and Maria Saporta said about building in the white space, i.e. the areas already built and preserving the green space, where forests still exist. We need to incentivize renovation, rehabilitation and preservation of older homes. As an architect, I encounter too many developers who prefer to clear-cut and build new homes because there are so many hurdles to renovating. The opposite should be the case. Expedite and encourage renovation of older homes and raise the bar for new construction.


  1. How do we coordinate the progressive plans of the City of Atlanta with surrounding counties and their growing suburban cities? How do we make this a metro Atlanta plan?


  1. Though this is not viable for every situation or forest, how can we bring back fire as a forest management tool in the urban landscape?


  1. The tree ordinance must be improved. Some trees should not be allowed to be removed – period. The new water retention requirements seem to lead to greater tree loss. The land is completely stripped and the soil dug up to install those underground holds. It is disastrous. Leaving trees in place would process storm water more effectively and be a better overall solution. Tim Keane is a hypocrite. He and his staff don’t practice what they preach. They claim there will be redevelopment on developed corridors like Memorial and DeKalb but then approve rezoning to allow 80% lot coverage of R4 properties that were previously contributing to those neighborhood canopies shown tonight.


  1. Developers have known for many years the technologies available to protect large specimen trees during construction. After the 2008 crash, they have further ignored the ways to do this.


  1. Please connect disparate neighborhoods with walking trails for example connecting cul-de-sacs to each other. This could be done through tax incentives for property owners; mandates during any large development; mandates after destructive events like storms or fires that destroyed homes and purchasing some strategic properties.


  1. What can be done to get property owners to protect trees? Developers who buy a house in an old neighborhood for $300,000, clear-cut, grade, remove truckloads of dirt and build something that will sell for $800,000 +, don’t pay any attention to tree ordinances.


  1. We are combating developers who have a lot of money. I have screamed at previous Commissioner Chamblee about cutting old-growth trees (37+ in DBH). It is being done over and over. It has been my understanding 37+ on trees should be saved according to the Cobb County ordinances. But they are not. Money is the root of all evil. Eventually, they are going to be sorry. It’s just immoral for future generations not to be able to enjoy these trees.


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compiled by Lisa Frank,

Frank Relations and Eco-A