By Michael Jacobs

The new Buckhead-centered tree-protection organization in Atlanta has finalized its name: The Tree Next Door.

The group had tentatively adopted the name Canopy Keepers Atlanta but voted overwhelmingly for the name change at a meeting of 14 members June 1.

Shel Schlegman, who chaired the Atlanta Tree Protection Commission for 2½ years, pushed the new name and prepared stationery with a disappearing-tree logo for the group.

“Everybody who came before the tree commission got involved because of the tree next door,” he said in explaining the name.

Patty Jenkins, who is chairing the group, expressed doubts about the clarity of the new name, but others appreciated the vagueness.

“We don’t want to scare people off” with a name that’s “too Greenpeacey” or militant, Debbie Moscato said.

The name comes with a tag line: “An organization of neighbors dedicated to protecting Atlanta’s tree canopy.”

The use of “canopy” appealed to group members who worry that the group will be dismissed as radical tree-huggers determined to save every tree from development, while in fact the group accepts that some trees can and must be removed. What the group wants, above all, is for the city’s tree protection ordinance to be enforced as written.

“We’re not starting from Ground Zero here,” said Tom Coffin, whose legal fight against his firing as the city’s senior arborist sparked The Tree Next Door’s creation. He said Atlanta’s 2003 tree ordinance was the strongest in the nation. “We’re trying to avoid losing that law. … My job’s not so important; the law is very important.”

(Still, Schlegman and Jenkins said one pressing issue for the group is to raise money for Coffin’s legal fund.)

Coffin said Ibrahim Maslamani, the director of the Bureau of Buildings, has undermined the tree law with a policy of accommodation toward developers, so people in the city arborist’s office are afraid to enforce the law as written. “We want the law enforced.”

The next step for The Tree Next Door is to establish exactly how to accomplish that goal and what if anything else it wants to achieve. A committee is drafting a mission statement.

The two general paths the group will pursue are education and advocacy.

In the area of education, Coffin has prepared a distillation of the tree ordinance into its essential points, which will be posted on the group’s Web site,, hosted free by Tulix Systems, once it goes live. And Coffin is going to test a presentation on the good, the bad and the ugly of the tree ordinance as the first step toward creating a speakers bureau.

In the area of advocacy, Schlegman said the group should try to gain a seat on the tree commission, and he said this fall’s municipal elections present “a great opportunity to have an impact on the mayoral candidates.”

Others agreed that pressing candidates to take positions on trees would help the group serve the watchdog role it envisions.

The next meeting is tentatively set for June 29. To get more information, to join the organization or to be added to its Yahoo discussion group, e-mail