Karen Meinzen McEnerny
Karen Meinzen McEnerny

Before she exits Sandy Springs City Council in January, District 6 City Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny is working to secure her legacy as the city’s lead tree preservationist.

McEnerny, a firm believer in term limits, didn’t seek a third term in this year’s municipal election. She’s also a firm believer in tree protection and has spent the last few months trying to get the council to correct what she believes are glaring flaws in the city’s tree ordinance.

City Council on Nov. 19 discussed McEnerny’s suggested fixes for the ordinance during the council’s work session. The item was moved off the Nov. 12 agenda and City Council on Nov. 19 asked if it could be taken up at future meeting.

McEnerny insisted the discussion go on as planned.

“Respectfully, I was on the agenda last time first,” McEnerny said. “The mayor has asked me to be brief.”

McEnerny has outlined six things that she thinks should be changed about the current tree ordinance. They are:

–          Prevent clear cutting, the practice of cutting all trees on a lot up to adjacent property lines;

–          Increase tree canopy coverage;

–          Allow for administrative appeals of permits that allow cutting of “landmark trees”;

–          Designate all hardwood trees greater than 37 inches in diameter and pine trees greater than 40 inches;

–          Create a public-private tree planting program;

–          Require developers to post a notice when they’ve applied for a building permit so neighbors can review the plans filed at city hall.

McEnerny said city’s community development staff is considering her suggestions. Staff members sent a memo to council members ahead of the Nov. 12 meeting suggesting amending the city’s code to require an annual plan for spending tree bank fund money; conducting regular canopy studies and increasing the minimum replanting size of trees from 2 inches in diameter to 2 ½ inches. Staff members also suggested reviewing the ordinance to clean up any language that’s confusing or unclear.

Mayor Eva Galambos thanked McEnerny for giving a “concise” report at the Nov. 19 meeting.

McEnerny said, “I hope you will allow all of these to go back to staff, so a future council can hammer through.”

Mayor-elect Rusty Paul said he hasn’t been given all details about the proposed changes, but he said he’s willing to consider them. Paul’s term as mayor begins in January.

“There’s been an awful lot of work put into the tree ordinance,” Paul said. “Just because a council member’s term ends, you don’t scrap it. I’m sure it’s something that we’ll continue to work on.”

McEnerny attended a going-away party in her honor on Nov. 24. One of the hosts was Nina Cramer, founder of Trees Sandy Springs and a friend of McEnerny. Her friends and well wishers said McEnerny’s work on the city’s tree ordinance was among the high points of her career.

When McEnerny delivered her farewell remarks, she said she would continue to work with voters to hold elected officials accountable.

“That means handling themselves in a courteous and kind manner to reflect our highest ideals of Character Values and integrity … protecting our quality of life in meaningful ways, including preservation of our tree canopy,” McEnerny said.

When people in the room began cheering, she briefly deviated from her speech and smiled at her supporters. “You knew that one.”

Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt wrote for Reporter Newspapers from 2011 - 2014. He is the founder and editor of Decaturish.com