Melissa Bryson is a developer planning four homes for a 3.4-acre parcel on Mabry Road.
Melissa Bryson is a developer planning four homes for a 3.4-acre parcel on Mabry Road.

As the city of Brookhaven works to tweak its tree ordinance amid criticism that the present law is too lenient on developers, the owners of a four-house project under way in Historic Brookhaven say they are attempting to preserve as many trees as possible in their development.

A single house once sat on the 3.4-acre lot at 3005 Mabry Road, owned by the same family since 1927. The property was acquired in September by developers Mike Elliot and Melissa Bryson, both Historic Brookhaven residents.

“We could have squeezed in a lot more homes, but we’re just doing four,” Bryson said.

Bryson and Elliot say they are developing the property with no requests for rezoning or variances. The property, which they have named Brookhaven Forest, is zoned for R-100, which requires .35- acre minimum lot sizes, but their plans call for .55 acres to more than an acre for each of the four lots.

“We would have been able to squeeze more on, and it would have been a more profitable project, but it didn’t feel right,” Bryson said. “I live one street up and [Elliot lives nearby], and we love this property, and just wanted it to be maintained and look like it should look like since we’re here in the middle of Historic Brookhaven.”

The city’s efforts to control tree removal have drawn complaints from residents who say they don’t go far enough.

Sally Eppstein started an online petition to save the city’s tree canopy after becoming distressed by what she described as clear-cutting on a property along North Druid Hills Road near Roxboro and Goodwin roads. At a recent City Council meeting, she pleaded to preserve old growth trees.

“I’m really saddened by all the destruction,” Eppstein said. “We need a ton of tweaking.”

Tom Reilly echoed her concerns. “We’ve watched developers clear cut lot after lot, cram houses into lot after lot, pay whatever financial penalties we had for them to pay and then try to pass off as neighborhoods what seems like human warehouses with saplings in the middle of them. . . . It’s time to tweak.”

Bryson said she and Elliot would do more to preserve trees on their property than the city requires.

Bryson said they hired an arborist to identify each tree on the property more than 6 inches in diameter, while the city only requires identification of 15-inch diameter trees. That arborist identified 408 trees, and inventoried them by diameter size, species and condition.

“We’re not trying to say that every tree will remain,” Bryson said, “but we’re definitely making a strong effort to save many of them.”

Elliot and Bryson say they are taking steps to save as many trees as possible by creating a homeowners’ association, serving on the future neighborhood’s architectural review board and hiring a landscape architect who will help place the houses to minimize its impact on trees.

Bryson and Elliot are also working on safely moving smaller trees and plants from the site. The Georgia Native Plant Society conducted a plant rescue on the property, and Friends groups from Blackburn and Briarwood parks and Clack’s Corner also took some of the plants for their parks.

Meanwhile, at Brookhaven’s Feb. 10 City Council meeting, city officials continued to tweak the tree ordinance, modified in August from the ordinance the city had originally adopted from DeKalb County.

On Feb. 10 the council voted to change the required replacement of a specimen tree a developer removes from a ratio of 1-to-1 to 1-to-1.5. The council deferred a decision whether to raise or eliminate a cap on the fee a developer pays when unable to replace specimen trees. The current cap is $62,500.

A rendering of the future Brookhaven Forest development.
A rendering of the future Brookhaven Forest development.

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