A controversial plan to cut down at least one tree for a parking lot renovation in Buckhead Forest has returned for a third time, drawing a petition of protest from neighbors.

It’s a “real-life version of the song [lyrics], ‘Pave paradise, put up a parking lot,’” said neighbor Cindy Taylor in an email, paraphrasing the Joni Mitchell song “Big Yellow Taxi.”

One of the oak trees at 3166 Mathieson Drive as seen from the neighboring condo building. Neighbors fear it is threatened by a parking lot plan. (Special)

The fate of the two oak trees — each more than 40 inches around and probably over 100 years old — behind a small office building at 3166 Mathieson Drive has been a repeated controversy since 2014. At that time, the owner, Forum Investment Properties, applied with the city to cut down the trees and expand a small parking lot. The city previously said the application was “terminated,” after review by the city arborist, in 2016.

Later that year, Forum applied again, drawing objections from the Development Review Committee of Special Public Interest District 9, a special zoning district. That plan called for expanding the parking lot from 10 to 17 spaces and cutting down both oaks, as well as other trees. The committee called for preserving the trees. The city said at the time that the application was incomplete and its status was unclear.

Now Forum has applied again for an unspecified “renovation” of the parking lot, along with “tree removal” and stormwater system repair, according to paperwork filed with the city in June. It is unclear which trees might be affected. A man who answered the phone at Forum’s office in the building said someone else would respond with details, but no one did. James Neidlinger, the project’s architect, declined to comment.

City spokesperson Michael Smith said the Office of Buildings reports that “the permit is unapproved and the plans/applications are still within their workstream, being reviewed.”

Denise Starling, an SPI-9 committee member, said the group has not seen a new application for the property.

Some residents of the Mathieson Exchange Loft condo tower next door say they fear the plan will involve cutting down the trees. They have started a petition to the city arborist, posted on Change.org, that had 128 signatures as of July 18.

Taylor, a resident of the condo building, said neighbors became aware of the plan’s return only when a sign indicating a tree removal application went up on the office building’s lawn. It was spotted only because another resident “happened to decide to walk over to Subway for a sandwich one day,” Taylor said.

Taylor said that the condo residents have enjoyed seeing the oaks for years. The current parking lot is rarely full, she said, and stormwater runoff is already significant. She questioned the need for the property owner to cut down any tree.

“I’m all for capitalism, and wealth is fine for me, but this is evil wealth taking down this tree,” she said.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.