A draft of a new Atlanta Tree Protection Ordinance will be unveiled this month in advance of a March 20 City Council work session where it will be discussed, according to the city’s planning chief.

It’s the first step in reviving a rewrite process that abruptly stalled last fall amid complaints from residents and City Council members about various problems, including a lack of details in the presentations.

“What will be different about it is that it will be specific,” said Tim Keane, commissioner of the Department of City Planning, about the new version. “It’ll be a draft of a specific proposal for the tree ordinance, where before, we were just talking about ideas and concepts.”

A timeline of the Tree Protection Ordinance rewrite process posted on the website of the Department of City Planning.

“I know very much what’s going to be proposed. I’m not going to talk to you about it,” Keane said of the draft, declining to mention any specific policies before the document is released to the public.

“It’ll be interesting because it’s going to be a significant change from what we have. … The one thing I will say is that what we’re going to be proposing is going to be an ordinance that does a better job of protecting trees,” Keane said with a laugh. “So, I was surprised to hear I even need to say that. But it will definitely do that. And so it will, as a result, result in lots of debate.”

Keane said the draft may be released in early March, but added that “since you and everybody picks over this thing to death,” he would hedge that timeline to roughly a week before the March 20 council session.

Tim Keane, commissioner of Atlanta’s Department of City Planning.

The tree ordinance has been in a rewrite phase for months – or years, through various processes – amid concerns that clear-cutting remains too easy in a city that prides itself on its urban forest.

In November, the department abruptly canceled a Buckhead community meeting with virtually no notice or explanation aside from a note placed on its website just hours beforehand. The immediate cause was negative reaction from a crowd – including many Buckhead residents – at a meeting the previous day in South Atlanta over both lack of detail and unhappiness with what details were presented.

The re-start of the process appears to have come with similar limited notice, when a new timeline appeared on the website around January.

Beyond the March review, the timeline includes a second draft in June, and a third draft in July. The timeline then calls for taking the third and final draft to the City Council and Neighborhood Planning Units for review and a final vote in August.

Keane would not explain why the process stopped and started with limited notice or how future changes in the process would be publicized, beyond saying “everybody knows” and that there will be ample public input. Planning department spokesperson Patricia Walden later said, “Any community meetings, including any updates to the schedule, will be announced accordingly through multiple appropriate media platforms.”

For more information about the process, see the city’s “Urban Ecology Framework” webpage here.

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