The city of Atlanta has issued a long-delayed draft of a new Tree Protection Ordinance. But it came the day that major coronavirus pandemic shutdowns began and it now remains to be seen whether it can be vetted and formalized in line with its original late-August schedule.

The draft is 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. Details are plentiful in the draft as previously promised by Tim Keane, commissioner of the Department of City Planning.

“It is the intent of the city to protect all trees, and especially mature trees, to the extent feasible and to ensure that when trees must be removed, trees that will yield the same quality of canopy shall be replanted wherever conditions permit,” reads part of the basic mission statement in the draft.

Significant concerns among tree advocates have centered on clear-cutting of lots, allowances for optional removal of healthy trees, and insufficient enforcement. Developers also have expressed concerns on burdensome or unclear standards.

The draft appears to attempt to balance out those interests. A key provision is requiring a permit for removing healthy, non-hazardous trees on private property if they are pines 12 or more inches in diameter at breast height, or all other species 6 inches DBH or greater. Permits may be given for certain types of construction and landscaping, among other reasons.

The draft also suggests possible permit exemptions for such projects as affordable housing, mass transit and “green” buildings.

The draft proposes that appeals can be filed by any resident or business-owner within 500 feet or within the same Neighborhood Planning Unit.

The draft has minimum tree density requires for various lot sizes and retains a system for replanting or paying into the Tree Fund to compensate for removing mature trees. It includes a provision that no single-family residential development would be approved without a minimum of three trees saved or planted. It also requires Tree Commission approval for clear-cutting a lot.

The draft ordinance makes an allowance for removing some trees without replanting or compensation. It would allow for one tree or 5% of the total DBH of trees on the site – whichever is greater – to be removed from a parcel every three years without replanting or compensation, as long as the site meets or exceed 150% of the tree-density requirements.

The draft ordinance addresses some of the enforcement and protection provisions of the current ordinance that have drawn criticism. Among other provisions, it requires a “pre-demolition” inspection of trees marked for removal and says trees at construction sites must be protected by a fenced area sufficient to protect its root zone. The city may require greater than minimum protections in certain cases, the draft ordinance says.

To read the full draft ordinance, including a Word document that can be marked in red with specific suggested changes, see the “Urban Ecology Framework” page on the city’s website.

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