Sandy Springs City Council members were interested in making sure the tree canopy was preserved or expanded on public lands like the John Shipley Forbes Big Trees Forest Preserve. (Bob Pepalis)

Sandy Springs wants to restore and expand the city’s tree canopy through proactive management, pest insect management, and conservation property acquisitions.

Urban Forest Coordinator William Park told the city council at its Sept. 19 work session that his staff wants to engage community stakeholders in private canopy expansion programs and promote public-private partnerships to drive more initiatives on private land.

The city’s main tree planting initiative has been through city projects, public works parks and facilities, Park said.

“Our existing parks have been infilled near to capacity. We do not want to limit the recreational use of our green spaces,” he said.

Park’s presentation included a Landmark Tree Protection Program. The city could match maintenance expenses up to $1,000 per property for three years, as long as the tree provides benefits such as stream buffer stabilization or shading public property.

A proposed Private Canopy Expansion Program would match up to $2,000 for private property owners where plantings are below coverage requirements of 35 percent for residential and 40 percent for nonresidential.

A Community Canopy Program would involve a request by a local organization to expand and protect the tree canopy if it generates public benefit and aligns with the goals of the Next Ten Comprehensive Plan. Up to $3,000 per project per year could be matched.

Under the current development code, the Tree Fund can be used only for control of plant invasive species and not invasive insects like pine beetles, emerald ash borer the spongy moth and the spotted lantern fly, he said.

Changes to the code would enable Sandy Springs to have active management of existing forests by stabilizing soil to control erosion, and planting understory trees, shrubs, and ground covers to lay a proper foundation for current and future forests, Park said. The city would set economic damage thresholds to limit unreasonable spending from its Tree Fund.

Park said that conservation property acquisition is one of the staff’s suggestions. The property would need to have heavy canopy coverage, old growth, and/or sensitive habitat. The cost would not exceed 25 percent of the Tree Fund.

Councilmember Tibby DeJulio supported improving the tree canopy, but he said planting trees between sidewalks and the streets could cause problems in future years as tree roots damage the sidewalks and increase costs to the city.

Park said root barriers are being used to prevent tree roots from infiltrating infrastructure.

Councilman Andy Bauman said he wanted the city to avoid a slippery slope in how the Tree Fund is used as the revenue has come in directly from the loss of tree canopy. He also warned against using the Tree Fund to purchase property, as it has the potential for misuse of funds.

Mayor Rusty Paul said Park addressed some of his greatest concerns with the city’s tree policy.

“Oftentimes, we can’t see the forest for the tree. And by that, I mean we get so focused on saving one individual tree that we happen to fall in love with … and that’s a good thing, but we’re neglecting the overall health of the forest,” he said.

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Rough Draft Atlanta and Reporter Newspapers.