Proposed Tree Ordinance
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Does ordinance allow clear cutting?
Generally not, however the nature of some development projects makes it
impossible to save trees. The ordinance provides protection of Landmark, Protected,
and Boundary trees.
2. Where does tree bank money go?
Currently, it is spent on planting trees in public rights of way. It can also be used
to purchase greenspace or maintain existing public trees. The same use is
recommended in the proposed ordinance outlined in Section D.7.b.
3. Is there a special ordinance for historic trees?
No, historic trees are covered in this ordinance and in Chapter 58, Historic
Preservation, of the City Code. Historic trees designation would be made by the
Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) and protected under this ordinance.
4. Is tree protection fencing established with a limit of disturbance?
Yes, fencing distances are established to protect the critical root zone of a tree.
Specific requirements can be found in the Best Management Practices.
5. What is tree protection standard?
Generally the standard is all trees, particularly those outside the buildable area of
a property, however the ordinance defines protected trees, landmark trees and historic
6. What is follow up after development is finished?
Trees for canopy requirements are required in perpetuity. Final inspection at the
end of a project is the end of city arborist involvement. As with any violation of city
development ordinances, ensuring compliance after a project is complete is a
combination of city staff and the community reporting violations. If the building
project is done to according to the Best Management Practices, the project should be
7. Does ordinance apply to single family properties?
Yes, it applies to removal of protected trees that are impacted by building and
remodeling projects that change the footprint of a house. It also regulates the removal
of landmark trees.
8. What are we doing about replanting?
The city plants at least 50 trees per year in public rights-of-way, although this has
been suspended during the drought. Implementing a community wide tree planting
campaign is project being considered by the Greenspace Commission.
9. What kind of elms were planted in Sycamore Ridge?
10. Can ecological benefits be quantified?
Yes, see www.urbanforestrysouth.org, and www.americanforests.org
11. What is a boundary tree?
A tree on a property adjacent to a permitting property whose critical root zone or
canopy extends into the permitting property.
12. How long would money stay in escrow for boundary trees?
The permittee places money in escrow for three full growing seasons to ensure
that they have not harmed the boundary tree. If the money is not claimed within in
five years it is put in the tree bank.
13. Clarify the 35% standard for parking lots?
The standard for parking lots is 1 tree per six parking spaces which will yield
between 35 and 40% canopy. There is no place more important for shade than
14. What is the canopy standard?
35% all other uses
A Canopy Tree is a large or medium tree with a crown size and shape that will
typically provide significant shared and beneficial effects on temperature, air quality,
water quality, and other environmental conditions, at maturity. The canopy (the top of
the tree) is used to meet the canopy standard.
15. Are there good examples of parking lots with structural soil?
Not in Decatur, structural cell are preferred to structural soil because they provide
greater soil volume.
16. When do you get plans in the process?
Owners are required to submit a Site Tree Conservation Plan (STCP) when they
pull a land disturbance, building, or demolition permit. If the project does NOT
involve a change to the footprint of the building, no STCP is required.
17. Is there the opportunity to work with city earlier in the building process?
You can contact the Development Department to arrange an appointment to
discuss your project.
18. Will there be a tree species list?
Yes, there is species list adapted from Athens-Clarke county.
19. What measures for determining a historic tree?
This will be determined by the Historic Preservation Commission.
20. Have you defined a landmark tree? Size? Condition?
Any canopy tree 30 inch dbh or larger or any understory tree 8 inches dbh or
larger, in fair or better conditions, having a life expectation of greater than 5 years
and which sits on a property undergoing activities to which the terms and provision of
the Decatur Tree Conservation Ordinance applies.
21. How different is this from other cities? Ordinances?
Canopy ordinances have become the standard, replacing the type of ordinance
Decatur has in place now. This new ordinance will be similar to Athens Clark
County, and the City of Sandy Springs.
22. How will this impact the single-family homeowner? With remodeling is there
middle ground for R-60?
There are two impacts: One, is the permit requirement for removal of landmark
trees and Two, is the requirement for prescriptions for remodeling projects that
impact trees. Owner occupied remodels do not have to meet the 45% requirement, but
only protect existing trees and replace what is lost. All owners in Decatur will benefit
from maintenance of the existing tree canopy.
23. What if home had no trees and remodeled?
Then they don’t need a tree protection prescription.
24. Didn’t Sandy Springs, Georgia have bonus for plantings?
No they do not.
25. Is there a restriction on the developer covering the drip line?
Arborist discretion is used, if the tree won’t survive the development process,
canopy credit won’t be granted.
26. What would be the protection standard for 30 inch pine and understory etc.?
The same as for any other trees.
27. When are escrow accounts and tree performance maintenance bonds used?
For the protection of boundary trees and if season or weather is not suitable for
28. Does the ordinance allow trees to be removed that house listed species?
Not part of decision rule, however, federal laws apply to all listed species.
29. What if I have 80-100 year old Water Oak?
Likely a landmark tree status, depending on the condition.
30. Is there a way to designate what types of trees should be preserved?
Yes, they have been defined as Landmark Trees, Protected Trees, or Boundary
31. What degree of control does the city have over utility cutting?
32. What can we do to help planting diversity?
Utilize the tree list in the Administrative Standards and BMPs.
33. Does a certain percentage of Canopy have to come from specific list?
No, ecological compatibility to site is important. We want to be as flexible as
possible when it comes to replanting.
34. Can we require tunneling and not doing footings? Floating foundations?
Yes, This method of construction is recommended as often as possible and where
35. What are enforcement standards?
See Section F: enforcement
36. Should we have a full time arborist? Inspection?
The city is not looking to hire a full time arborist at this time, but will focus on
cross-training of inspection and permitting staff to increase enforcement.
37. Timeline for change in ordinance? Who approves?
The City Commission has final approval of the ordinance. It will be on their agenda
on May 19, 2008.
38. What is the fiscal impact on the city of the tree ordinance?
The fees are set to cover the cost of administering the tree ordinance. Using a
contract service provider is less expensive than hiring a full time city employee.
39. What is Decatur’s canopy coverage?
City staff is still working on determining this number. The City Arborist estimates
between 40 and 60% overall city coverage with some neighborhoods over 80%. The
standards in the ordinance are set to assure no net loss of canopy coverage.
40. When can I remove a tree?
Any time when it is dangerous, otherwise after the standards are met and permit is
41. Does a homeowner have to mitigate for the removal of a hazardous tree?
The homeowner does not have to pay mitigation for the loss of the tree, but must
have the Decatur Arborist or other professional document on the tree’s condition.
42. How is canopy calculated?
See Section E Section 2.a and 2.b of the Administrative Standards and BMPs for
step by step instructions.
43. What if a boundary tree is not a landmark or protected tree?
Generally smaller trees are less susceptible to damage as boundary trees because
their root systems are not as extensive.
44. Do you have to plant a tree that is on the list?
No, but ecological compatibility of proposed tree plantings are considered.
45. What are the incentives for maintaining or increasing canopy coverage?
Successful completing the permitting process.
46. What are the fees?
Landmark Tree Removal
With Site Visit $85
No site visit (Certified Arborist Letter) $35
Single Family Remodeling Prescription $175
Site Tree Conservation Plan
Single Family $200
Multifamily, Subdivision, non residential <3 acres $375
Multifamily, Subdivision, non residential >3 acres $475
Demolitions: All Properties $175
Miscellaneous Consults: Hourly Rate $125
47. Do I get credit for canopy that is over my property, but the trunk is on a
Yes, if it is a boundary tree. See Section E.4.b.ii