By John Schaffner
Complaints about Atlanta’s tree ordinance, the city’s arborists and the management of the Bureau of Buildings were the hot items on the minds of some 100 residents who attended the Neighborhood Planning Unit A meeting April 6 to talk with Mayor Kasim Reed.
Most of the residents were disappointed to discover that Reed had a scheduling conflict and would not be at the meeting. Instead, he sent David Bennett, a senior policy advisor.
While the tree ordinance, arborist and building permits were the hot buttons with many at the meeting, the excessive number of potholes in Buckhead streets, the abundance of illegal signs along neighborhood streets, storm water drainage problems, faulty water meters, excessive water bills and other items were all brought forward for Bennett to take back to Reed.
There was a double-barreled attack on the developer of the property at 1001 West Paces Ferry Road, Steve West, and an attack on the city’s arborists and the tree ordinance.
First in line was Dr. Jeri Breiner with the Trees Next Door organization, who criticized the city’s arborists for not doing their job and letting developers illegally cut down trees by using invalid site plans. She said the city’s arborists have incorrectly stamped tree removal permits on 11 Buckhead sites, including the site at 1001 West Paces Ferry.
Dr. Breiner said the city “fired the only arborist, Tom Coffin, who did cite people for tree ordinance violations.”
NPU-A chair Brink Dickerson said the present tree ordinance doesn’t work well enough and the city’s arborists are not even following the existing ordinance. Furthermore, he said, “When we call city, we are not being heard.” He said residents need help with the tree ordinance and “need people downtown to listen and respond to our concerns.”
Dickerson pointed out developers would rather pay the fine and be allowed to cut down any trees they want to cut. Someone in the audience said the fine for cutting down a decades-old, 40-inch diameter tree is only $1,300 according to the ordinance.
Dickerson said the developer cut all the trees out of the front yard at 1001 West Paces Ferry “and left the tree canopy at risk.”
Bennett responded that Atlanta’s tree ordinance is stricter that almost any other city’s. “Ours refers to individual lots,” he explained. “Others only refer to large developments.”
Mary Katschilo, who lives next to the property at 1001 West Paces Ferry, criticized the director of the city’s Bureau of Buildings, Ibrahim Maslamani, for not being responsive to resident’s complaints. She also said she has been “personally threatened with a lawsuit” from developer Steve West.
She said the Buildings and Zoning departments have approved site plans where they exceeded the maximum coverage by 37 percent.”
She said an “illegal” retaining wall has been built right along her property line as is responsible for flooding of her back yard.
Katschilo requested of Bennett a personal meeting with the mayor, saying, “there needs to be accountability and responsibility” within the departments of government.
About the abundant potholes in streets throughout Buckhead, Bennett responded, “There is a limited amount of money to repair streets. The current budget sets aside nearly $12 million to upgrade the city’s fleet (cars and trucks) and for other capital improvements.”
Two or three people in the audience expressed unhappiness with the Department of Watershed Management, asking Bennett how to get Watershed Management to respond to their concerns.
Bennett introduced Andrea Boone, head of Constituency Services for the city, and gave her phone number: 404-330-6023.
Bennett pointed to an icon “ATL Stats” on the opening page of the city of Atlanta’s Web site (atlantaga.org), which contains information on goals and standards for every department in city government and rates how each department is doing in accomplishing its goals and standards.
Yolanda Adrean, the new Dist. 8 member of City Council and chair of the Finance Committee, told the group that a great deal of progress has been made in financial reporting to council by the administration and she is getting a cash-flow statement every month.
Adrean said the budget situation is “running squeaky tight.” But she added she is “pleased with the controls that are now in place.”
At the end, Bennett reminded those in attendance that Mayor Reed had promised to arrange a future date for some face-to-face time with residents at NPU-A.