Atlanta City Council passed an ordinance May 1 that will allow a developer to route a storm water drainpipe through Peachtree Hills Park, cutting down trees in the process. The nonprofit Trees Atlanta says the development is one example of why Atlanta’s tree ordinance needs to be rewritten.

“In the end, Trees Atlanta, the City Arborist Division, the Tree Conservation Commission and community have to work with the existing tree ordinance and it is often not enough to save trees,” Trees Atlanta, which is dedicated to preserving Atlanta’s trees, said in a statement.

Trees stand on the property where Isakson Living will build more townhomes in its Peachtree Hills Place development along Peachtree Hills Avenue. (Evelyn Andrews)

The developer, Ashton Woods, will install a four-foot storm water drainpipe in Peachtree Hills Park, emptying into Peachtree Creek and requiring the removal of seven park trees, a small part of the hundreds of trees two developers will cut down to build separate townhome communities on nearby property. The developer did not respond to requests for comment.

The Ashton Woods development is one of two townhome construction projects on Peachtree Hills Avenue. Along with the Isakson Living development, Peachtree Hills Place, the two developers will cut down hundreds of trees. Isakson Living is partly built on the corner of Kings Circle and Peachtree Hills Avenue, but a second phase is coming. The Ashton Woods development will be built adjacent to the park and will open in late 2017, according to its website.

“The two development projects underway in Peachtree Hills by Ashton Woods and Isakson Living demonstrate opportunities for better design and development,” Trees Atlanta said in the statement.

As part of the ordinance, Ashton Woods has agreed to repair the parking lot and clean and paint the gym at the park, which is one of the city of Atlanta’s Centers of Hope. However, Greg Levine, the co-executive director and chief program officer of Trees Atlanta, said the city should have made these improvements already and the improvements aren’t relevant to the damage the developers will do to the park.

“They’re not harming the building, they’re harming the creek,” Levine said.

When asked for comment, the city did not address the question about its responsibility to improve the park. A city representative said an agreement has been made between the city and the developer to make the repairs in return for the city’s consideration to grant permission to install the drainage pipe.

Developers know they have to agree to give a benefit to the city to get the approvals they need, but the trade-offs should be relevant to the project, Levine said. “If the city isn’t getting an environmental benefit, the city shouldn’t grant the easement,” he said.

Trees Atlanta would like to see the city’s tree ordinance include a list of options for developers to give back to the community that would make the trade-offs “more appropriate and pertinent to the environmental damage being done,” Christina Gibson, the canopy conservation coordinator at Trees Atlanta, said.

“If we are going to have this system, why not add them to the code?” Gibson said.

The developers have also signed an agreement with the Peachtree Hills Civic Association in which they agreed to donate $30,000 to Friends of Peachtree Hills Park that will be used toward future improvements for the park, but Levine said that amount is “nothing” compared to money being spent to build the large development, and it doesn’t compensate for the environmental harm.

The developers behind Peachtree Hills Place, Isakson Living, have been more receptive to Trees Atlanta’s suggestions, Levine said, and the organization has been able to preserve 60 trees at that the development.

The Office of City Planning is working on a review of the tree ordinance, and Trees Atlanta is researching several suggestions it believes could protect Atlanta’s tree canopy, which it says is in danger.

A rewrite of the tree ordinance should include stronger tree protection incentives and removal penalties and to better connect the tree ordinance with zoning ordinances and storm-water code requirements, the statement said, and should advocate for innovative conservation practices, like street tree plantings, Trees Atlanta said.

Under the current ordinance, developers are fined $1,000 per tree they cut down without a permit. If developers are unable to replant enough trees to replace the ones cut down, they pay a fee to the city of $100 per tree in addition to $30 for each inch of the diameter of the tree.

“We must raise the bar for how we grow, build, and develop in the context of our Piedmont forest ecosystems,” Trees Atlanta said in a statement.

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