Does Alpharetta Really Need a Tree Ordinance?

Copyright © 2016 Julie A. Hogg All rights reserved. No portion, partial or entire, of the blog posts contained on the Alpharetta Post may be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the owner and writer.

What if Alpharetta didn’t have a tree ordinance?  Did you even know that Alpharetta has a tree ordinance?  The city of Alpharetta, like many municipalities in this region, has a tree ordinance, a tree board and the designation “Tree City, USA”, a designation Alpharetta has enjoyed for going on 30 years.  But what does this mean, how well is it respected and executed and who cares?

The Wall Street Journal recently posted an article, “Why Oakmont Waged a War on Trees”, that tells the story of why a country club in Pennsylvania has felled over 7500 trees since 2007.  Their reasons to do it make perfect sense to the greens-keepers.  They don’t want an arboretum.  They want direct sunlight on the fairways and greens.   Even if the whims of golf course style dictate that golfers begin to want the trees back in another 15 years, it illustrates a really good point.  That point is:  You don’t have to have a tree for the sake of having a tree.  As a commenter on this WSJ piece said, “Trees aren’t sacred”;  particularly on a golf course where only golf itself is sacred, as anyone who has read Golf In the Kingdom will understand.  Sure, trees add value in terms of vista; Augusta National doesn’t pamper their pines and azaleas for nothing, but the plant of highest value on a golf course is grass.  The management of that grass has spawned entire university programs and is crucial to the $76 billion (annual) industry of golf.

By the same token, trees aren’t sacred in the yard.  If you enjoy the benefit of private property ownership, then you understand this.  And the homeowner off of Rucker Road who just took down 3 trees in their front yard and 5 trees in the back yard perfectly illustrates that point.  So what that they broke a city code?  The city arborist will never know. Why should a “tree board” and an arborist and a City Council decide how many trees are in a yard?  Or at a commercial site?  But, there’s another side to this.

The same person who wrote in response to the WSJ article that trees are not sacred, went on to say, “…they are crops.”  Well, sometimes they are.  I grow trees as a crop.  But the reason my trees can be defined as a crop is because they are harvested.  Some trees are harvested and they can be considered a crop.

The trees in your front or back yard or at Avalon or along North Point Parkway are not harvested.  They  were planted when your house was constructed to give it aesthetic value.  The towering oaks in the medians of North Park Parkway and Windward Parkway are beautiful and that aesthetic value translates into consumers who want to shop and homeowners who want to reside.  Even the doomed 5 live oaks planted near the Plaza at Avalon (so doomed because live oaks don’t grow this far north) were planted for their aesthetic value, and at great cost to the developer.

The importance of trees, how many are in our yard, how many are protected in green-space, how many construction companies are forced to leave behind or re-plant becomes critical as density increases.  Trees are our low to no cost mitigators.   They slow down rainwater run-off; they take up pollutants.  In a phrase:  they mitigate water pollution and flooding.  Trees mitigate heat and reduce air-conditioning bills – some studies have shown by 20-30%.  Trees absorb airborne pollutants.  They produce oxygen.  They provide nectar for pollinators.    Without trees, cities like Alpharetta would be forced to rely solely upon man-made and costly solutions to prevent flooding of roads and neighborhoods.  Watersheds would be forced, in a losing and costly battle, to find ways to cleanse our water.  Homes and businesses would have enormous electricity bills.  And keep in mind that 44% of U.S. electricity is generated by coal fired power plants.  While coal is plentiful in the U.S., the tradeoff is the air pollution it creates, thus creating the need for trees to take up all that air pollution.  So, although a tree may not be sacred, it is a workhorse that works on our behalf.  This is not a Democrat’s issue or a Republican’s issue.  It is everyone’s issue because everyone has to breath, eat and drink.

Although I won’t call it sacred, there is another reason to save some trees.  Some trees truly are historic – like the southern red oak adjacent to the City Center parking deck – the tree that is slated to be chopped down.   And like all good historical things, these trees tell the story of a long life that overcame many obstacles just to “be”.  They, like Mt. Vernon or the old FFA Log Cabin, have had many generations of eyes gaze upon them to appreciate them and maybe marvel at them, or in the case of a tree, simply rest in their shade.  These trees are usually big – big enough to cast a great shadow.  Again, I won’t call these trees sacred, but they come as close as you can get because they deserve a pause.  They deserve our leaving them alone so that we can appreciate the grace of their old age.

The purpose of a tree code is to protect historic trees, beautiful trees, work horse trees; not to keep a tree just for the sake of keeping a tree.  How do you do this with so many competing interests?  That is the question.   And how well does a city like Alpharetta understand and administer the tree ordinance?

In the city of Alpharetta, the City Council liaison to Community Development, Mike Kennedy, is the person you should contact if you are interested in protecting and improving Alpharetta’s tree ordinance.

I hope you’ll think about it.


9 Replies to “Does Alpharetta Really Need a Tree Ordinance?”

  1. I’m well aware of the ordinance and am glad it’s in place, even if some pay it no heed. Denuded developments and neighborhoods look sparse and dead. Note, though, if you look at pictures of Atlanta 100 years ago, there were few trees downtown, despite the leafiness in many areas now.

    When I wanted to cut down five Leyland Cypress trees that had grown to 45-60′ in 15 years, I went through the process and was approved quickly (probably helps that I’m an engineer and did measurements and made a writeup with graphics).

    We’ve had a squirrel problem in my neighborhood, and my neighbor’s tactic was to cut down nearly all his trees and tall bushes, now his house has great grass, but no shade. I took other actions and have great shade, but no grass.

    1. “I took other actions and have great shade, but no grass.” – which reminds me – I’m gonna have to do a piece on ground covers that work in shade.

  2. I like trees just like most people. There has to be a balance with other natural surroundings, such as wetlands, grasses and shrubs.

    There also has to be a balance with development, to be sure that we SAVE the beautiful Southern Red Oak downtown instead of destroying it to make room for a parking lot and the dreadful apartments.

    Our politicians say they don’t care how much money the City receives for the City Center property, so why sacrifice this beautiful tree? We need another 168 apartments more than greenspace in the heart of downtown? How about cancelling the deal with Rid-City developers and planting trees on the land?

  3. This article had me so angry at first! lol I’m 27 and I’ve lived in Alpharetta my entire life. When I was little, we went away for a few months and when we came back they had cut down the trees to make Haynes bridge rd. I cried. Yesterday on my drive home from work, I saw how much they cut down next to the Baptist church. I cried. I came across your article looking for answers on why this is ok. I’m glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t want to see the trees gone from Alpharetta.

  4. Julie,
    I along with many others, would surely appreciate your thoughts and insight regarding ground-cover options for highly shaded areas with poor drainage. Because of the tree buffer on Haynes Bridge Road, the “courtyard” behind my townhouse is always wet and moldy or dried up. In either situation, grass will not grow. I’m thinking of putting down stone.
    Regarding tree conservation – we should save and replant as many as possible.
    As you have discussed, they are truly a critical component of a healthy ecosystem.
    Thanks again.

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