DeKalb’s Oldest Oak Tree Faces Developer’s Removal Request
(APN) ATLANTA — A 2.54 acre empty lot in Atlanta’s Kirkwood community at 145 Norwood Avenue is home to some of DeKalb County’s oldest and largest white oak trees, including one that is believed to be the oldest in the county, possibly the state. Now, the tree and its sister trees face a developers’ removal request, as advocates mobilize to preserve them.
Most of the trees are over one hundred years old with some older and they measure from 36 inches to 59 inches in diameter.
The lot has been purchased by Reid Knox Developers who plans to build eleven homes on the lot.
“The only way to get that many homes crammed into that small of a lot is to cut down the trees and have a cul de sac down the middle of the property,” Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, Executive Director, GreenLaw, the attorney for the trees, told Atlanta Progressive News.
Benfield recounted that at the Tree Commission Hearing on January 21, 2015, the developer said their development proposal would not be profitable if they do not fully develop the lot with eleven homes.
However, the Tree Commission gave the trees a partial victory by asking the developer to come back in 120 days with a revised plan that was more environmentally sensitive and protective of the trees.
One very large white oak is listed with Trees Atlanta’s Champion Trees database. It is the largest in the county, and possibly in the state, with almost a five feet diameter. Some estimates put the tree around 300 years old.
To get on the database, a tree must represent some of the oldest, heartiest, and most beautiful trees in the county. Trees Atlanta’s objective is to locate, document and protect the finest trees in environmentally sensitive areas.
The largest and oldest white oak tree, the champion tree in question, is marked for removal with a big orange x on its almost 10 foot circumference.
“It isn’t just this one beautiful old white oak tree, it’s an old growth stand of eight to ten healthy white oak trees,” Benfield said.
Those trees have hundreds of years of life left to absorb the water, clean the air, house the birds, and provide shade for children to play under.
A red shoulder hawk has been spotted and photographed on the property. Within the city limits of Atlanta, the red shouldered hawk is protected.
Also a barred owl is believed to nest on the site, according to GreenLaw.
GreenLaw hopes the subdivision lines can be redrawn so houses can be built to preserve some of the older trees.
Developers “need to think outside of the box,” Neil Norton, an independent arborist with TreeInspection.com, told APN.
“We need to develop in a different way and they want to do the same old thing that has been done for the last fifty years. The conservation subdivision easement allows them to build the homes closer together, higher, with shared common space and green space,” Norton told APN.
“It’s actually cheaper for them to develop this way because you don’t need so much infrastructure, it’s better for the trees, the community will have access to green space, and they could still make their money,” Norton said.
With Norton’s plan, eight homes could be built at 145 Norwood and still save most of the trees and have a green space in the back. The trees would continue to absorb the water; therefore, eliminating the need for a water retention pond that would take up the space of two homes, require more sewage infrastructure, and cost a lot of money.
The current plan calls for a water retention pond in the back of the property because most of the trees will be cut down, and the land will be bulldozed with concrete everywhere; and this creates an expensive water drainage problem. Instead, under Norton’s plan, the water would be absorbed through the soil and there would not be a water problem.
“It’s an antiquated way of dealing with water, which will destroy more trees and creates all this imperviousness,” Norton said.
Other options are for the City of Atlanta, East Lake Foundation, or the Conservation Fund to purchase the property.
Currently there are disputes on the size and age of the trees, and even which ones are marked for removal. Some trees are marked for removal at the site but not on the plan, while still others are left off the plan entirely. A lot of contradictory information and misinformation has confused the issue.
GreenLaw will continue to fight to preserve the trees until an acceptable resolution is reached, Benfield said.