Citizens Fight Developer Land Grab in Atlanta Public Park (UPDATE 4)
(APN) ATLANTA — Concerned citizens living near Peachtree Hills Park, an eight acre park near Atlanta’s Lindbergh MARTA Station, are up in arms about a developer’s plans to use the public park land for private gain.
Neighborhood advocates are saying this plan–already approved by the City Council of Atlanta– sets a dangerous precedent.
Ashton Woods, a private developer, is clear cutting four acres and plans to build 44 townhomes next to the park on its private land. Ashton Woods also wants the right of way for an easement for a stormwater pipe through the public park.
The pipe is 48 inches in diameter and runs about 120 feet across the park to empty into a small creek that flows into Peachtree Creek.
As previously reported in an article on the APN City Council Scorecard, the Atlanta City Council approved the easement by a twelve to two vote.
Only Councilmembers Felicia Moore (District 9) and Michael Julian Bond (at large Post 1) voted nay.
“This is the first time in 135 years a city park has been compromised for private gain,” Melanie Bass Pollard, Co-Founder, Atlanta Protects Trees, wrote in an email.
There is an alternate route less than half a block away from the proposed easement site on public park land that would not impact the trees or set a dangerous precedent.
Going under Peachtree Hills Avenue, as every other developer in the vicinity has done, is basically just as close to the creek as going through the park.
The developer’s stated reason for going through the park, instead of using the alternative, is that the road would be closed for a time and going through the park was the cheapest for storm water coming off the site.
However, what may be particularly enticing to the developer about going through the park is it could set a legal precedent, potentially allowing developers to grab public land for private profit in the future.
This slippery slope could allow developers to cut mature trees on public land and endanger Atlanta’s mature tree canopy for future generations.
MAY 17 TREE COMMISSION MEETING
Laura Dobson, a resident of Peachtree Hills, filed an appeal that was heard by the Atlanta Tree Conservation Commission (TCC) on Wednesday, May 17, 2017.
Many residents came out to ask the Tree Commissioners to enforce the tree ordinance.
“I don’t believe that without even exploring Peachtree Hill Avenue that they can comply with the tree ordinance because there was no engineering study done, there is no information on how long the street will be closed if it’s one lane or two lanes,” Dodson said
“This is the first time the City Council has allowed a private developer for private purposes to encroach on a city park,” deLille Anthony, with The Tree Next Door, said.
In the past, the City of Atlanta has often protected its lush, mature tree canopy, which provides shade from the summer heat. Replanting baby trees cannot provide the shade, nor the carbon sequestration, that mature one hundred year-old trees provide.
“The Atlanta Tree Conservation Commission charges us with protecting our canopy and our goal is keeping the canopy that we have,” Monica Halka, a Commissioner of the TCC said.
“We believe the tree canopy can best be protected by reconsidering and requesting the City Council to have another look at a different stormwater plan,” Halka said.
It was revealed in the TCC meeting that the City’s Office of Park Design granted the developers the easement, so they could get the City Council approval.
“This was done without our knowledge and we found out after the fact. If the City Council had not approved the easement, we probably would have denied the permit,” Chris Kallio, an arborist, told the Tree Commissioners.
It is interesting to note that on the other side of Peachtree Hills Avenue, some sixteen acres of green space will be developed for the Isakson Senior Living Community; and about 650 trees will be cut down with an adjacent two additional acres cleared for about ten single family homes.
Those eighteen acres of private land are owned by the family of U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA).
In total, 800-plus trees would be cut down on 22 acres. This comprises about ten percent of the mature tree canopy in the Peachtree Hills neighborhood, which would be lost forever due to these two developments.
To prevent this from happening in the future, the Tree Protection Ordinance would need to be changed to limit the percentage of existing canopy that can be removed from a property for development, Anthony said.
The City’s Tree Ordinance should focus on preserving existing tree canopy. “Not just replacing cut trees with small caliper trees, glorified shrubs, and recompense fees that may never be used to replant trees,” Anthony told Atlanta Progressive News.
Following the Tree Commission’s decision to send the plans back for review, the Ashton Woods developers have recently given notice of intent to move the case to the Fulton County Superior Court.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article identified U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson as a D for Democrat; this has been corrected to reflect that, clearly, he is a Republican. In addition, an earlier version of this article incorrectly in one instance capitalized the first letter of deLille Anthony’s name; this has been corrected to change this the first letter to a lower case.
UPDATE 2: An earlier version of this article stated that the pipe was 48 inches in circumference; however, the article has been corrected to reflect that it is 48 inches in diameter.
UPDATE 3: An earlier version of this article stated it appears what is enticing to the developer is setting a legal precedent; this has been changed to state it may be that this is what is enticing to the developer.
UPDATE 4: An earlier version stated that routing the pipe outside of the park is what every other developer “would do.” In fact, we don’t know what every developer would do. The article has been charged to reflect this is what every other developer in the vicinity has done.