MILTON, Ga. — Following years of talks, tweaks and backpedaling, Milton has approved an updated tree ordinance designed to preserve the city’s natural canopy. The Milton City Council voted unanimously to approve the ordinance update at its Aug. 3 meeting.

While a tree ordinance is hardly the most exciting local government topic for residents, it does hold significance for all homeowners. The regulations dictate when a homeowner must receive a permit to cut down a tree on their property and how much canopy coverage their land must retain. They also impact the overall look of the city by essentially preventing clearcutting.

Highlighting the list of regulations is the minimum amount of required tree canopy coverage — the total area occupied by all trees on a property when they are fully grown. There are three tiers for AG-1 properties. Lots with 1 to 1.49 acres must have 57 percent coverage, and lots with 1.5 to 2.99 acres must have 40 percent coverage. To incentivize larger residential lots, properties that are 3 acres or more require only 25 percent coverage.

Lots that have less coverage than the required percentage must maintain the level of canopy that currently exists.

Properties with a legitimate agricultural use are exempt from the canopy regulations.

A homeowner looking to cut down a large tree will now need to break out a measuring tape. Under the regulations, a permit is required to remove any trees with a 15-inch diameter at breast height, a common method of measuring tree size.

That measurement has fluctuated throughout the rewrite of the regulations and nearly doubled from the originally proposed 8-inch measurement. After years of discussions, the council called an audible at the Aug. 3 meeting and raised the size stipulation from 12 to 15 inches.

That move came through a request from Scott Reese of Milton-based land surveying and planning firm Brumbelow-Reese and Associates. Reese said identifying all larger trees on a sizeable property would be taxing.

“From a logistics standpoint, trying to locate every 12-inch pine tree and sweetgum makes our job virtually impossible on larger tracts of land,” Reese said.

Council members were amenable and raised the size standard.

Reese’s previous comments helped kick off the ordinance rewrite. After about 18 months of drafting updates, the City Council approved an updated tree ordinance in early 2018. However, Reese and others said the stipulations were far too stringent. The city then went back to the drawing board and remained there until the Aug. 3 meeting.

The new ordinance also includes language on “understory” canopy coverage, smaller trees that underly the canopy of larger specimens. Any of these trees, which could include dogwoods, redbuds and the like, would be considered “protected” trees if their diameter at breast height is above 8 inches, and would require a permit to be removed.

The regulations also allow for “reasonable discretion” for removing trees on existing, developed properties.

While discussions on the regulations are done for now, the ordinance will be under review again in fall 2022 to evaluate its effectiveness.

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