MILTON, Ga. ⁠— The fate of Milton’s latest updates to the city’s tree ordinance will have to wait until July for final approval.

After vigorous analysis and debate of the changes, the Milton City Council decided at its June 15 meeting to defer a vote until next month. Two voted against the deferral: Mayor Joe Lockwood and Councilman Joe Longoria. Councilman Rick Mohrig was not at the meeting.

Earlier this year, staff met with elected officials, stakeholders and community members to hash out issues with the existing ordinance, specifically how to balance tree preservation without overburdening homeowners or developers.

“As we all know, the tree conservation ordinance is very important to preserve and enhance the character of Milton,” said Community Development Director Parag Agrawal. “Staff has worked very hard with various stakeholders to pull together the best tree conservation ordinance, an ordinance that would not only enhance the canopy of Milton but will also help to preserve Milton pastures.”

The updated ordinance realigns the city’s goals to strive for no net tree loss and to create the least intrusive regulations without placing an unfair burden on property owners. Another new goal of the ordinance revisions is to understand that open fields, pastures and agricultural settings are critical in maintaining Milton’s image.

These three objectives were used to steer discussions in Planning Commission meetings, City Council work sessions and stakeholder meetings.

Several changes to the tree ordinance arose from these meetings. Some of the highlights include:

  • Increasing protected tree size to 8 inches in diameter at breast height to coincide with specimen tree height.
  • Updating the term “specimen tree” to remove medium-height trees and include both Tulip-Poplars and Sweetgums in the same category as pines.
  • Decreasing minimum tree canopy coverage requirements for the AG1 zoning district to 57 percent to align with the city’s existing tree canopy percentage.
  • Adding a requirement that existing trees must make up one-third of the required canopy coverage during development to prevent clearcutting.
  • Allowing for “reasonable discretion” for tree removal on existing developed properties.

Arborist Sandra DeWitt, who has spearheaded the project for the past 18 months, also recommended that the city measure the tree canopy every two or three years instead of five, as the current ordinance states.

Some staff and City Council members said they were concerned about possible loopholes, especially in the case of someone subdividing a multiple-acre lot and how to decide what tree canopy requirements to apply to those subdivided lots. They also debated the logistics and frequency of measuring the tree canopy.

Multiple council members said they wanted to find the right wording to address such concerns so the document can stand on its own.

“Trees are one of those things that if you were to ask 100 people in the city of Milton if saving trees is important, 99 percent will say absolutely, until it comes to their yard or they want to put a pool in or somebody wants a farm,” Lockwood said. “This is a tough thing. You’ve really got to think it through.”

The City Council anticipates revisiting the matter again at its July 20 meeting at the latest with more information and feedback.

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