Leigh Bielenberg's Testimony before the Atlanta City Council

This five minute segment is of Leigh Bielenberg’s testimony before the Atlanta City Council. The full 45 minutes of the Atlanta City Council discussion on starting an independent audit on the Arborist Division on the Bureau of Buildings may be viewed here.

Below is an image from the Atlanta Cyclorama in which is believed to be observed the tree Leigh discusses in the video, which she and her husband, Tab Bottoms, have been battling to preserve, the roots of which were recently bulldozed. The tree is believed to be the largest and oldest Southern Red Oak in metro Atlanta and is some 170-180 years of age. The roots were bulldozed immediately subsequent Tom Coffin’s being fired from the Arborist Division of the Bureau of Buildings (he was the senior arborist). This is the image Leigh was submitting in the above video.

Leigh writes,

The scan of part of the Cylorama is facing Northwest from the corner of Moreland and Dekalb Avenue. Our tree would had a 20 inch diameter at that point (the artists sketches of the local were done in 1882, about 18 years after the actual battle.) And based on the maps and GPS, our tree is depicted in the clump of trees above the second American Flag about half way up the image (below the white house which is now the Carter Center). Tab met with the Director of Cylorama and had a private tour to figure some of this out.

Former news on the tree may be viewed here.

Below is an image Marty took before excavation. As Marty points out, the stake indicating the tree line, which the developer’s themselves put down, is not in line with the tree protection fence, the tree protection fence violating the boundary.

The tree protection fence, by law, must be, in this case, a permanent chain link fence. It is instead a plastic fence with a movable temporary chain link.

Below are two photos from Leigh.

The first image shows how the oak tree roots were indeed bulldozed rather than airspayed.

The second image shows the destruction of an elm tree during the same excavation. Leigh states she and Tab said the Elm tree, which is on their property, would be destroyed according to the building plan of the development next door, but they had resigned themselves to this if the large oak tree was preserved. The elm is now dangerous and the developer has no plans to pay for its removal.

Link to Memorial post for Leigh.

Atlanta City Council Discussion on Starting an Independent Audit on the Arborist Division of the Bureau of Buildings

As the Creative Loafing article asks, Why Was Atlanta Arborist Tom Coffin Fired?

Tom Coffin has tirelessly fought to save Atlanta’s trees.  Why was he fired?  The Atlanta City Council meeting involves beginning an independent audit of the Arborist Division of the Bureau of Buildings.

Some friends of ours have been fighting to preserve an 170-180 year old oak, believed to be the largest and oldest Southern Red Oak in the metro area, for several years now.  We and others had endeavored to provide some assistance by holding a couple benefits.   Shortly after Tom Coffin was fired, the developer came in and illegally bulldozed the roots of the tree, going against a standing court order that the excavation must be done by air spade.  Tom Coffin had placed a stop work order but Paul Lekowicz had lifted it in spite of the fact that none of the code violations that caused the stop work order had been addressed.  Paul said, “It looks OK to me.” Leigh Bielenberg gives her testimony on this in this clip of the meeting.

I excerpted this video from a two and a half hour long Atlanta City Council Video.  It runs about 45 minutes long.  I tried a number of times to upload it in 10 minute segments on Youtube but Youtube would never finish uploading, so I dropped the quality even lower (it had already degraded some with conversion from a wmv file to avi to mov) and have placed the 45 minute segment here in Flash.

Update: I have since excerpted Leigh’s testimony before the Atlanta City Council. It may be viewed here.

The oak tree revisited

In the summer we helped host a couple of benefits for the tree that’s the subject of the below article, the first benefit rained out by hurricane Dennis.

I’d like to note first that the AJC reports that Atlanta is still the city of trees with a canopy that spreads “forever”. What they don’t state is that there has been such profound deforestation of Atlanta in the past thirty years that it is down to about 27 percent tree cover, which is not near the 40% it needs to maintain air quality. An image comparing canopy cover in 1993, 13 years ago, with that of 1972 is here..

Quattrochi found that Atlanta’s dramatic growth and extensive land cover change over the past few decades exacerbated the heat island effect. Landsat images of metropolitan Atlanta between 1973 and 1992 revealed that developers had cleared almost 380,000 acres of trees, replacing them with retail centers, roads, and about 270,000 acres of tract housing. Landsat data also revealed that an additional 180,000 acres of trees were cleared between 1993 and 1999.


560,000 acres of trees cleared in the Atlanta area between 1973 and 1999. That’s a lot of trees. One wonders how many more acres have been cleared since then.

City of trees?

Atlanta has an average tree cover of 27%, Boston has tree cover of 21.2, Austin 34%, Baltimore 31%, Milwaukee 18%, Chicago 11 percent, and New York City has 16.6 percent.


The battle for this oak tree has been a nasty one due to Cohen’s bullying, but with ultimately two unanimous votes ffrom the Tree Conservation Commission ruling against Cohen’s building plans.

Neighbors at odds over tree-cutting rules
Atlanta City Council considers relaxing rules, raising fears of tree lovers

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 02/27/06
Come spring, the first thing most people will notice when flying into Atlanta is the canopy of green that seems to spread forever.

This city of trees has long enforced a strict law designed to protect the dense growth from chain saws.

Now the City Council is considering pruning the law. Eleven of the 15 council members have signed onto legislation that would allow homeowners to chop down one tree of any kind and size each year.

The proposed change, expected to be taken up Tuesday at a council committee meeting, is creating fear among some property owners who say the city’s urban forest eventually will be leveled.

“The one-tree-a-year thing is nuts,” said Julian Bene, a neighborhood activist in Morningside who opposes changes to the ordinance. Since many parcels don’t have many trees, it wouldn’t take long to denude the city, Bene said. “I think it’s fairly obvious it will have a significantly negative effect.”

The trees are so beloved that one east Atlanta neighbor monitors a red oak via security camera to make sure it isn’t harmed by a developer who wants to build a house on the lot next door.

Others, however, say changes to what they call a draconian tree-cutting law are long overdue.

Earlier this month, the council limited civil penalties for chopping trees without permission and allowed landowners to cut down a variety of “exotic” species, such as Mimosas, Bradford Pears and Leyland cypresses.

Supporters say more changes are needed because of the difficulty and high cost of getting permits to remove diseased and other potentially harmful trees.

To cut down a tree, the city requires a $100 permit plus $30 per inch in diameter of the tree’s trunk. Until the law was amended earlier this month, the civil penalty was double for those who cut trees without permission, and quadruple for those who knowingly do so. Violators still face criminal penalties of up to $1,000 for each illegal cutting.

The permit fee goes into a fund for replanting trees on public property. Atlanta collected $1.9 million in fees last year.

Mayor Shirley Franklin said she’s not necessarily opposed to the one-tree-a-year proposal, but she said she is concerned about the burden of enforcing it to make sure people are sticking to the limit.

The legislation was introduced by Councilman Howard Shook of Buckhead. It eliminates the permit fee and allows cutting when permits would otherwise be impossible to obtain. Generally, only sick trees or those in the path of construction can be removed.

Shook said he believes people are capable of managing their own property yet are forced to beg city arborists for permission to chop down a tree. The arborists can be overruled, but Shook called the appellate panel — the citizen-staffed Tree Conservation Commission — a “kangaroo court” that runs roughshod over individual property rights.

“The naysayers say, ‘My God! This is going to lead to clear-cutting,’ ” Shook said. But tree-removal companies charge thousands of dollars, he said, and that cost “is going to be a natural brake on abuse.”

When views over tree-cutting clash, police sometimes have to intercede. That happened between developer Steve Cohen and neighbors when he confronted the old Southern red oak next door to property he owns.

Cohen has already built several homes in an up-and-coming neighborhood between Inman Park and Freedom Parkway. He said he wants to build one more home there to live in himself. But the city won’t approve Cohen’s building permit because an arborist claims construction would kill the 5-foot diameter red oak by tearing up too many of its roots.

“It’s a beautiful tree,” Cohen said. “I know that I can build there and save it.”

Cohen said he has spent at least $20,000 on consultant fees, permit application fees and interest payments during the yearlong battle to build on his land. He accused his neighbors of exploiting the law and their connections to get him arrested when he was trimming branches that overhang his parcel.

The neighbors, Tab Bottoms and his wife, Leigh Bielenberg, said they believe Cohen wants to kill the tree and build the largest house he can, then sell it and move on. They’ve documented their run-ins with him in a three-ring binder and with photos on poster boards. A security camera on the wall of their house is trained on the red oak so they can monitor it when they’re not around.

They said Cohen has bulldozed roots and cut off limbs. The red oak’s roots bulge through the fence that separates the two properties, and its branches overhang Cohen’s land.

They have a picture of a crew — dispatched by Cohen — with tree spikes and chain saws.

“If it gets sick and dies, we’ll have to pay to have it removed, and the lowest quote I’m getting to have it removed is $12,000,” Bottoms said. Bielenberg said she called police when she caught Cohen pouring something on the tree late one night. She told police he cursed at her and said the tree was “over.”

The city has sided with Bottoms and Bielenberg at nearly every turn. They credit the tree protection law with saving their 180-year-old oak.

“If it wasn’t for the ordinance, that tree would be history,” Bottoms said.

Shook, the councilman, said he began thinking about amending the law two years ago after a woman from southwest Atlanta was unable to get permission to cut a vine-covered oak that loomed over her house.

Gloria Cooper complained the tree dropped branches on her roof and its roots cracked her sidewalk and invaded her basement. “It was a huge tree that was damaging my basement,” said Cooper, now 76. She said she feared a storm would bring the tree crashing onto her house and eventually got help from Councilman C.T. Martin to get the tree taken down.

“When you’re paying your taxes, you should be able to do what you want to your yard,” said Cooper.

Shook’s legislation is expected to be discussed Tuesday at a meeting of the council’s development committee. The legislation could come up for a final vote before the full council on March 6.

The councilman said that with so many colleagues supporting his legislation, he’s confident it will pass. The only significant opposition has come from the city’s planning department, which would have to track every tree cut to make sure homeowners don’t take more than one a year.

The City Council asked planners to consider alternatives, which could be presented Tuesday.

Link to Memorial post for Leigh.

Canopy is cool benefit (had an unexpected guest)

An unexpected guest came to the Canopy is Cool benefit. Well, unexpected as per a couple of weeks ago when the date was set.

Dennis the Menace.

No, we were not suffering major hurricane tribulation, we were just stormy, but many people had the impression it was an outside benefit and first it drizzled and then the winds blew and the rain drove in and kind of drove the benefit out, except that the people who were there–really nice adults and some really nice kids–had a great time inside the studio where it was nice and dry and cozy and there was wonderful music and lots of good food for different tastes that ends up being left-over good food.

Continue reading Canopy is cool benefit (had an unexpected guest)