SGFC has sent the following letter to the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners in response to the most recent version of the revised Tree Ordinance. Please take a minute to read our input and contact the Commissioners with your thoughts. 


September 9th, 2019

Board of Commissioners

Forsyth County Georgia

110 E. Cumming Street Suite 210

Cumming, GA 30041

Dear Board of Commissioners,

We are writing in response to the September 5th, 2019, first Public Hearing of the County proposed revisions tothe Tree and Mass Grading ordinances.  We are encouraged by the County’s year-plus effort to “get this right” and offer the following observations and urge the Board to consider the following:


The regulatory and enforcement role and responsibilities of the County Arborist have been dramatically expanded however it is not clear as to what additional resources will be provided to the position to meet these responsibilities.  We recommend that the County begin deliberations to determine this upon approval of the changes. Failure to properly resource the position will make these changes meaningless.

The Tree Protection Commission is an untapped resource to assist the County Arborist.  SGFC recommends that the scope and breadth of the responsibilities of this body be changed and expanded akin to that of the Planning Commission.  This Commission could assume the review process of submitted Tree Protection and/or Replacement Plans to support the County Arborist.  We also call for a change to make-up of the body to a “by District” representative board to ensure community input from across the County.  The County Arborist would remain the subject matter expert and the final “sign-off” on these plans.
  • We urge the Board to change Section 2.4 A Pre-submittal Conference to read“Developers and design professionals are required to, and shall, meet with the County Arborist and/or other Department of Planning and Community Development professional staff prior to submitting a Tree Protection and/or Replacement Plan.”  This should not be an optional process and will go a long way toward smoothing out this planning process.  Another approach to this would be to add this to the Tree Protection Commission requirements.
  • We urge the Board to explicitly identify the County Arborist as the County official responsible to “sign-off” on the Tree Protection and/or Replacement Plans as noted in para 2.3 C.
  • Please clarify and codify, as a separate and inspectable fiscal category, any funds collected for the “Tree Replacement Fund and/or Forsyth County Tree Fund” for Alternative Compliance, performance security or other violations of the ordinance specifically used to replace and/or repair damage and violations and specifically identify who and how this fund is to be managed.
  • With regard to the concerns regarding the financial impacts to homeowners of the permitting and recompense requirements for tree removal to single family homes in large subdivisions, SGFC offers that the county could exempt the permitting fee for this action in its schedule of fees.  Permitting should still be required as this ensures a minimal level of education for the homeowner and oversight/protection of existing Significant (Specimen, Historical and Landmark) trees.  Additionally, a modified recompense schedule could be established limiting the cost to one unit for each unit awarded in Table B of Section 2.11, eliminating the additional cost of Site Density Factor recompense.  Finally, an exemption could be included within Section 2.1 item 9 to allow for removal of trees deemed to be of a threat, “Removal of dead, diseasedinfested or other trees that threaten a residential dwelling, upon receiving writtenconfirmation from the Georgia Forestry Commission or Director Arborist.
  • Consider striking the Section 2.1.2 exemption for “Construction of single family detached residential dwellings that are not part of a major subdivision as defined by the Forsyth County Unified Development Code.”  There is no rationale for this exemption and this has real potential to lead to a “death by a thousand cuts” scenario with “micro-developments” of less than 7 homes each springing up to avoid the requirements in the code.
  • Strike the sentence from para 2.11, “For commercial and industrial zoning districts, Significant Tree recompence will not exceed 30.0 units/acre.”  There is no need to provide any special incentive to commercial and industrial zoning.
  • We recommend defining the term “clear cut” in Section 1.2 Definitions.


SGFC was greatly disappointed that the County failed to change the Soil, Erosion and Sedimentation Control ordinance to significantly reduce the mass grading in the County.  As it stand now the proposed single change amounts to little more than a “checker boarding” of the process and a delay to developers for clearing large parcels.  For every 25 acres of residential development the developer can level 20 acres – or up to the whole 25 if approved by the Department of Engineering (DOE) --- then create a 5 acre buffer and go on to level the next 20 to 25 acres.  Then they just wait to have at least one (presumably the first) clearing declared “stable” by DOE (a very lenient definition provided in the UDC that could be as simple as impacting the soil and spreading straw) and they can continue and work the next set of parcels.  Since most parcels are not simply flat, the requested “exceptions” to clear the full 25 are expected to be the norm.  Zero language has been added to compel developers to “build to the land”.  Instead, the ordinance continues to rely largely on the already abused and ineffectual verbiage of grading “…to a practicable minimum.”  


Since mass grading not only denudes the County of Significant tree growth, but damages the ability of surrounding and replacement trees to flourish, and because the County seems wont to further restrict mass grading in the language of this ordinance, SGFC recommends the following changes to the Tree Ordinance to provide some level of additional control to mass grading activities:  

  • Section 1.2 Definitions of the Tree Ordinance to “Critical Root Zone: The minimum area beneath a tree that must be left undisturbed in order to preserve sufficient root mass to give a tree a reasonable chance of survival. For all but Specimen, Historical and Landmark trees, the Critical Root Zone (CRZ) is a circle centered on the tree’s trunk with a radius equal in feet to 1.3 times the number of inches of the tree’s Diameter at Breast Height.  The Critical Root Zone for specimen, historical and Landmark trees will be three times this formula.  EXAMPLE:  When creating the Tree Protection and/or Replacement Plan a non-Specimen, Historical or Landmark tree with a diameter of 20 inches would have a CRZ radius of 26 feet.  For a Specimen, Historical or Landmark this would now be extended to 78 feet.”
  • Section 2.5 Tree Protection and/or Replacement Plan Standards, para B. Tree Protection and Grading, change to read “Site work allowed pursuant to an approved Land Disturbance Permit shall be coordinated to protect Significant Trees and Tree Groupings. There will be no allowed changes to natural grade to preserve existing trees by avoiding impacts to the established CRZ.”


Smart Growth believes that these recommendations are reasonable, efficient, easily implemented and recognize the importance of protecting this vital, shared, community resource.  Smart Growth Forsyth County respectfully requests the courtesy of a reply to our recommendations by Monday, the 30th of September, 2019.  We remain committed to our great County and are hopeful that you will seriously consider and agree to act expeditiously on our proposals. Thank you.




Robert Slaughter

Managing Director

Smart Growth Forsyth County, Inc.



Country Arborist

Planning Commission

County Manager

Planning Director

Deputy Planning Director

County Attorney

Eric Bosman – Kimley Horn

6055 Benton PlCumming, GA  30040