Tree commission denies Grant Park residents’ appeal to city’s plans

Developers, residents and city officals are sworn in at an Atlanta Tree Conservation Commission appeal hearing.

Developers, residents and city officals are sworn in at an Atlanta Tree Conservation Commission appeal hearing.

The Atlanta Tree Conservation Commission Wednesday denied an appeal to the city's plan to cut down upwards of a hundred Grant Park trees.

Residents packed the room to oppose plans that call for the removal of at least 131 trees to build the Grant Park Gateway, a $48 million, 1,000-space parking garage for the park and Zoo Atlanta.

The decision from the city-appointed citizen board came after nearly three hours of discussion in a standing room-only space at City Hall.

It was the second appeal hearing regarding the same issue. The commission previously upheld the first appeal, asking city officials to demonstrate they'd done everything possible to save any number of trees.

Plans filed the next day did not include modifications to preserve any trees.

During last night’s hearing, appellants and neighborhood residents Leigh and Teresa Finlayson argued the quick turnaround did not demonstrate a good faith effort to preserve the park’s old trees. Their second appeal requested that at a minimum, the “21 trees which line Boulevard should be preserved as a barrier between the park and the road.”

“With just a little bit of imagination, it can be done,” Leigh Finlayson told commission members.

But Doug Voss, director of parks, said the city looked for other options and the impact on trees could not be reduced. He pointed towards the tree replacement plan, which he said is strong with long-term benefits.

Commission members expressed concerns about the process, including that citizens felt excluded and that it was unclear whether there had been actual effort to improve the plan. But four of the six ultimately decided planners proved they’d done what they could to minimize tree impact.

Leigh Finlayson is saddened at the thought of losing the trees for development, he said, and plans to file another appeal. The next step is Fulton County Superior Court.

The trees haven’t been the only controversial aspect of the project.

Earlier this month, a fence was installed along Boulevard, closing off a large parking lot used for visitors until 2019. The installation of the fence, which also blocks off a sidewalk, took residents by surprise.

Atlanta City Councilwoman Carla Smith, who represents the District 1 neighborhood, said she was "deeply disappointed in the city's parks department and the construction company over the rollout of this fence."

The semi-underground deck, announced by Mayor Kasim Reed in April, is to include a restaurant, outdoor greenspace and a way to harvest rainfall.

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