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Neighbors concerned about safety after tree falls and kills woman in Buckhead

Neighbors on Ridgemore Road in Buckhead moved quickly to contact tree services and Atlanta city arborists after a tree fell on a home, killing the occupant.

ATLANTA — Neighbors are moving quickly to check trees around their homes in a Buckhead neighborhood after one came crashing down on New Year's Eve, leaving a woman dead.

Neighbors in the area of Ridgemore Road called tree services looking for answers on what to do with trees they considered dangerous. The concern was that these trees, if left standing, could hit their homes or their neighbors.

One after another, they contacted Atlanta arborists for the okay to take down the trees they thought could fall. One after another, they got turned down.

“We look at if the tree is dead; if it's diseased or dying, and we just have to look at the entire tree - the canopy, the leaves, the trunk - and see if there are any cavities,” said David Zaparanick, arboricultural manager for the City of Atlanta Planning Department.

RELATED: Woman who died after massive tree crashed through home identified

But, if the tree is alive and well, Zaparanick said the chances are the arborists will not authorize the tree coming down. For the neighbors on Ridgemore Road, however, getting a “no” from the arborists was frustrating.

Michael Milligan wants a tree down that he fears will fall on his neighbor’s house.

“I am spending time, spending money, and taking time off from work to try and remove a safety threat and it may ultimately get denied, and that is frustrating,” he said.

Another neighbor, Missy Robinson, said she feels that safety concerns should be enough to get a tree down. She has a tree that she fears will take down the electric wires on the street.

RELATED: 1 killed, 3 injured by fallen tree on Georgia interstate

“It is ridiculous for the hoops the city makes us go through to take one tree off our property that we are concerned about," she said. "It should not be this difficult. It should not cost us this much money and this much time.”

But a denial to take down a tree by an Atlanta field arborist does not mean the process is over.

“Whenever we look at the tree, the decision is only for the day we look at the tree and it is not forever," Zaparanick said. "You could ask us to come back next week, next month, or after that.”

Homeowners can appeal an arborist's decision and can call in a private licensed arborist to do a much more detailed analysis. The arborists make visual inspections, but their decisions can be reversed.

“If we don’t find anything wrong with the tree, but the homeowner is still concerned, we may ask them to get additional information from a private ISA-certified arborist,” said Peter Stovall, an Atlanta City arborist.

“Several things could go into that report that could then change our decision and then prevent any kind of appeal hearing," Stovall added. "And that happens on a lot of trees."

But there is still another way to handle unwanted trees - and one that does not get much publicity. Arborists call it the “five-foot rule.”

Kim Johnson is giving that one a try. She has a huge tree that she is worried could fall on her home and it is within five feet of her house and her foundation.

“I can now reapply stating the five-foot rule," she said. "So, I should be able to take it down."

Homeowners often ask if they can take down a dangerous tree and replace it with another.  The arborists say that is not an option in their decision making.

In any case, homeowners are reminded that they must have a permit to take down a sizeable tree - or face stiff fines and added charges and fees if they remove it on their own.


City of Atlanta Arborist Division 

Atlanta Tree Conservation Commission: For more information about the Tree Conservation Commission.

Georgia Arborist Association: A webpage for property owners to find ISA certified arborists.

Trees Are Good: A webpage for property owners to find ISA certified arborists.

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