Building Your Tree Ordinance Framework

This is the point in the process where all of the work you’ve done in identifying tree ordinance issues, assessing current conditions and defining your vision and goals comes together in the first draft of your tree ordinance.  This first draft should begin with selecting the components that will be included in your tree ordinance and creating an outline that will serve as the basic framework of your draft ordinance.

To get you started in building your tree ordinance framework, we have provided descriptions and examples of many of the components that are found in tree ordinances in Georgia.  Click here to explore these components to determine which will address the issues and goals you’ve identified.

Don’t begin selecting components and drafting your ordinance without looking to other community programs, plans and policies affecting trees and the environment to find additional support for the ordinance you’ll be developing.


Your community has other programs, plans, policies and regulations already in place that incorporate trees in some way or another.  The community’s comprehensive plan and stormwater regulations are just two of these.  If you are not familiar with these initiatives already, you should plan on reviewing the principles and goals of each before revising or developing your tree ordinance.  You may have other plans, design standards, or policies in place that you should review.

You will want to look for areas where your tree ordinance can support these initiatives, and where these initiatives can guide and support the regulations you will be including in your tree ordinance.  You will also want to look for places where conflicts might occur between your tree ordinance and these other community initiatives.


The Georgia Planning Act of 1989 requires all local governments to prepare comprehensive plans according to the Minimum Standards and Procedures for Local Comprehensive Planning rules developed by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA).  While trees are not specifically mentioned in this planning guide, natural resources, including forests and water, are specifically targeted, thereby supporting planning and regulation for tree canopy conservation.

As stated at the beginning to the planning guide:

“The purpose of the Minimum Standards and Procedures is to provide a framework for the development, management and implementation of local comprehensive plans at the local, regional and state government level. They reflect an important state interest: healthy and economically vibrant cities and counties are vital to the state’s economic prosperity.” 

Trees are an essential part of healthy and economically vibrant communities.


The Official Code of Georgia Erosion and Sedimentation Control Act of 1975 and O.C.G.A. TITLE 12 Chapter 7 (2016) (available at LexisNexis) , provides for: “the establishment and implementation of a state-wide comprehensive soil erosion and sediment control program to conserve and protect the land, water, air, and other resources of this state.”

Section 12-7-4 of this chapter states:

“The governing authority of each county and each municipality shall adopt a comprehensive ordinance establishing the procedures governing land-disturbing activities which are conducted within their respective boundaries. Such ordinances shall be consistent with the standards provided by this chapter. Local governing authorities shall have the authority, by such ordinance, to delegate in whole or in part the responsibilities of the governing authorities, as set forth in this chapter, to any constitutional or statutory local planning and zoning commission. Where the local governing authority deems it appropriate, it may integrate such provisions with other local ordinances relating to land development including but not limited to tree protection, flood plain protection, stream buffers, or storm-water management; and the properties to which any of the types of ordinances identified in this Code section shall apply, whether or not such ordinances are integrated, shall include without limitation property owned by the local governing authority or by a local school district, except as otherwise provided by Code Section 12-7-17.”

Trees protect the soil from erosion and reduce sedimentation, reduce stormwater runoff, improve water quality, and improve air quality.  They are a public utility that functions to maintain and improve the health of the local, and regional, environment.

Compliance with tree ordinance regulations is often triggered by an application for a land disturbance permit, as required by stormwater regulations.  Tree ordinances should be developed with this in mind.  Familiarity with the land disturbance permitting process is essential, as is coordination between the department that enforces the local stormwater regulations and the department responsible for administering the tree ordinance.