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Gainesville aims to balance greenbacks with green trees

Development has helped clear 15 percent of city's forest cover

POSTED: January 8, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Money does not grow on trees. In fact, people in Gainesville have made more money by mowing them down and building houses and shopping centers.

A recent study done through Keep Hall Beautiful and the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce’s Beautification Committee found that Hall County lost about 15 percent of its forest cover in the last 20 years, with the most significant loss of trees happening in recent years, said Gainesville’s senior planner Jessica Dempsey Tullar.

But the increase in development has some Gainesville residents and City Council members concerned they may be losing their quality of life along with the trees. The city has spent the past few months looking at ways to balance the desire for green space and the need for money.

Gainesville City Council members recently expressed their desire to protect the city’s green space at one of their weekly work sessions. Protecting trees could discourage development in Gainesville.

"We’re going to need the input of developers. We’re going to need the input of people better in love with trees and others who are interested so we don’t just stymie development entirely," said Gainesville City Councilman George Wangemann.

In order to save the city’s existing tree cover, the city will have to amend its development processes so people will know what trees must be saved before they spend money on design plans.

"If our goal is to maintain the canopy, we’re going to have to look at not only improving our ordinance ... but also taking a new approach to the whole design review process," said Tullar,

City Manager Bryan Shuler agreed with Tullar. He said the city would have to change the way developers look at property if it wanted to protect the city’s green space without discouraging development.

"You can’t give someone 10 dwelling units an acre and then reasonably expect that much of the existing tree cover on that site is going to be protected," Shuler said.

"Right now, the main goal is maximizing the development potential of the property," Shuler said. "I don’t care who the developer is, generally, that’s their goal."

Tullar is currently talking to members of city departments about ways to change the city’s code to achieve the balance between development and tree canopy protection. Her discussions with the city’s departments are part of a months-long study on how to improve the city’s tree ordinance.

Hall County’s natural resource coordinator Rick Foote plans to reveal the results of the study and a plan to protect green space in Gainesville later next month.



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