FAQ – Trees, Stormwater, Variances and Zoning

All answers provided below are intended to be helpful.  They do not represent an official position and are not the final word on anything.  Please take them in that spirit.

Q. How can I learn more about the process before getting started on my own project?

We always welcome any neighbor to attend a meeting of the VHCA Planning committee or VHCA Board Meeting. At these public meetings you will hear discussion as other applicants go through the process and ask questions.  Meeting dates and locations are on the VHCA calendar, usually the first and second weeks of the month.

Q. I want to expand our home, so WHy is it a good idea to have a structural evaluation before I file for a variance?

Many homes were built prior to the adoption of building codes as we know them, may have visible or concealed structural issues, settlement issues, or may involve considerable effort and expense to make suitable for adding new space.  A qualified structural engineer can assist homeowners and design professionals  with the options available before entering the variance process.  If this step in determining basic feasibility is bypassed, the applicant takes on additional risk.

It is frustrating to go through the time and expense to get a concept requiring a variance approved, only to find out later in design or even construction (!), that the project is either no longer feasible or may call for revisions that require going through the variance process a second time.

Q. Are there templates for the neighbor notification and Lot coverage?

Q. Where can I find information about Arborists, Building Permits, Inspection and Zoning for the city of Atlanta?

Arborist and Forms

Tree Recompense and Root Zone Information

  • City of Atlanta’s Tree Recompense: Calculators
  • Notice: It is required to post a notice on site for tree removal prior to the issuance of a building permit. A posting serves as a notice that trees are to be removed; and also provides the public an option to appeal the proposed tree removal. A building permit cannot be issued until the property has been posted for at least fifteen (15) days without appeal. Once a building permit has been issued, a six (6) square foot sign must be posted for Notice of Permit Issuance. This sign must remain on the premises for at least thirty (30) days.
  • Dead, Dying, Hazardous Trees (DDH): Trees that are dead, dying, or deemed hazardous require a separate permit from the City. They do not require public posting.
  • Critical Root Zone and Structural Root Plate: Georgia Forestry Commission has information about tree root zones, found here. While not part of the ordinance reference information, we find this information important when determining how to keep trees safe from harm during construction and after.


Q. Once I turn in a permit application what are the next steps?

  1. Application transfer. Your application is sent by the city to the Neighborhood Planning Unit (NPU).  The NPU for Virginia-Highland is F. This happens by hard copy and can take a while. NPU-F sends your application, typically via email, to the Virginia-Highland Civic Association (VHCA) and their planning committee.
  2. Site Visit.  VHCA planning committee schedules a time to visit the applicant site.
  3. VHCA Planning Committee meeting.  The applicant presents their case at this public meeting, and the committee makes a recommendation.
  4. VHCA Board Meeting.  The applicant presents their case at this public meeting, the planning committee gives recommendation and explanation, public is given time to comment.  VHCA board makes a recommendation.
  5. NPU-F
  6. BZA

 Q. I’ve heard that there is a storm water runoff ordinance.  Where can I find out more about it and if it applies to me?

A general introduction, outline of purpose, and benefits of stormwater management can be found here: Implementing Green Infrastructure

The full ordinance can be found here: City of Atlanta Stormwater Ordinance 

For single family residential, the ordinance is significantly more detailed than this brief FAQ can address. However, here are the key provisions to examine with your design professionals:

  • When the ordinance must be applied for single family residential:
    • Section 4 (b) (2): Addition or modification that involves the creation, addition, or demolition and replacement of 1,000 square feet or more of impervious cover to any single family residential site.
  • When there are exemptions to the ordinance:
    • Section 4 (d). Exemptions: (12) Overlays or resurfacing of existing impervious paved surfaces; (16)  Replacement of an existing driveway to access a single family residential development
  • The minimum effects on stormwater your project should accomplish:
    • Section 14-516 – Minimum requirements. – See (a) (b) (c) (d) which give detailed requirements to not adversely affecting neighbors, to dissipate and divert water flow so it does not concentrate, and provides the adequate distance of any downspout or water collection device from a property line.

 Q. What are best practices for managing rain water?

Rain water accumulates in urban areas because much of the ground has become impervious. Buildings, roads, sidewalks, compacted gravel, even pools – these all contribute to keeping water from where it belongs: in the ground. Impervious surfaces cover so much of our neighborhood that stormwater management is required by law by the city of Atlanta. (See FAQ above on Stormwater Ordinance). While there are countless ways of keeping rain water on site, here are a few we see most often:

  • Rain Garden*
  • Flow Wells
  • Planting canopy trees
  • Cisterns and rain barrels

*The next time you visit North Highland Park, check out the rain garden in the northeast corner. Rainwater management never looked so good!

Q. How Do I FIND OUT What my property is ZONED?

A majority of properties in Virginia-Highland are zoned either R-4 (single family home) or RG-2 (low density multifamily).  You can find out exactly how your property is zoned by visiting the site found here.

Large PDF maps: northern half and southern half.

Q. Where can I find the rules for each zoning designation?

The rules for each zoning type can be found on in the city’s ordinance code, specifically Part III, Section 16.  From here you can look up the specific rules governing your property by how it is zoned.  This is where you will find things like minimum yard specifications (setbacks etc.), maximum heights, parking requirements, floor area ratios and lot coverage.