Did you know you may need a permit in Austin to remove or prune a tree? The City of Austin has regulations to monitor impacts on trees of various sizes. These local ordinances are in place to protect urban forests and some of our most valuable, oldest trees. We get it- permits and city ordinances can be confusing. Keep reading this blog to learn more about tree permits and if you need to obtain one for your tree project in Austin.
What is the Heritage Tree Ordinance?
The emphasis on tree protection started in 1984 when the City of Austin was actually one of the first in the United States to pass a tree protection ordinance. Fast forward to 2010, the Heritage Tree Ordinance made provisions to the existing city codes and added a new division of trees (Heritage Trees) to the ordinance. The process is managed by the Planning and Development Review Department and the City Arborist.
Heritage Tree Ordinance Guidelines and Requirements
The Heritage Tree Ordinance has guidelines in place when a party is seeking to remove or make an impact on a protected tree. Impact on a tree includes several activities including (but not limited to): disturbance to the Critical Root Zone, excessive pruning to the crown of the tree, and construction (ex. Utility excavation). You can find the specific list of impacts here.
Not every tree requires a permit and the guidelines are based on a tree's diameter. The diameter of a tree can be found by using a flexible tape measure. Take your tape measure and wrap it around the trunk of the tree, about 4.5 feet above the ground. Divide the number you get (the circumference) by 3.14 to get the diameter. Below is a breakdown of the guidelines:
8” Diameter and Larger
A tree this size requires a survey and permit on commercial and multifamily site plan submittals. This does not include single-family residential properties.
19” Diameter and Larger
This tree is considered a Protected Tree and includes all species. A tree permit is required for removal or impacts in both residential and public areas.
24” Diameter and Larger
This may be considered a Heritage Tree and a variance is required for removal or impacts that exceed code requirements. It applies to the following species: Pecans, Bald Cypress, Eastern Black Walnut, American Cedar Elm, and All Oaks, as well as a few less common species.
30” Diameter and Larger
A tree 30” or larger in Diameter is considered a Heritage Tree. All proposed variances must go through the public process.
How to Apply for a Tree Permit in Austin
Once you’ve determined if your tree project will require a permit, it’s time to submit an application to the City of Austin called the Tree Ordinance Review Application (TORA). It’s worth mentioning that if you are applying for a building permit, it’s possible that the TORA application was included as part of the process. However, if you just need a tree permit, follow the steps below:
Create an Account with Austin Build + Connect (AB+C)
Click “Apply for Permits/Cases”
For Application Type, select “Tree Ordinance Review Application,” then “TORA,” and then select “Residential.
Follow the Remaining Prompts and Submit
That’s it! Upon completion, you will receive an email confirming receipt of your application. Once an application has been checked for completeness, it can take up to 10 business days to receive approval or denial. If an application is denied, the assigned tree reviewer will reach out to you via email to direct you on next steps. A fee may apply. If and when your permit is approved, you can log into the AB+C platform to access your official permit.
For more detailed instructions surrounding the application process, see Step 3 on the Trees On Residential Property page.
Dead, Diseased, Or Imminent Hazard Tree Removal Permits
If you have a tree on your property that is dead, diseased, or an imminent hazard you may need a permit to have it removed. Similar to the permit guidelines above, all trees 19” diameter (or larger) on a single family residential property and all trees 8” diameter (or larger) on multi-family or commercial properties will require a permit.
According to the City of Austin Development Services Department, the following qualifies as a dead, diseased, or imminent hazard tree:
Dead: No live leaves or tissue to the extent that recovery is not possible.
Diseased: A living tree with a communicable disease that results in tree death (i.e. presence of oak wilt).
Imminent hazard: Trees that are structurally unsound, where failure has started or is most likely to occur in the near future, even if there is no significant wind, and the tree cannot be reasonably mitigated.
Check out this quick guide to submit a permit for dead, diseased, or imminent hazard tree removal. This type of permit does not require a fee.
Emergency Tree Removal Permit Requirements
There are exceptions to needing a permit prior to removal. If you have a protected tree that is damaged and causing immediate danger to yourself or your property, Section 25-8-621 of Ordinance No. 20100204-038 states “A person may, without a permit, remove a damaged protected tree that is an imminent hazard to life or property if the tree is removed within seven
days of being damaged. The Planning and Development Review Department may extend this deadline for widespread and extensive storm damage”. The same goes for heritage trees as well.
While you do not need a permit prior to removal in this instance, you will want to apply for a permit afterward. Be sure to document the tree’s condition and size
Obtaining a Permit for Trees in Austin
You may have several reasons for needing to remove or impact a tree and depending on the size of the tree, you may need a permit. The Heritage Tree Ordinance holds all the guidelines and regulations to protect trees in Austin. For more information, visit the City Arborist page.
Legacy Tree Trimming is here to help with all of your tree projects, including the removal of protected and heritage trees. For a free estimate, click here or call (512) 797-9834