Private tree bylaw is dead in the water. Even with the Mayor’s support it could not get past a council that fails to understand.



September 10, 2013

By Pepper Parr

It is going to be very tough to get a private tree by law in this city.  The dean of Council, John Taylor, summed it up when he said “the will is just not there”, the public just doesn’t want this” and try as they might BurlingtonGreen and Ward 2 Councillor Meed Ward,  who pushed as hard as one can push, could not get this through the Development and Infrastructure Committee that met Monday evening.

Staff took Council through a review of the Urban Forest Management Plan and said basically, that the way to maintain the urban tree canopy we have is to just plant more trees – but didn’t say that it takes decades for the trees we plant, to get to the point where they are a significant part of the urban cover, that we have now in some parts of the city.

In its report the Roads and Parks Maintenance department took the position that “…many view a private tree bylaw as a means to protect trees and the urban canopy.  It is one potential component of an effective urban forest management strategy.  Recognizing the significant resources required to administer and enforce a private tree bylaw it is recommended that resources are better focused on a continued implementation of the recommendations of the Urban Forest Management Plan.”

In a phrase – a private tree bylaw wasn’t worth the paper and the work it would take to get it up and running.

Staff did support an Annual Symposium that would educate the public and would present a business case for this expense when they get into the budget cycle.  Lip service.

Meed Ward and Mayor Goldring picked up on the loss at the July meetings where Council basically said this is not something we want to do.  At that time Meed Ward and the Mayor determined to press on and get something on the table.

But Taylor had it right: Council, reflecting the public frame of mind, was not going to require people to get permission to cut down a tree in Burlington.

As a last-ditch effort Meed Ward put forward a proposal that would require nothing more of a property owner than filling in a form so that city hall could at last gather data on how many trees are being cut and where the cutting is taking place.

Councillor Paul Sharman, centre in the blue shirt, has been a staunch and consistent advocate for having verifiable data in hand before making any decisions. Given an opportunity to gather that data at very little cost to the city, the Councillor folded and let his ideology get in the way of common sense.

Even Ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman, often referred to as Mr. Data (he just will not make a decision without adequate data) would go along with this one.

The best those who wanted to see something proactive done to protect the urban forest in Burlington could get was a Symposium at which some public education could take place.

BurlingtonGreen president Ken Woodruff found himself admitting that he had not read one of the reports that was being discussed by a city council committee. A no, no – gotta do the homework.

There were two delegations: BurlingtonGreen, who found themselves admitting that they had not read one of the reports they were delegating on and Albert Facenda, a local developer,  who has yet to find a situation that cannot be stretched into a pretty wild exaggeration.  Last night he brought up a problem in Oakville that involved a city owned tree and the difficulty he had in getting it removed for his client.  Albert had the cost to his client exceeding $10,000.  He was aided in his efforts by Councillor Sharman who kept asking leading questions helping Facenda make a point about an issue in Oakville when the committee was talking about Burlington’s trees.  Go figure.

Councillor Meed Ward did introduce the idea of creating Tree Protection Areas – the idea had merit but got beaten back when too many Councillors complained about the paper work that would be involved.

There was the suggestion that residents could use the Heritage Protection process we have and take the tack that trees and vegetation are part of a landscape and that landscape is part of Heritage.  City Planning Director Bruce Krushelnicki did say that might be possible but that he’d never seen it done anywhere.  He certainly didn’t champion that idea.

Councillor Taylor did like it and one can expect him to follow-up on that one.

The long and the short if it is that Burlington is not going to see any kind of a bylaw that calls for the public to get permission to cut down a tree on their property.  If a person owns a piece of property that has a tree and the owner doesn’t like it – they can cut it down – even if the reason is that they don’t want to have to rake the leaves.

My Mom had a phrase for doing things like this. “So you’re going to cut off your nose to spite your face are you?” It looks like that’s what Burlington is going to do.  Both the Mayor and Councillor Meed Ward, not natural allies, are pulling together on this one, but the wagon they are pulling isn’t going to budge.  There is more politics and ideology behind the reluctance of the other councillors to doing anything.  Ward 1 Councillor Rick Craven, who chaired the meeting, offered no opinion or comment whatsoever.  He knows where his bread is buttered.

This is what most people in Burlington want; a gorgeous urban tree canopy that shades our streets, improves property values and gets some of the pollutants out of the air. But at the same time people want to be able to cut down a tree on their property if they don’t like them. We can’t have it both ways – can we?

We frequently use a photograph of Belvenia Street with that gorgeous canopy of trees that are both private and public that line the street.  This is what Burlington has and what most people want to keep.  Many think that the direction we take now may get us to the point where we don’t maintain this kind of urban canopy.

A symposium might not be enough.

There may be one last effort on the part of BurlingtonGreen to get more information in front of Council at its September 23rd meeting.  It won’t make a difference.  The city is getting prepared to go down the municipal election road and anything that impedes on the perceived rights of the property owners doesn’t get the vote returning them to office these Council members need.   Rather than argue this issue on the door steps next summer this council is going to tuck it under the rug hoping it will stay there.

Council voted to receive and file the report.

Perhaps in 2015 it can be revived.

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1 comment to Private tree bylaw is dead in the water. Even with the Mayor’s support it could not get past a council that fails to understand.

  • Amy

    Thank you Burlington Gazette for reporting on this important issue. We concur that it was reinforced last night at city hall that the will of the majority of this Council is simply not there for tree protection in Burlington. Disappointing and unfortunate indeed.

    We don’t think it helped when city staff responded to Council with what we believe to be a statement contrary to their own Urban Forest Management Plan report. At the meeting, we recall staff responded to a question from Council that tree planting was more effective than tree protection in regards to the interests of the overall urban tree canopy. ( need to review webcast to confirm once available on city website) And yet…. Page 24 Section 3.1 of their report states: “Protecting existing trees, particularly larger specimens, prior to and during construction has been shown to be more effective in sustaining the provision of urban forest benefits than planting new trees.” AND Page 2 of the UFMP states ”it’s generally agreed in the scientific community that the maintenance and restoration of treed areas is one of the easiest and least expensive means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and of cooling urban and rural environments” (City of Burlington 2010 Urban Forest Management Plan

    This apparent contrary information is especially concerning as following staff’s response on this, some council members argued this to be key rationale for their argument not to support a tree protection bylaw.

    One final note: BG does do its homework. We work hard on a volunteer basis for all of our advocacy work. We can’t speak up on every issue we would like to but we do the best we can. Last night’s delegation was a co-presentation. Colin Brock read the staff report in full to prepare for the delegation and Ken Woodruff read the proposal of Councilor Meed-Ward in full to prepare. Thanks very much
    Amy Schnurr
    Executive Director