Bolstering tree bylaw

Proposed changes would close some loopholes

After waiting a couple of years for changes to tighten up the tree bylaw, Donna Polos said she had almost given up hope.

Polos appeared before council about two years ago, calling on the city to strengthen its tree bylaw. At its June 10 meeting, amendments to the tree bylaw were presented to council, which aim to give it more bite.

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"I am glad to see that the report stated that trees would be protected during construction and protected not during construction," she said. "Our existing bylaw is one of the weakest in the Lower Mainland and it has a loophole in it."

Polos said the city's current bylaw allows developers who purchased property to immediately clear cut the land and then apply for a building permit - in order to avoid a review.

Polos noted that some of her concerns

with the new changes is the proposed process to replace cut down trees and allowing the public to purchase boulevard trees.

"Who determines if there is not enough space on a resident's property to plant a replacement tree?" she said. "According to the report, a homeowner can donate money that will go into purchasing a boulevard tree if it is determined there is not enough space. This could be a potential loophole in the report."

The public will have a chance to provide feedback on the changes during a consultation process this summer.

"I don't think they should have summer consultations, I stated this also two years ago," she added. "As many residents could be away and miss out on the public hearings. Let's have them early in the fall. We have already waited two years for the report."

At its Monday night meeting, Coun. Dan Johnston said staff had taken an extensive review of the bylaw, which funds itself with the newly proposed fees.

The proposal seeks to strengthen the current enforcement program by increasing the penalty for cutting a protected tree without a permit from $2,000 to $10,000.

Changes have also been proposed to the permit fee structure - allowing for maximums starting at $500 to $3,000, depending on the property and whether or not it's under development.

Johnston said it's a progressive report, despite it taking longer to put out than most people had wanted.

"(It) meets the community as a whole," he said. "I'm hoping to get some positive feedback."

Coun. Sav Dhaliwal said the changes strike a good balance by applying to more property types and has room for homeowners to plead their case when wanting to take down a problematic tree.

Currently, the bylaw only applies to single-and two-family lots subject to an application for a building or demolition permit. The new bylaw would apply to all private lands, both during and outside of the development period; and city-owned lands, when subject to a development application.

Dhaliwal noted a potential point for confusion when outlining the different sizes for protected trees in the new amendments.

The amendments specify two different size classes of protected trees, depending on whether or not the lot is subject to development, according to the report. For lots going through a development application, any tree 20 centimetres (eight inches) or greater in diameter is protected. Lots where no development application applies, any conifer tree 30cm (12 inches) or greater, and broadleaf tree 45cm (18 inches) or bigger is protected.

"On a per-tree basis in Burnaby, conifers generally provide more environmental and community benefits, and are therefore proposed to be more broadly protected . ," the report states.

Dhaliwal said the size difference complicates things. He suggested that eight inches is too small, and it should be increased to 12 inches.

The proposal aims to make tree replacement mandatory and the number of replacement trees are required to be scaled to the size of the tree that was cut.

Mayor Derek Corrigan said the report hits the goals that council wanted to achieve with the bylaw.

"I'm particularly pleased we found a way to deal with those problematic boulevard trees where communities have complained that trees are causing more problems than it's worth," he said. "(We've) given them an option to be ale to use a local improvement process to be able to remove those trees and replace them with something that is more suitable."

Corrigan said it's a fresh look at the city's tree bylaw.

"I think people will be very pleased with the approach that we've taken," he added.

A public consultation process is proposed starting this summer and into early fall. The followup report is expected later this fall or in early 2014.

The report is available online at www.burnaby.ca.

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