Burnaby man says city cut down beloved tree despite arborist report

When Zach Switzer looks at the trees on the lawn of the home he grew up in, he thinks of one person - his father.

Dad built the home at 4802 Oaktree Ct. in South Burnaby in 1980. The trees on the property have been there throughout his life and are considered part of the family.

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And now, one of them is gone.

“These trees are 30-plus years old and have grown and become as loved as a family member,” Switzer said. “Needless to say, the news of the possible destruction of these trees was absolutely heart breaking.”

Things unravelled after the death of Switzer’s father in 2016.

Shortly after, Switzer began the process of a “major renovation” to the original home, while maintaining its character, especially when it came to the landscaping.

“I kept the original footprint of the house, preserving the memory of my father by keeping the surrounding landscape that he loved, and worked hard to maintain,” he said.

In May, someone from the City of Burnaby’s forestry department inspected the property and the work being done and informed Switzer that some of the trees had been "damaged significantly" during the renovations. It was the city’s view that three of the trees – a pin oak at the front of the property and two western red cedars on the north side - were a risk to the public.

Switzer disagreed and worked to save the three trees. He hired an arborist called Arbortech Consulting, ACL Group to assess the trees and show how they could be maintained.

tree cutting
How Zach Switzer's home used to look before the tree was cut down. Google Street View

According to the Arbortech report supplied to the NOW, the trees don’t need to be removed.

“We have found that none of the three subject trees have sustained impacts that are destabilizing (i.e. the trees do not have increased risk of failure) and that the surficial root disturbances are manageable and treatable,” reads the “conclusions” section of the reporter. “There is no reason to remove these trees.”

The report recommends the three trees be retained, with several basic measures implemented.

Switzer said he emailed the aborist's report to the City of Burnaby in June.

Then, one day, he came to the house to find that the oak tree had been cut down by the city.

“My shock and disgust are indescribable,” Switzer said.

The City of Burnaby responded to Switzer comments with a statement by Dave Ellenwood, director of parks, recreation and cultural services to the NOW saying that when he was originally given his building permit, the “inspector indicated directly on the inspection report - which was given by the inspector to Mr. Switzer and discussed with him - that construction on the city-owned boulevard was not permitted … In spite of this prohibition, Mr. Switzer or his contractor excavated around the tree, and built the circular retaining wall.”

The city says it obtained a third opinion from an independent arborist – in this case Bartlett Tree Experts – which “concluded that the excavation for, and construction of, the unauthorized semi-circular retaining wall on the city boulevard had damaged the trunk and root system of the tree to extent that they recommended removal of the tree.”

As for the two trees that haven’t been removed, “Mr. Switzer also built another wall encroaching on the city boulevard on the north side of his property during his recent landscaping work which damaged the root system of the two other trees mentioned in your story, but not to the extent that the arborist’s reports recommended removal,” said Ellenwood. “The city is always reluctant to remove trees, and when we do, we have a program which replaces trees at least a 2-to-1 ratio, and we re-plant them in places where they have the greatest chance to thrive. We also take encroachment very seriously, and we encourage people to respect trees on public property to ensure that our urban forest is healthy and safe.”

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