Is a municipal tree bylaw necessary legislation to protect the urban canopy and the natural environment or government overreach?
That was the question members of The Blue Mountains council were struggling with at their committee of the whole meeting on May 31. A tree bylaw for the town has been in development for several years and staff have been gathering comments on a draft bylaw from the Agricultural Advisory Committee and the Sustainability Advisory Committee.
With that process complete, staff sought council’s permission to take the draft bylaw to a full public meeting for comment. The proposed tree bylaw would apply only in the designated settlement areas of the town, it would apply to lots only a half-hectare or more in size and a permit would only be required if a property owner was removing five or more trees at a time or a tree with a minimum diameter of 30 cm.
Despite the exemptions in the bylaw, members of council were clearly concerned the town was overreaching with the proposed bylaw. Councillors were disappointed that the focus of the bylaw had morphed from a measure to prevent the development community from clear-cutting trees on lands proposed for development into an overall tree bylaw that would apply to everybody.
“I don’t understand why we are casting this wide of a net,” said Deputy Mayor Peter Bordignon. “Have we ever had a problem on agricultural or regular ownership land in town? Have we had a complaint? Why govern something that is not a problem? The problem is in development and that’s what we should concentrate on.”
Coun. Rob Sampson said the problem of trees being removed from development properties is a big enough issue to be the sole focus of the bylaw and he said the town has the opportunity to send a message and bring in controls to stop that practice.
“If you choose to go out and wipe out every tree and then come to us for approval, you may find yourself at the back of the line. That’s how serious we need to get. That needs to be some meaningful teeth behind that,” said Sampson.
Coun. Paula Hope was also concerned that the development issue was not the focus of the bylaw.
“I share the disappointment with not starting with clear-cutting. Why was clear-cutting not addressed first?” Hope asked. “We need to send a message to our development partners that this is unacceptable and cannot go on.”
Town staff explained that they are walking a fine line with a tree bylaw. Municipal authority on the matter comes from the Municipal Act and there are limitations. Intermediate Planner Travis Sandberg explained that the bylaw is attempting to address the development issue, while at the same time including exemptions to avoid overreach.
“What we’ve been trying to achieve is to prevent pre-development tree removal,” said Sandberg. “The intention was not to burden the existing residential lots.”
CAO Shawn Everitt said it’s important to take the draft bylaw to the general public for consideration.
“We’re sort of in a spiral with this and need to take it out of the committees. We need to hear comments from other residents outside those committees,” said Everitt. “They may not agree with this. We need to use very plain language and it needs to be upfront about what is being captured in this bylaw.”
After a lengthy discussion on the issue, council voted in favour of moving forward to schedule a public meeting to receive feedback on the draft bylaw.