A new tree preservation bylaw for the Town of The Blue Mountains remains a lightning rod topic in the community.
On May 30, The Blue Mountains council held a public meeting about the proposal to implement an updated tree preservation bylaw. Public reaction to the proposal was mixed with many speakers supporting the initiative and encouraging the town to toughen up the draft regulations, while others questioned the legality of the entire exercise.
For several years, the town has been in the process of developing a new tree preservation bylaw that would replace the town’s existing bylaw. The process has been ongoing since 2019 and multiple public engagement sessions have been held over that period of time.
Town staff had sought to advance the process in September 2022, but the outgoing council decided to defer the matter for the new council to decide.
“We are seeking to bring it to its conclusion,” said the town's director of planning and development services, Adam Smith.
The town began the process to update the tree bylaw after public concerns were raised about development lands being “clear cut” of trees years in advance of the development proceeding.
The draft bylaw would bring in new permitting requirements for tree cutting in the designated settlement areas of the town. The requirements would apply only to lots half a hectare in size or larger and a permit would be required only if a property owner was removing five or more trees or a tree with a diameter larger than 30 cm. The regulations would not apply to trees on agricultural or specialty agriculture land.
Smith presented three options at the public meeting: continuing with the existing bylaw, implementing the new bylaw or deferring the process until the town completes its natural heritage study, which would delay the process into 2024.
There was plenty of support for the bylaw at the meeting, with several speakers asking that the town reduce the size of the lots being regulated in the bylaw.
“It’s very, very clear the public very much cares about trees,” said Betty Muise of The Blue Mountains Tree Trust, who asked that the bylaw apply to all lots and include meaningful fines.
Kay Schultz also supported the bylaw and said the new bylaw would help eliminate “the senseless destruction of our most precious assets.”
Pamela Spence urged the town to get the bylaw in place.
“We need to do this. I hope you take bold action to move this forward,” she said.
Other speakers, however, questioned the need for the bylaw and suggested it wasn’t legal for the town to implement such a measure.
John Ardiel called the proposal “totally illegal.”
“Lower tier municipalities do not have the legal right to put in a tree cutting bylaw on private property,” he said.
Bob Weirmeir, vice president of the Ontario Landowners Association, also questioned the legality of the bylaw.
“I’m all for tree preservation. We should all do our part,” he said. “I’m not sure the authority is in place to be putting this bylaw through.”
In response, town staff told CollingwoodToday in an email that the town has the legal authority to implement such a measure.
“Section 135 of the Municipal Act empowers lower-tier municipalities to enact bylaws regulating the destruction or injuring of trees. The current bylaw has been in place since 2010 and the draft presented in 2022 was subject to legal review by the town,” Smith said.
Members of council also expressed mixed opinions on the proposed bylaw.
Coun. Gail Ardiel said she felt the town should implement measures to control tree cutting on development properties.
“There are developments on the books for 25 years and it’s a shock to the community when all of a sudden the lands are clear cut. They cut every tree they possibly can. That’s where the problem exists. It’s with the developers,” said Ardiel. “It’s not residential people cutting down trees or agricultural people. I have a tough time with this tree bylaw.”
Coun. June Porter expressed support for the bylaw and suggested staff should consider a fourth option: implement the bylaw as an interim measure to be updated when the town’s natural heritage study is complete. Porter said in that scenario the town would be “making progress, instead of sitting and waiting.”
“The value of trees and the value of the environment is critical,” she said.
Council made no decision on the bylaw at the meeting. A full staff report will come forward soon summarizing the public’s reaction to the bylaw and options for council to consider.