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TBM council defers controversial tree bylaw

The Blue Mountains council has officially pushed the final decision on a controversial draft tree bylaw for the town to the agenda for the new council to be elected next month
Thornbury trees
A variety of tree species along the Beaver River in Thornbury.

If a tree bylaw falls in the council chambers, will anybody hear it?

The Blue Mountains council has officially pushed the final decision on a controversial draft tree bylaw for the town to the agenda for the new council to be elected next month.

Council made the decision at its committee of the whole meeting on Sept. 27. Council first defeated a resolution to approve the draft tree bylaw with a one-year delay for it to come into effect in a 3-3 vote, with Mayor Alar Soever, Coun. Rob Sampson and Deputy Peter Bordignon opposed. Following that vote, council then passed a resolution to defer the entire bylaw to the new council in a 5-1 vote, with Coun. Bill Abbotts opposed.

The committee’s decision will have to be ratified at council’s next meeting on October 11.

The bylaw would regulate the destruction and/or injuring of trees on town-owned lands, within identified or approved "tree preservation plan areas," and on land within the settlement areas of town which have a minimum lot size of 0.5 hectares. Essentially, any tree removal within those areas would require a permit from the town.

The discussion about the bylaw, which has been in the works for several years and has generated controversy with the public, consumed a significant portion of council’s afternoon.

Town staff presented a report that reviewed the process to develop the bylaw which included: public consultation, consultation with the town’s sustainability and agricultural committees and public meetings.

In a presentation to council, intermediate planner Travis Sandberg outlined steps staff have taken to address public concerns. He noted that the bylaw does not apply to agricultural, speciality agriculture or rural lands and only applies to lots 0.5 ha in size or larger in designated settlement areas. He said the Castle Glen property would not be covered by the bylaw, that property would be governed by Grey County’s Forest Management bylaw. Sandberg also said staff are recommending a one-year time frame for the bylaw to come into effect to allow the town to set up permit and enforcement structures and processes.

Members of council questioned the one-year delay and also continued to question the scope of the bylaw.

“Why is it not just for development?” asked Bordignon. “I still don’t have a clear and common sense answer to that. Why are we not concentrating solely on development no matter the size of the lot?

Bordignon reiterated that the original intent of developing a tree bylaw was to introduce controls to prevent vacant lots from being clear cut before the formal development process.

Sandberg said it was tough to implement tree-cutting regulations based on a property owner’s future plans.

“It’s really difficult to anticipate who may and may not have development on their lot,” he said. “It really comes down to the owner’s intent.”

Councillors Paula Hope and Andrea Matrosovs supported the draft bylaw.

“It’s wonderful we have a community so caring about trees,” said Hope, who acknowledged the bylaw wasn’t perfect. “It’s a start. It’s the beginning of protecting our trees.”

Matrosovs cited the extensive public consultation over several years on the matter. The multiple reports from staff and the various public meetings. Matrosovs also pointed out the intense work done to address public concerns noting the exemptions for farming practices and personal firewood in settlement areas.

“I’m for limiting it to the settlement areas. It does not expand into the rural area, which is regulated quite nicely by Grey County,” she said.

Coun. Rob Sampson said the perception in the community is that the draft tree bylaw is all-encompassing that will impact all property owners. He also questioned the scope of the regulations and the one-year time frame for implementation. He suggested further public consultations in order to address those concerns. Sampson initially moved a resolution to that effect, but later withdrew his motion when it did not receive support.

“On the one-year window, I can hear the chainsaws revving up,” he said. “I don’t think anybody is going to argue with the concept. We need to protect our tree resources. The focus (of the draft bylaw) has broadened past where I thought it was intended to go.”

After much discussion, council settled on a motion from Bordignon to defer the entire matter to the next council.

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About the Author: Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Chris Fell covers The Blue Mountains and Grey Highlands under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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