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Dec. 16, 2018 | Sunday
Local News
Editorial: Trees can be protected
File photo.

All last and this week, trees, mostly healthy, some very old, were removed to make way for what is expected to be a subdivision.

There has been no application for a subdivision made to the Town’s planning department, so for the developer, this is the perfect time to remove the trees, with no tools from any level of government in place to stop it.

Residents are protesting the removal of trees on specific properties that were the focus of this week’s concern, but this is not the first developer to send in the chainsaws before the official planning process begins.

We can only hope it might be the last time residents feel so powerless over the loss of trees.

This situation is the very reason why the last term of councillors started talking about a tree bylaw four years ago. Along the way, they learned such a bylaw cannot be aimed only at developers — it has to include all private property owners, although it can, and would have been limited to urban areas.

This was the struggle.

The intent of the early discussions wasn’t to stop a resident who needed to cut down a tree to install a backyard pool, or because it was overhanging a neighbour’s fence. It was to stop developers from clear-cutting before embarking on a planning process that requires, at different stages, reports from arborists, tree protection plans, and opportunities for council and the public to become involved in the discussion of whether trees can be protected or will be removed.

This at great expense and inconvenience to the developer who just wants to get on with the project.

But because discussions of a tree bylaw went back and forth between staff and council so many times, with some confusion of what was really wanted and how to accomplish it, time ran out. The bylaw presented during the last meetings of council was complicated and aggressive. It would have presented an expensive burden on home owners who want that backyard pool. It required so much more work — dead trees versus healthy, desired species versus undesirable, permits required, arborist reports, how to stop clear-cutting developers without infringing on the rights of home owners. After lengthy debate, it was not approved, but rather left to the next council to decide. It wasn’t put off to avoid making a decision. It was to get it right, because once approved, everyone would have had to live with it.

Residents will surely continue to watch the John and Charlotte Street properties. There is a further protest planned for later this week — a parade of people marching with black arm bands, mourning the loss of trees. They’ll continue to gather when they hear the chainsaws, they will be powerless, and they’ll be angry at the developer.

But their anger is misdirected. Why wouldn’t he do on his own property what he’s perfectly in his rights to do? In preparation for a subdivision that his neighbours won’t want, any more than they want to live beside a six-storey hotel, both of which are likely to go ahead, with few planning tools to stop them.

We can blame past councils for approving a hotel on the Randwood Estate, for not approving an Official Plan, or for not passing a tree bylaw, but none of those issues were simple, especially in a small town with a small staff where people do the best they can but things move slowly. And blame at this point is not productive. It won’t change what has happened, and may continue to happen, in one of the most beautiful and historic properties in town.

What we can do is hope that a bright, new council, with energetic and passionate people who made promises they certainly fully intend to keep, can put some controls in place that will protect the trees of the future, and ensure developments yet proposed will be appropriate for this unique heritage town.

At this point, those newly elected councillors await their first meeting, ripe with enthusiasm for the tasks ahead, but possibly without fully grasping the pace at which government moves and the difficulties involved in accomplishing something such as simple as tree bylaw, which really isn’t simple at all.

Yet change can and will occur, and as most often, with painful lessons learned to move it forward.

pennycoles@niagaranow.com

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