Although Niagara-on-the-Lake residents have said they overwhelmingly support a tree bylaw that would apply to private property in urban areas, a decision before council last week was deferred.
A consulting company hired to gauge residents' interest in a tree bylaw reported results to council in July, saying 88.5 per cent of the 600 who answered a survey said the Town should have a bylaw to protect trees in urban communities.
After having talked about it for more than three years, council agreed at that meeting staff should have a draft tree bylaw prepared by August, with answers to questions such as a fees, penalties, enforcement, and the need for a tree inventory, with a goal of having a bylaw approved before the end of this term of council.
At last week's committee meeting the draft bylaw drew a lengthy debate, with some councillors asking for some changes.
Coun. Jim Collard wasn’t happy with the draft bylaw set out before him – he was concerned about the rights of property owners, the cost of removing a tree, the penalty for not replanting a tree, the requirement of an arborist and the need to exempt some weed and problematic trees.
He described the draft bylaw as “brutally difficult” and a “hammer” that would hit residents hard.
Councillors debated whether to make amendments to improve the draft bylaw before it returned to council for final ratification, and in the end approved the report as it was written.
But when presented to council for ratification this week, it stalled. Collard was disturbed that he didn't see any changes to the bylaw reflecting his concerns, and suggested the deferral until September's committee of the whole meeting, which could still allow for approval of the bylaw at the last council meeting of this term.
“We can debate this ad nauseum tonight,” he said, “or defer to next month so we can sit with staff to talk about it. Would council be willing to set this aside for a little more time for some sober second thought?”
He suggested councillors who continue to want changes to the bylaw could meet individually with staff to voice their concerns.
Craig Larmour, director of planning, said it was going to be difficult to try to balance differing opinions of councillors. “I don't know how I can possibly bring forward a bylaw that's going to make any sense,” he said.
But with only three councillors asking to discuss changes to the draft bylaw, it was agreed it could come back to the next committee meeting in September.