SPECIAL TO NIAGARA NOW
Niagara-on-the-Lake councillors hope to plant the seeds that will eventually blossom into a robust bylaw to protect the community’s tree canopy.
But the draft bylaw to protect trees on private properties in the town’s five urban areas drew a heated debate, lasting more than an hour at Monday night’s committee-of-the-whole meeting.
The proposed bylaw, which most of the councillors supported but admitted still needs some rejigging, would require residents to obtain a permit, with some exceptions, before a tree could be removed on private property. It also calls for a site visit with a qualified arborist before a permit to remove a tree can be issued, and a $500 penalty if a tree isn’t replaced by the property owner.
They also were given an option to decide against implementing a private tree bylaw in favour of increasing public education and awareness as well as enhancing public participation and involvement, but councillors didn’t choose that option.
The need for a tree bylaw was a response to developers clear-cutting lands. In 2017, the town hired Lura Consulting to engage in public consultation to determine if there was support for one. The response was yes, with more than 600 stakeholders and residents participating in online surveys, interviews, and an open house held last year.
Coun. Jim Collard wasn’t happy with the draft bylaw set out before him and expressed his concerns about the potential impact it could have on residents because it only deals with some, not all of the residential properties in the community.
“It will set up two classes of property owners: those who may have to pay a fair amount of money to remove a tree from their property and those that can do whatever they want,” he said.
He didn’t like the idea of charging residents a large penalty for not replanting a tree. He also wanted to see the exemption section of the draft bylaw expanded to include weed trees and problematic trees such as the ginkgo.
Collard said a ginkgo is beautiful when it’s small, but once it grows to its full height, it might not be what someone was expecting.
“What if it’s a female ginkgo tree planted right outside your door? Female gingkos produce vegetation fruit that when it smashes on the ground or someone tracks it, it smells like vomit. But we’re going to charge somebody $500 to take that tree down because it’s not on the list?”
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 before the end of their term in office, which is fast approaching.
Coun. Terry Flynn said the council should support the report in principle to get the ball rolling on the bylaw and give staff some feedback in the coming days to make improvements before it returns before them at the September council meeting.
“I don’t think we’re going to do this tonight. We’ve had three and a half, almost four years to listen to residents’ input. Our next meeting is in two weeks, let’s move forward on this, give some input to the staff and let’s have a wholesome discussion at our council meeting.”
He said if a special meeting would be required to finish it, then so be it.
Coun. Betty Disero argued if the council wants to get it right, now is the time, not later.
“If we want to make some changes, we need to let staff know that,” she said, adding, “at least let’s give them something, otherwise you’re going to have the same bylaw.”
Coun. Jamie King said he supports a tree bylaw in principle and accepting the report before them would be considered a show of support. Instead of rushing the report, he said councillors needed to “put (their) pride aside for the town.”
Coun. Maria Bau-Coote didn’t agree with making any amendments to the report because she felt it was being rushed.
“I will not have any participation in this bylaw whatsoever. I feel we are doing this half-assed, willy-nilly, putting things together, scrambling, and I really don’t like it and I don’t want to be part of the conversation because this is not how we make decisions.”
Council approved the report as it was presented. It passed with both Collard and Bau-Coote voting against it.