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Monday, February 26, 2024
Resident leads opposition to tree cuttings on neighbouring lot
Resident and former councillor Stuart McCormack wants to stop unnecessary tree cutting in Old Town. EVAN LOREE

A custom home builder wants to tear down a house on Simcoe Street and put two up in its place. 

But neighbour Stuart McCormack says it’s a bad idea, and he’s got 780 signatures backing him up. 

The ex-councillor and Simcoe Street resident has been circulating a petition since Jan. 2 looking for support to protect trees from unnecessary cuttings in Old Town. 

He came to council Tuesday night asking it to reject a proposal that would see the removal of 11 trees from 474 Simcoe St., which is next door to his home.

“The applicant has failed to a) establish the removal of the trees is for anything other than convenience and b) failed to assert, let alone prove, that the proposed severance will maintain or improve the block face,” McCormack told council. 

He said the proposal violates the official plan, which says, “existing trees must not be unnecessarily removed and that wherever possible existing trees should be preserved and protected.”

“In my opinion you are being asked to approve the removal of trees not for necessity, but for convenience on the basis of a non-existent house design,” he added.

Councillors shared a mix of feelings after McCormack’s presentation but in the end supported the application from property owner Dave Funk of DF Design and Build.

Town planner Kirsten McCauley explained the application was for a zoning amendment and the decision to sever the lot would be made by the committee of adjustment later.

She said the severance could be granted on the condition that the owner make further efforts to protect trees on the lot. 

And with designs for the future homes still pending, the applicant is flexible on what gets removed, said a report signed by McCauley and attached to the meeting agenda.

Still, Coun. Sandra O’Connor said this was “our last chance” to talk about the preservation of trees on the lot.

“These are huge mature trees that deserve special consideration,” she said.

“The bigger the tree, the better to help with climate change,” O’Connor added.

And Coun. Wendy Cheropita pointed out eight trees slated for removal were listed as healthy.

“I would rather see development work around those trees,” she said.

“A lot of trees have been removed, because of development, along that street,” she added.

William Heikoop, a planner retained by Funk, told The Lake Report the trees on the property are about as old as the house itself, which was built in the 1960s.

“Boulevard trees certainly aid the streetscape, however generally from time to time renewal is an opportunity to plant new trees that would last the life cycle of the new dwellings,” the planner from Upper Canada Consultants said in an email.

A planning report signed by Heikoop said the applicant would plant new trees to replace those that are cut down.

Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa said he was in favour of the application and the recommendations from staff to approve it.

“This is a severance that is meeting all of our planning guidelines. It’s meeting all the guidelines that the province is dictating,” he said.

Coun. Erwin Wiens asked if McCormack’s house had previously been severed from an adjacent lot.

While Zalepa said the question was inappropriate, McCauley later confirmed with The Lake Report that McCormack’s house was in fact permitted through a severance granted about 10 years ago. 

“I don’t think I single this one out in particular,” McCormack said when asked why he named 474 Simcoe St. specifically in his petition to prevent tree cuttings in Old Town.

“Sooner or later, you have to decide whether you’re going to take a stand,” he said, adding there were numerous locations around town where trees had been clear-cut by developers.

McCormack said he had a personal interest in keeping the trees up.

“I like the shade.”

The second reason, he said, was climate change.

“Last year was by all measures the highest year on record and mature trees play a role in mitigating climate change,” he told council.

Heikoop’s planning report said the proposal helps the town to meet its growth and intensification targets.

“Do you think adding one more house where there’s already one in place makes a material difference to the housing stock of the province of Ontario? I don’t,” McCormack said.

Wiens, on the other hand, said it was unreasonable to think every tree can be saved.

But for McCormack, a line needs to be drawn somewhere.

“It doesn’t make any difference until they’re all gone,” he said.

McCormack also alleged that profit was the reason for building two houses instead of one. 

“Just because they’re running a business doesn’t mean that they don’t conform with the objectives and policies of a province, region, town, etc.,” said Heikoop.

He and McCauley both said planning policies are not hierarchically ordered. 

A mandate to preserve trees is not more important than a mandate to increase housing stock, for example.

“If we leave this property undeveloped because of the trees, are we truly meeting the other objectives and policies of the official plan? No,” Heikoop said.

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