THE District of North Vancouver has moved one step closer to adopting tough new rules aimed at protecting the municipality’s biggest trees — including those on private property.
At a meeting July 9, councillors voted a bylaw past third reading that would make it illegal for homeowners to cut down trees on their property with a diameter greater than 75 centimetres without a permit, threatening violators with fines of up to $10,000 for going ahead without permission.
Heritage trees, wildlife trees and waterfront trees would also be protected under the new regulations, and any application to cut down one of the protected trees would have to be accompanied by a report from an arobrist.
While the change will likely meet with objections from some residents, it moves the municipality closer to striking a balance between individual rights and the community value placed on trees, according to councillors.
“Every time a large, significant tree falls in the district . . . it has an impact,” said Coun. Alan Nixon, who voted in favour of the motion. “And it’s not always a happy impact.”
Not everyone at the meeting was in favour, however. Although he ultimately voted for the revision, Coun. Mike Little questioned whether the new rules gave enough latitude to homeowners.
“I’m still not completely comfortable with the amount of oversight left in the hands of staff,” he said. Little also raised the issue of trees casting imposing shadows over neighbourhoods and impeding public space.
“We don’t have a particular shortage of trees on the North Shore,” he said.
But Nixon argued the abundance of trees wasn’t reason enough to defeat the plan, pointing to the lack of trees in lower British Properties as a cautionary tale for the district. He said he would not want to live in that environment.
“I would find it quite oppressive,” said Nixon.
A second aspect of the bylaw also drew fire from residents at the meeting. Under the new rules, cutting or damaging any tree on district-owned land would be forbidden without a permit. Applicants who want to do work on district property would sometimes be asked to provide a security equal to 125 per cent of the value of the trees or of the work, as estimated by the district, up to a total of $10,000. If the applicant failed to complete the work, the district could use the money to finish the job.
That could be overly restrictive for residents facing fire hazards caused by trees, according to Banff Court resident Bill Tracey, who spoke at the meeting on behalf of his strata council.
“Some of our residents are concerned that there are conifers that overhang our property,” he said, referring to a piece of public forestland adjacent to the complex. “If it’s a district tree that’s causing a fire hazard, then we shouldn’t have to pay for it,” he said.
Coun. Doug MacKay-Dunn voiced support for Tracey, noting that a large percentage of seniors who live in Banff Court have expressed concerns about the risk of a fire.
“This is all about prevention. I’d rather pay for prevention than pay for consequences,” said MacKay-Dunn.
Discussing Banff Court, Little said other communities institute a boundary equal to the height of the trees between a forest and a building to prevent fire.
District arborist Mark Brown conceded that the complex is likely a mid-level fire risk relative to other areas in the municipality, but noted residents have options.
“The concerned residents can always apply for a permit to do the thinning,” he said.
A homeowner considering chopping down a tree should be advised of other options by city staff, according to Nixon.
Under the new rules, any application to do work involving a large-diameter tree must include a report from a tree risk assessor declaring the tree a hazard. If removing the tree would affect the ecology or slope stability of the area, the district may refuse to issue a permit.
Muri and several councillors stipulated that it was still a work in progress.
“I’m sure we will talk about this again,” she said.
“We will be back to this, likely making changes,” Mayor Richard Walton agreed.
The bylaw will come back for a final reading at a future date.