A North Vancouver developer has completely redesigned part of a city project to preserve one much-loved cedar tree after the community rallied relentlessly to save the urban giant from destruction.
The tree, on the corner of 21st Street and Eastern Avenue in Central Lonsdale, was originally slated to be cut down mid-March to make way for the redevelopment of the Harry Jerome Neighbourhood Lands.
The cedar, which is estimated to be 205 years old, based on its circumference, will now stand tall for generations to come thanks to residents’ persistent protests and efforts to be “a voice for the tree,” which led developer Darwin Properties to hold off on cutting down the conifer to reinvestigate whether there was a way to save it.
After engaging an arborist who determined the tree is healthy, with a root system that is wide and shallow, Darwin’s entire team of architects, engineers and consultants began working to redesign a six-storey rental building planned for the site.
After originally saying it couldn’t be done because of the tree’s location, the team found it was possible to save the tree after all. On Wednesday (April 21), Darwin officially announced the rental building had been redesigned to accommodate the tree, and the City of North Vancouver is working with them to support the new plans.
'We take it to heart when we hear from the community'
Oliver Webbe, Darwin Properties chief executive, said as a North Shore developer, they were part of the community too, and, as such, it was their responsibility to listen and respond to concerns. Having leased the property from the City of North Vancouver several months ago, Webbe said project plans and buildings on the site had already been approved.
“When we got ready to mobilize on the project, it was then that we learned that this tree was a significant part of the community,” Webbe explained.
“There was a tremendous outpouring from the community. As a resident of the North Shore – I’ve lived here my whole life – I take it very personally, and take it to heart when we hear from the community that we live in on things that we think that we can improve, and this was one of those.”
Webbe said the team spent the last four weeks redesigning the building, carving into the original design, to make saving the tree a reality.
“We had a fantastic plan, though plans can always be improved,” he said, adding it was a significant undertaking and change of direction for the building.
“We worked hard to find a solution to ensure the preservation of the tree. The entire southeast corner of the building has basically been carved out to build around the tree. We will set the building back to make sure it's far enough away from the roots in order for the tree to be undisturbed and stay there forever.”
While the changes have come at a high cost and will cause construction delays, Webbe said it was worth the trouble.
“Although it significantly delays the delivery of rental housing on-site, we know the tree means a lot to many people, and we are proud to have found a solution that allows the tree to remain in the community,” he said.
“We're as excited as the rest of the community that we were able to come together with the city, our consultants, and design team to make it happen.”
He said the company is grateful to the community for its patience as they explored the history and viability of the tree and all possible solutions.
The city announced in December 2020 it had signed a 99-year lease and issued development permits for Darwin and Sunrise Senior Living to begin work on the first residential building and assisted living facility in the multi-phase project. Darwin will build two six-storey midrises at the site of the decommissioned North Vancouver Lawn Bowling Club. The lease will put $50 million in the bank for the eventual rebuild of the Harry Jerome Community Recreation Centre.
Back in March, when nearby residents found out the tree was destined to be felled, they quickly came together, organizing petitions and protests to save the community conifer. From March 15, the Save Our Cedar group collected more than 20,000 signatures in support of preserving the tree.
Residents overjoyed the cedar tree will live on
Now that the group's hard work has paid off, Shari Nelson, one of the residents who has been fighting to protect the tree since day one, said she was “feeling elated.”
“I’m feeling really pleased and proud of everyone’s efforts,” she said.
“The journey that we’ve been on has been really overwhelming, inspiring, and beautiful but at the same time, it has been full of angst. Seeing Darwin come around really does inspire you, as to what you can do, not as an individual, but as many individuals coming together.”
Kathryn Swift, a fellow nearby resident and tree activist, was almost in tears when she heard the cedar was going to be preserved.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am and the rest of the hard-working, determined, passionate folks who never gave up on working with Darwin and the city to save our cedar tree are,” she said.
Swift said Darwin had proven to be a local, environmentally caring company that listens to the people.
“After the year and a half we’ve all had, with COVID-19, new variants, economic instability, and isolation, Oliver Webbe and his crew at Darwin have certainly given many people hope, joy, and the belief that respect, listening and co-operation can ensure everyone wins," she said.
Darwin also highlighted that as part of the overall development, an additional 40 older significant trees will be preserved within the city’s new, one-hectare public park on Lonsdale Avenue.
WE SAVED THE CEDAR! "Darwin Properties is pleased to announce that we have identified a solution to preserve the cedar...Posted by Save Our Cedar - North Vancouver on Wednesday, April 21, 2021