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Plea to protect huge tree at North Vancouver development falls on deaf ears

With mature trees being lost at an alarming rate, local advocate Alex Jamieson is lobbying for their preservation to be considered in all future development projects
Alex Jamieson stands beside a fir tree that will soon be copped down to make way for the North Shore Neighbourhood House rebuild project in North Vancouver. Jamieson is lobbying the City of North Vancouver to include preservation of large trees in future projects. | Paul McGrath / North Shore News

An old fir tree facing the chop to make way for a new housing development is pushing one North Vancouver man to call for more consideration for nature on the North Shore.

The City of North Vancouver has partnered with Catalyst Community Development to rebuild the North Shore Neighbourhood House in a project that includes an 18-storey affordable housing tower at St. Georges Avenue and Second Street.

It’s likely the rebuild plans, particularly phase 2 of the project which sees the build of 180 new affordable rental houses and a 30,000-square-foot new home for the North Shore Neighbourhood House, will cause the removal of a particularly tall fir tree – much to the dismay of retired architect and city planner Alex Jamieson.

“I’m just appalled that a city would propose such a stupid plan, knowingly,” said Jamieson, adding how developers have already “whacked a couple of trees” for the first phase.

Jamieson said the tree itself is not particularly beautiful (it has a double leader which is “sometimes frowned upon”), but it is the biggest tree in the neighbourhood, and perfectly healthy.

The sizable fir brings birdlife to the area and, most importantly, sequesters carbon at a rate that would be impossible to replicate with just a scattering of smaller trees, he added.

“We’re having an extreme weather crisis, and as a society, we’re going to have to change the way we do things," said Jamieson. "This is a perfect example of that.”

The former planner stresses he still wants to see development plans continue, just with the preservation of the tree in mind.

“With some care and some work from arborists they can do this. If site planning is done properly you can just build around it, or move your building a little bit, and you have a nice front yard for your community centre,” he said.

Jamieson had reason to be hopeful – if his suggestions were given the green light, it would mark the second time his passionate lobbying has incited change. In May of last year, he successfully campaigned to save an old Deodar cedar due to be chopped outside Lions Gate Hospital, to make room for short-term parking.

An online petition to save the tree racked up more than 3,500 signatures, and in response the project team removed two parking spots, shortened a third stall and redesigned an entryway to the building to accommodate the cedar.

In this case, however, the City of North Vancouver shows no signs of budging.

“We have reviewed the plan that Mr. Jamieson has offered and, while we do our best to encourage the retention of trees on each development site, the complexity, multiple uses and technical requirements of this particular project – the site’s zoning requirements, the grade, and the projected impacts on these trees – mean Mr. Jamieson’s proposed option is not viable,” said City of North Vancouver spokesperson Amanda Gibbs.

Gibbs said city arborists have studied the condition of the fir and found that its root system would not do well with the level of development activity required for the rebuild. In short: the trees near the development would not survive even if the plan allowed the city to retain them or build around them.

The longer term plan for the project will include a “landscape and park design plan that will look at how to ensure shade-friendly tree canopy for the site,” she said.

Gibbs acknowledged the city’s recently announced urban forest plan, which will provide guidance on how to adapt and expand tree cover in the city when it is finalized in winter this year. The plan was a response to a passionate plea from council in July last year, requesting property developers be more considerate of preserving large and mature trees. 

In the short term, however, there are “several trees” slated for removal, said Gibbs. 

On February 28 Jamieson set up a petition, Save the Fir tree at St. Georges and Second Street, that calls on Catalyst Community Development Society and the City to reconsider their plans for the site. As of February 29, the petition had garnered 43 signatures. 

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.