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Dozens of trees cut down illegally

Accused business owner had asked for rezoning of Central Saanich land

A Central Saanich business owner is being accused of illegally cutting down dozens of trees.

The municipality of Central Saanich is alleging that Randy Sewell, owner of Raven Metal Products, cut down trees without a permit at 1870 Keating Cross Rd., in the Keating Industrial area.

While no one from the municipality will say how many trees were cut down at the end of last month, Coun. Adam Olsen said it was a significant amount.

"This is a serious incident," he said.

Yesterday, there was hardly a tree in sight on the 2.8-hectare property. According to the Capital Regional District's natural areas atlas, the land was once a dense swath of forest.

Behind a small white bungalow, thick logs lie cut into sections on top of each other next to piles of tree brush and dirt.

Council put a stop-work order on the property Jan. 23 to prevent Sewell from removing any logs so an arbourist and bylaw enforcement officer could survey the damage.

Sewell has long been fighting the municipality to rezone the property from rural to industrial so he can expand his business, which produces architectural sheet metal. He has complained to council about a lack of industrial space in Greater Victoria.

His request was turned down in 2007.

Central Saanich Mayor Jack Mar said Sewell came to him about two weeks before the trees were removed, asking about how to apply for a tree-cutting permit.

Most of the trees on the property were cut before municipal staff could intervene, Mar said.

Central Saanich updated its tree protection bylaw this summer to prevent removal of trees of a certain species or size.

Garry oak and dogwood are two of the protected species believed to have been cut down, said Mar. Other protected trees removed include yew, arbutus and nesting trees. Trees over 60 centimetres in diameter at chest height are also included in the bylaw.

Sewell faces a fine of $100 for each centimetre of trunk diameter at chest height that was cut, which Olsen said could add up to a large sum. Sewell did not respond to repeated calls and e-mails for comment.