Langford council has voted unanimously to adopt a new temporary tree-protection bylaw in reaction to a series of tree removals in the district.
The bylaw prohibits the cutting down of any tree with a trunk diameter greater than 20 centimetres, as measured at a height of 1.4 metres above ground, without a permit. There are exceptions for trees cut down to adhere to provincial regulations, for city walkways and trails, and those authorized under a development permit.
The new bylaw, which goes into effect immediately, will last for six months, with fines up to $10,000 for those found violating the new rules.
Dozens of Langford residents called in or stepped up to the podium during a two-hour public meeting Wednesday to weigh in on the new bylaw, with the majority backing council’s decision.
Many said they were happy to see council acting quickly and look forward to a permanent tree protection strategy.
Some suggested the temporary bylaw would act as a stop-gap measure until that permanent solution is in place.
The bylaw is the city’s response to several property owners removing trees that could have been retained through existing city processes, without seeking the required approvals.
In a report prepared for Wednesday’s council meeting, staff noted there were a number of instances where trees were removed without permits. The staff said the removals appeared to be tied to the fact council was considering a tree management policy.
Residents addressing council said they had been dismayed by the number of trees taken down recently and suggested the existing tree-protection measures are inadequate, a tree-management policy is long overdue and fines for contravention should be significant enough to deter others.
Some, however, raised concerns about the added costs of a policy that would require arborist reports before trees could be removed, while others questioned the cost of policing such rules.
Still others suggested the policy would affect jobs and development, especially during an economic downturn.
The city noted, however, that trees can still be removed through the permit process.
Mayor Scott Goodmanson said the bylaw is geared to protecting trees in the 25-30 per cent of the district that is not already covered by development permit area policies.
“There is vast tracts between downtown and forested areas that already have a process to remove any trees, whether it’s a single tree, a dozen trees or a thousand trees,” he said. “When people are asking or suggesting that this is going to kill jobs and so on, this isn’t changing those existing rules that are already there. Those are the same rules that have been used by businesses and development previously.”
It would also not apply to any work, like pruning, done to maintain a tree.
City staff also clarified that there would not be any added bureaucracy to remove a dangerous tree, and that anyone would have to have that tree assessed as they would previously.
Under the bylaw, the city could seek financial compensation through the courts of up to $10,000 per violation or per tree, while city staff can also impose a fine of $1,000 per violation or per tree without going to court.