Sidney council this week reluctantly voted to overturn a staff decision and allow developer Nu-View Homes to remove a healthy protected fir tree from a waterfront property, saying it would serve the greater good.
The tree’s removal paves the way for Nu-View to remove the existing home on the site by barge, rather than demolishing it, as it subdivides the lot at 2549 Shoreacres Rd. for two new waterfront homes.
Council wrestled with the application before approving it in a 4-3 vote, with Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith and councillors Sara Duncan, Terri O’Keeffe and Chad Rintoul voting in favour of the tree’s removal.
Councillors Steve Duck, Scott Garnett and Richard Novek all voted against allowing removal of the tree.
McNeill-Smith said council took into account the fact the tree was protected and growing in an environmentally sensitive area as defined by the Official Community Plan, but he said protecting that one tree would mean the house would be razed to accommodate redevelopment of the land.
“I appreciate the arguments put forward on the importance of the tree canopy, but I think in this particular instance that the environmental impacts of removal of the tree versus demolition of the house favour retaining the house,” McNeill-Smith told council.
In an interview with the Times Colonist, he noted the developer made it clear the existing home would be destroyed if it could not be barged off the land.
“I think [the community] will appreciate the balance that council is trying to find. I think the community appreciates we are considering the circumstances in each situation.”
House-moving company Nickel Bros. told town staff that unless the tree was removed, there was not enough space on either side of the property to remove the house from the site.
Nickel Bros. indicated a buyer on one of the Gulf Islands is willing to purchase the house, which was built in 1997. The company said while the house could be sectioned into pieces and removed, it would add significant cost to put it back together again.
In its report to council, town staff noted the existing house is in “excellent structural condition,” and moving it would prevent it from ending up in the waste stream.
Before voting in favour of removal, Duncan said she found the entire application “stomach turning” because of the position council was put in.
“Either decision we make, we are bad guys here,” she said, noting the existing home is fairly new and was sold this year so the lot could be subdivided for more luxury homes. “All we’re going to do is make additional luxury housing for somebody at the expense of having gotten rid of a bunch more of our trees,” she said. Blocking the removal, however, would mean demolition and tonnes of material sent to a landfill, Duncan said.
Garnett said while the house could be saved and re-used, the tree plays an important part in combating climate change.
“So you take away trees, you’re making things worse. Yes, we plant trees in their place, but it takes a long time for those trees to provide the same benefits to the community,” he said.
Nu-View has said it will follow the town’s guidelines and replace each protected tree removed with three others.
McNeil-Smith said the environmentally sensitive areas and the town’s urban forest strategy weighed heavily in the decision, but when council learned the existing house would go one way or the other, it opted for the less harmful option.
He also noted there is no clause in the existing tree protection bylaw that allows for tree removal to allow moving a home from a property, and said town staff have suggested the bylaw be amended to include allowing tree removal if it means a home can be relocated rather than demolished.
Staff did allow one of the other trees on the property to be removed due to its poor health and approved pruning of two others.
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