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Tree that shields home from lights at centre of Saanich land dispute

Adrianne Wicks wants the district to ensure work on the Shelbourne improvement project doesn’t end up killing the tree, which she says is essential to her daughter
Adrianne Wicks, centre, with daughters Savannah, 21, left, and Siera, 22, near the large cypress tree in their front yard that is the subject of an expropriation dispute with the District of Saanich. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

A Saanich homeowner is hoping to make a deal with the municipality, saying it will mean her daughter can stay in the family home.

At issue is a tree and a triangular stretch of land, about 132 square feet, that runs near Adrianne Wicks’ home at 3341 Shelbourne St., widening out where the property hits Knight Avenue. The land is being expropriated by the municipality after several attempts to make a deal with Wicks failed. Saanich wants the land for its ­Shelbourne Street upgrade.

Wicks said she isn’t concerned about losing the land, but she is worried about the future of a tree on the northwest corner of the property. The tree protects her daughter Savannah, as it shields the home from the ­flashing lights of a new crosswalk installed as part of the Shelbourne improvement project.

Wicks, who has lived at the address since her parents bought the home in 1973, said her daughter has a seizure disorder and can be affected by the lights at the crosswalk.

“It’s a controlled crosswalk, meaning it’s going to sit and flash and then when someone wants to cross, they press the button and then it turns to a solid colour,” said Wicks, who has asked if Saanich could install another kind of crosswalk.

Saanich has said it will try to save the tree, which is in the cypress family, but Wicks worries that if the tree does not survive the road improvements, there’s no guarantee the district will replace it with a mature tree that will shield the home from the crosswalk.

She also noted she will not be able to replace the tree as it wouldn’t be her property.

In an emotional address to Saanich council Monday night, Savannah, 21, said she has autism and a seizure disorder and doesn’t want to be forced to move. “My home and neighbourhood are safe places for me because I know the area well. I know how to access the bus in my neighbourhood.”

Council voted this week to pause expropriation and give Wicks and district staff 28 days to work out a solution.

A staff report noted the district has been in contact with Wicks since last spring. Wicks declined a first land acquisition offer. When Wicks expressed concern the tree would be removed, the district redesigned plans to try and retain the tree and a new acquisition offer was prepared.

Wicks again refused, which kick-started the expropriation process this spring.

Harley Machielse, Saanich’s director of engineering, said the challenge is there’s no certainty the tree will survive construction. “Expropriation allows us that opportunity to remove the tree, should we need to in the future,” he said. “We aren’t going into this looking to remove the tree immediately.”

In an interview, Saanich Mayor Dean Murdock suggested there could be a fix.

“I think council felt that there was an opportunity for further ­discussion between staff and the homeowner to identify a positive resolution,” he said. “So council hit the pause button and asked staff to continue that ­conversation.”

Coun. Karen Harper said pausing the process was a key step. “If we’re going to have discussions with the people involved, I think it comes across as a far more sincere discussion, quite frankly, if it’s done in this way as opposed to under the hammer,” she said.

Harper said she hoped staff would be creative in coming up with a solution. “I think this is one of those really unusual cases I would say, where it behooves us to consider looking at things a little perhaps differently than we might otherwise look at them.”

Coun. Colin Plant said it’s time for Saanich and the homeowners to determine what it’s going to take to make it happen.

“Because in my mind, this project needs to happen. This project is going to happen — it’s just going to happen in a way that will hopefully meet your needs,” he said.

The Shelbourne Street Improvement Project includes improving cycling facilities, pedestrian safety, transit infrastructure, underground utilities and asphalt.

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