Burnaby, BC council to review new amendments to tree bylaw

June 12, 2013

By: Burnaby Now

New amendments include changes to private lands and increasing the maximum penalty by five times.

New amendments to the tree bylaw aim to give it a stronger bite than bark by increasing its maximum penalty fees to $10,000, and expanding its range to all private lands and city-owned lands.

The city has been reviewing the tree bylaw since Oct. 3, 2011, when council last received a staff update on the issue. At its June 10 meeting, council will review the amendments, which will then go to the public for feedback.

"The existing tree bylaw has served the city well since 1996, in addressing specific concerns around tree protection associated with development of one and two-family residential lots," the planning and building report states.

The report outlines the city had "founding principles" for the tree bylaw, such as a balanced approach, reasonable cost, simplicity and effectiveness, and the urban forest, which "should recognize that trees on private and public lands are an important component of the urban forest and ecology of the city."

The proposed amendments address five key directions: scope of the tree bylaw, size of protected trees, tree replacements, enforcement provisions, tree permit fees and residential boulevard trees.

One of the new proposed approaches defines its scope. Currently, the bylaw only applies to single and two-family lots subject to an application for a building or demolition permit.

The new bylaw would apply to all private lands, both during and outside of the development period; and city-owned lands, when subject to a development application.

"The most significant change that would arise from expansion of the scope of the tree bylaw would affect lands not within the development approval process, as the trees on all lands would become subject to the provisions of the bylaw," the report states. "Specifically, this approach would require a tree-cutting permit to remove specified trees on private lands that are not in the development process, and on city lands under private use (e.g. rental and leased properties)."

The proposal also seeks to strengthen the current enforcement program by increasing the penalty for cutting a protected tree without a permit and increasing the maximum penalty from $2,000 to $10,000.

Changes have also been proposed to the permit fee structure - allowing for maximums starting at $500 to $3,000, depending on the property and whether or not it's under development.

The proposal only focuses on significant trees, over a defined size, to limit the impact on city resources.

The amendments specify two different size classes of protected trees, depending on whether or not the lot is subject to development, according to the report. For lots going through a development application, any tree 20 centimetres (eight inches) or greater in diameter is protected; lots where no development application applies, any conifer tree 30cm (12 inches) or greater, and broadleaf tree 45cm (18 inches) or bigger is protected.

"On a per-tree basis in Burnaby, conifers generally provide more environmental and community benefits, and are therefore proposed to be more broadly protected ... ."

The new criteria to permit the removal of protected trees are designed "to allow for removal of trees in a variety of supportable circumstances, to enable property owners to protect property on their land, while also ensuring trees are not removed unnecessarily or for reasons such as minor inconvenience or aesthetic preference."

A tree-cutting permit would be issued if the tree is unhealthy, structurally unsound, obstructing sight line on roadways, or has fewer than 10 years of a healthy lifespan, among others factors.

Under the new proposal, a tree can not be cut because it's shading the yard or house; is dropping leaves, needles or other material; if it attracts bugs, birds or other wildlife.

"In the event that a protected tree did not meet the proposed criteria allowing for its removal, staff would endeavour to work with the land owner to address the particular concern through dialogue including education about tree health and risks, the intent of the city's regulations and policies for tree retention, and recommendations for pruning or other non-destructive treatments," the report states.

Under the current system, tree replacement is a condition that "may be applied," with a ratio less than one-to-one, overall.

The proposal aims to make tree replacement mandatory and the number of replacement trees are required to be scaled to the size of the tree that was cut.

The next step will be to put forward the new tree bylaw amendments through a public consultation process. Feedback collected from the public will go towards a follow-up report to council.

"Burnaby's landscape was originally covered in ancient forests dominated by Hemlock, Cedar, Douglas Fir and Spruce trees," the report states. "Today it is characterized by a variety of urban land uses, as well as tree and forest types that have evolved through natural and cultural processes, resulting from the historical and ongoing development of the city."

The consultation will happen from summer to early fall this year, and the follow-up report is expected for this fall or early 2014.

Burnaby aims to preserve more than 25 per cent of its land base as public greenspace, according to the report, including Burnaby Mountain, Central Park, Burnaby Lake and other areas.

Burnaby Now


John Chttick said on Thu 13th Jun, 2013 at 11:36:

Municipalities that engage in such hubris should be compelled to assume full liability for all damages that result from all trees. Public benefits shouldn't come without public costs.

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