White Rock council has suspended its policy on tree management on city lands for a single block of east Semiahmoo Avenue, following a plea from a resident at the Oct. 4 council meeting.
Council voted 5-2 for the suspension of policy 611, which stipulates that trees on city lands can be pruned or removed to restore an established view, but at the expense of the applicants, who must also shoulder the costs of planting replacement trees elsewhere on city property.
Council’s decision effectively waived some costs and reduced others to residents for the removal of 11 fast-growing cottonwood trees on the property in question, which have been impinging on neighbouring properties and their views.
But Coun. Erika Johanson, chair of the environmental advisory committee, warned that the suspension is, as Mayor Darryl Walker described it, a “one-time motion,” – not a general relaxation of the policy.
“I just want to make sure this is not an example or a precedent for future decisions,” she said.
Michael Weiner told council he had applied for the removal of the cottonwood trees from city property adjoining his own, in the 15600 block of Semiahmoo Avenue.
He said the trees had self-seeded on the property, and were on land that had not seen trees in recent decades.
“The historic ambience of this city property was only blackberry bushes and second-growth shrubs,” he said. “No trees were present on this city property for years and years.”
Inconsistencies in the policy and the history of vegetation on the property, he said, suggested that “it may not be the residents’ responsibility to remove them,” he said.
“As a result of additional investigations…it is our belief that the City of White Rock actually bears responsibility for these trees self-seeding in the first place, by providing a fertile environment for them to grow after clearing the site to assist in the construction of a retaining wall for two new homes built below, several years ago, on Moffat Lane,” he noted.
Residents were willing to pay the estimated cost of $2,000 for removing each tree, Weiner said, but not the $22,000 per tree stipulated by the policy.
Following a previous delegation to council concerning the cottonwood trees, Weiner said, he had been encouraged by Mayor Darryl Walker to work with the engineering department to resolve safety and aesthetic concerns.
The long-term objective of the policy, according to the policy itself, is to “ensure the sustainability of the City’s urban forest assets by increasing the number of healthy trees and amount of tree canopy in the City, without negatively impacting established views that are important to City of White Rock property owners and the City.”
But Weiner said the way the policy is written gives no leeway to staff to negotiate a solution to unanticipated problems.
“After submitting a Policy 611 application, there is no stated mechanism, whatsoever, for anyone in the engineering department to deviate from the contractual obligations for the applicants, as stated in the policy, regardless of extenuating circumstances surrounding the trees’ origin, growth and required maintenance,” he said.
Following Weiner’s delegation Coun. Helen Fathers moved that “council suspend policy 611 and proceeds with waiving the tree replacement fees in regards to city property located at the 15600 block of East Semiahmoo Avenue for the 11 self-seeded cottonwood trees.”
Her motion stated that standard road alteration fees, permits and deposits “pertaining to work on the city boulevard” would continue to apply.
The motion passed, with Johanson and Coun. Scott Kristjanson voting against it.