About 1,000 people have had input into the city’s proposed tree protection bylaw over the past nine months.
Their opinions range from those who want “outright protection of all trees,” to those who want “no government interference on private property,” explained city environmental planner Rod Stott, who presented the latest version of the bylaw to council at Monday morning’s council workshop.
Stott said the public wanted more tree protection, to prevent irresponsible tree cutting, and large-scale removal of trees
He presented a report that has had considerable public input, including 650 online questionnaires, 150 people who attended an open house about the bylaw, and some 200 emails and phone calls.
The public is asking for a strong tree protection bylaw, an inventory of heritage trees, higher permit fees and penalties for infractions, and measures to prevent the clear-cutting of forested areas, he said.
There is also demand for some flexibility from rural property owners, to maintain their properties, remove problem trees and cut firewood.
“That’s been a very strong message,” said Stott.
As a general rule, rural property owners will be permitted to cut 10 trees per year without permit. The bylaw will further allow up to 20 alders and cottonwoods to be cut each year without permit, because these species make up about 80 per cent of the hazard trees in the city, he said.
The bylaw also had input from 25 tree experts, was reviewed by city solicitors, and council has been informed at three different workshops.
Several councillors expressed concerns that the bylaw doesn’t go far enough in protecting trees.
“I’m highly concerned about the protection for trees in our community,” said Coun. Corisa Bell, adding an advisory committee should make recommendations to create an inventory of heritage trees.
She also noted that trees with heritage value were cut at the Ridge Meadows Hospital to make way for more parking space.
Bell said she would like to see residents required to post signage warning of tree cutting 24 hours before the work is to be done, so neighbours can see it.
Coun. Kiersten Duncan said trees on Shady Lane and at cemeteries should be protected as heritage trees
Stott responded that the best approach is to protect tree stands as heritage trees, rather than individual trees.
Coun. Bob Masse asked whether under the new bylaw most trees could be cut, for any reason including the owners are “tired of raking leaves,” as long as the owner gets a permit,
Stott answered that trees of significant size and those close to property lines will be those the city aims to protect.
“If you’re going to deny a permit, you have to have to have very specific reasons for what you’re denying it for,” he told council.
Coun. Craig Speirs wants the issue of heritage tree protection referred to the heritage commission.
He would also like to see a process for the public to nominate trees for heritage protection.
“We need to be able to capture the social/spiritual values of stands of trees in general,” he said.
“Trees outlive us, and they provide a sense of context and place.”
He said the bylaw should work to build up the tree canopy in urban areas of the city.
Stott noted that in most North American cities the standard is to have 40 per cent tree canopy cover over the municipality, but Maple Ridge will likely exceed 50 per cent, with a 30 per cent canopy on developable lands.
Coun. Gordy Robson asked if cost recovery is built into the new system.
Staff answered that a city arborist position will be funded from the tree cutting fees, which will generate an estimated $130,000 per year, to more than cover costs.
Stott said “final tweaks” to the bylaw will be made, and council will see the final revisions at their committee of the whole meeting on Dec. 7, before the bylaw advances to first, second and third readings.
The bylaw, once passed, will be reviewed after a year in operation, with a report back to council.