In Pitt Meadows, you don’t own a tree on the boulevard in front of your property until it becomes an expense, according to Archie Blankers, one of many residents with a tree blasted by Saturday’s storm.
The 30-foot tree in his front yard, near the sidewalk, had two large, main branches that broke off in the Saturday’s high winds. Now it’s dangerously lopsided and has to come down.
And the city says Blankers has to pay for its removal.
The damaged tree should be the city’s responsibility, he maintains, because it is on the street side of his water shutoff – on city property.
Reinforcing that point, city hall has already claimed ownership of the tree. About two years ago, Blankers approached the city to have the tree either pruned back or removed. He was worried that the tree, which was a two-metre sapling when he moved in 30 years ago, had grown into a hazard.
City hall’s horticulture supervisor said “hands off,” telling him it was a healthy tree.
As Blankers predicted, Saturday’s high winds tore main branches from the tree. They fell and blocked off 114B Avenue, but fortunately the only casualty was the tail light of his neighbour’s truck.
He and the neighbours cut and piled the branches. City staff showed up and took away the material on the street, but left the blocks of wood that were on his lawn.
Blankers called the city and asked that they remove the maimed tree entirely, saying it is now dangerous and likely to fall. City hall agreed and gave him permission to cut the tree – at his own expense. The city maintained the tree is not its responsibility.
“It’s on the street side of the water cutoff, which makes it a city tree. Technically, it is a city tree. But because they didn’t plant it, they are disavowing responsibility,” Blankers said.
“They’re hiding behind a technicality.”
Blankers has received quotes of $650 and $700 to have the tree removed. Complicating its removal is a B.C. Hydro box positioned at its base, which could be damaged if the tree fell. Because of the large number of problem trees after the storm, he cannot get the work done for about a week.
“I don’t think I can wait much longer than that,” adding that he will have to pay for the tree removal, petition the city to change its policy, and then hope to be reimbursed.
He spoke with Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker, who invited him to attend a council meeting, to ask for the policy change.
“Everyone has been nice, but nothing’s going my way,” said Blankers.
Becker said he sympathizes with Blankers, but city policy can’t be applied on an ad-hoc basis – it must be the same for everyone.
That policy says the city will prune and look after the trees that it plants, and it maintains a database of all of that topiary.
When the city inherits trees that other parties have planted on the city right of way, it retains some ownership rights about what is done to those trees – such as cutting or pruning. However, the policy said such a tree’s removal is the responsibility of the property owner.
“That is the current policy. I concede, it seems a little odd,” said Becker.
“I take his point.”
He suggested there is potential for change, saying the new council is “looking at things with new glasses on.”
Becker added that changing the policy could cost the city thousands of dollars more every year.
Blankers said a “meathead” must have written the boulevard tree policy in Pitt Meadows.