Tree bylaw getting closer

Potential new bylaw would allow suburban residents to cut down as many trees as they want on their property, with caveats.

Shady Lane

Shady Lane

Homeowners can let a tree grow to a diameter of 20 centimetres before they will need a permit to chop it down. And if people want to butcher a hedge or take it out entirely, they can have at it, subject to certain restrictions.

After hearing from hundreds of residents, staff presented Maple Ridge’s new tree management bylaw Monday.

It’s still in draft form and will allow suburban residents to cut down as many trees as they want on their property, providing they get a city permit and the city agrees that the tree cutting won’t hurt their neighbours’ properties. As well, a rough ratio of two trees per urban lot has to be maintained.

The new bylaw, to be tweaked for further review by council, could also change the future look of Maple Ridge.

Instead of clearcutting in advance of building homes, developers now must have a tree-management plan that recognizes the value of trees on a building site.

Coun. Tyler Shymkiw said he liked the bylaw, and wanted to support it, but didn’t like the $500 fee developers would have to pay to clear a site.

“I’m just reminded of what a top-down big government approach this is to all of this.”

Speirs though disagreed and said the new bylaw is needed.

“We’ve had nothing but problems with bottom up, no government,” he said.

That’s why we ended up where we are today, “because of lack of control and a free for all.”

Speirs wanted to ensure there was some enforcement available against developers who disregard staff direction on tree removal.

The bylaw brings changes to people in the rural areas, where previously there was no restriction on tree cutting.

“Before, you could down every tree on your lot, which was sometimes hundreds of trees,” said environmental planner Rod Stott.

That was happening, he added.

And previously, buyers moved to Maple Ridge because they wanted to keep the natural environment. Now, buyers may have other goals, such as developing their property, or maybe just don’t want trees on their property.

Under the new bylaw, people in rural areas will be able to cut five trees yearly, on five-acre properties, providing a 16 tree-per-acre ratio is maintained – without having to go to city hall and get a permit.

But if they want, they could also mow down every tree on their property, if they pay a $500 permit and $25 per tree cut.

But that doesn’t mean there are no rules at all.

Depending on the property, the homeowner could have to do drainage, aquifer or erosion studies to show that tree cutting won’t affect the environment.

They’d also have to agree to replace those trees with an equivalent number on their property or pay the city cash in lieu.

“We can’t stop people from taking down trees on their land,” Stott said. However, the educational part of the bylaw is aimed at persuading people about the value of keeping trees.

Tree cutting is still banned outright along streamside areas or on steep slopes or environmentally sensitive areas.

Another part of the bylaw tries to make it easier for residents to rid themselves of nuisance trees — either dead, dying or trees too close to buildings.

Permits are still required, but if staff agree, fees can be waived for such purposes.

Coun. Gordy Robson wanted to ensure that agricultural land was minimally affected.

“I think this is more of a tree protection bylaw gone wild.” Costs will be too high and the bylaw protects weed trees such as poplar, alder and cottonwood, he said.

“I think the rural area has to be far looser than this.”

But Robson said he supported tree retention and protection of the tree canopy in the urban areas, and protection of heritage trees, “but not on the farms.”

“I do believe that we have to get ahead of developers.”

The politicians looked at the first draft of the bylaw following an extensive public consultation that included an open house and an online survey that drew 639 completed questionniares on how trees should be protected or removed.

Coun. Kiersten Duncan wanted stands of old growth forest preserved when new suburbs are planned.

One possible addition to the bylaw would be specifying what types of trees can be cut and what should be replaced.

To guard against clear cutting in advance, council passed an interim bylaw earlier this year to keep people from chopping down trees before the bylaw was in place.

That’s resulted in 87 tree removal permits issued,

Council will consider passing the bylaw this summer, after staff prunes the draft bylaw.