Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Vecchiato's Voice - May 1, 2007 - Council Axes Tree Bylaw

The article in the Langley Times ("Council axes tree bylaw," Friday, April 27, 2007), reeked of veneer observations of the entire process.

As stated in the article, the incipient process of drafting a by-law was motivated by delegations from 1/4-lot owners. Their properties shared a large stand of trees, and when a new buyer purchased a lot, he cleared the parcel. Specialists were called in, and homeowners were advised of wind throw, weakening of root systems which know no property lines, and collapsed septic fields for older lines and roots become intertwined. The concerns were realistic and are constant problems when one property owner clears without consulting neighbors. This applies to treed lots that are adjacent to one another only.

The task forced appointed by the Township consisted of 3 1/4-acre lot residents, a Brookswood Secondary student, a Brookswood resident with 5 acres, and a Fernridge resident. Those of us with 1/4 acre lots opted for firmer restrictions; however, knowing the emotional climate of Brookswood, the following items were discussed and agreed upon:
--That a permit system would never work in Brookswood
--That the area subject to discussion was 10' from the property line and in accordance with the building code of 10' buffers
--That if a property owner wanted to clear all the way to the fence, then s/he must grind the stumps. Grinding, we felt, would act as a deterrent as it is more expensive than total removal.

Task Force members received a preliminary draft on March 5, 2007, and the last draft the week of the open house. During this time period, a permit requirement for any tree removal was added, and any protest was too late for Council or the Open House.

My concern is: How did our volunteer task force time get so convoluted by staff? Mr. Houlden and Councillor Vickberg were present at all the meetings, and I feel an issue of sacrificial lamb is lingering behind Township doors. My understanding is that legal opinion from Township said the by-law was only viable if a permit was in place. However, several by-laws in the Lower Mainland and on the Island do not demand permits for a limited amount of tree removal.

Our former planning director had every by-law in his office, so there was no shortage of research information. My feeling is that those whose salary we pay did not want any sort of by-law to pass, knowing the general sentiment of personal property rights, which stirs Canadian emotions as much as hockey games.

Township has wasted taxpayer dollars performing this silly and lengthy draft that did not conform at all to what was proposed. Over five years ago, I had proposed, via delegation, a bylaw that allowed 3 trees per year without a permit. I never received any response.

I think Council and staff should rethink what they have done to the public and to those of us who volunteered our time. If we paid staff members to pull this permit by-law out of it's magic but ever-so-slow hat, it should not be at our expense. Education was also mentioned, and perhaps if educational material was enclosed in tax statements, we can make a start at enlightening everyone about the need for wildlife habitat, the legal aspect of clearing when an active nest is present, carbon dioxide absorption, spiral pruning to prevent wind throw, and how root systems intertwine, thus preventing blow downs. In addition, the constant references to neighbor-against-neighbor can be demonstrated in the fact that the purchaser sold the property after clearing, that residents beside those who overkill clear cannot help but to groom an intense distaste for their inconsiderate neighbors. The animosity exists now; the task force recommendations were fair and based on compromise.

Should my summary of recommendations be off base, I ask that other task force members make clarifications. As for the observation, "it is a classic case of our inability to read the public," I think, instead, it was a classic case of staff's inability to read recommendations.

The favor of a reply is requested and reconsideration of our original recommendations should be made public and put to open house.
Cathleen Vecchiato has been an outspoken environmentalist for the past 6 years. She is a very well recognized champion of the environment and a community activist in Langley as well as in other adjoining communities. Cathleen formed and leads the Langley Conservation Network.
Editor's note: Cathleen was one of the appointees to the Langley Township Brookswood tree bylaw task force.

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