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Update: Tree protection bylaw passed

Bob Long proposed a modified interim ban on clear-cutting trees in Brookswood that increases the allowable limit. - Dan Ferguson / Langley Times
Bob Long proposed a modified interim ban on clear-cutting trees in Brookswood that increases the allowable limit.
— image credit: Dan Ferguson / Langley Times

An eight-tree limit has been set for Brookswood/Fernridge.

An interim ban on clear-cutting was given final approval at a special Tuesday night meeting of Township council.

It passed 5-4 after 50 minutes of often-heated debate, with Councillors Bob Long, Kim Richter, David Davis, Steve Ferguson and Michelle Sparrow voting yes and Mayor Jack Froese and Councillors Grant Ward, Bev Dornan and Charlie Fox voting no.

Long revived the interim tree protection bylaw when he proposed a modified prohibition that would allow more trees to be cut.

The original proposal by Richter would have fined property owners for cutting more than three trees per acre.

That proposal was narrowly defeated at the April 14 meeting of Township council by a 5-4 vote, with Long one of the votes against.

Long proposed reviving the ban and expanding it to allow cutting 12 trees or 30 per cent whichever is less, but reduced that to eight trees and 20 per cent of the property after some quick negotiating at the council table with Richter, who wanted lower limits.

With Long now voting in favour, the measure had the necessary numbers to win preliminary approval Monday, followed by final approval at the special Tuesday meeting, scheduled to ensure the law took effect as soon as possible.

The “interim tree-cutting bylaw” will remain in effect until a new official community plan is approved for Brookswood/Fernridge or a permanent tree protection bylaw is passed.

It sets out fines of up to $10,000.

During the Tuesday night meeting, Councillor Ward tried to have the vote deferred so the issue could be sent to staff for study, a move Councillor Richter said was an attempt to “obfuscate and delay” and one that failed to find enough support.

An irate Ward complained that council was catering to a vocal group.

It is a group that does not represent the opinion of most Brookswood residents, Ward said.

“Yes, some people feel that Brookswood and Fernridge are going to hell in a hand-basket but their few pictures fail to present the whole picture,” Ward said, adding “huge numbers” in the area oppose the restriction as an infringement on property rights and they will make their opinion known.

“This is being driven by a few,” Ward said.

That drew a sharp retort from Richter.

“Give me a break,” she said, adding the Long bylaw would give council breathing space to draft a permanent tree protection bylaw.

Mayor Froese appealed for civility during the debate, saying councillors should stick to the issues rather than attack each other.

Davis said the bylaw was needed because “there’s a paranoia that when the trees are coming down, high-rises are going up”, a reference to complaints that property owners were clear-cutting because they anticipated a proposed new official community plan would permit higher-density housing.

As it turned out, the new plan was rejected by council after a marathon public hearing dominated by opponents.

Fox said he opposed the clear-cut ban because it will pit “neighbour against neighbour” and it wasn’t clear how the the bylaw will be administered.

“This interim tree cutting bylaw will come into effect immediately after fourth reading and we have nobody to enforce it, no structure for reporting, fines and the like,” Fox said.

Long said his modified proposal better deals with clear-cutting without unduly interfering with property owners.

“I think this is a good compromise,” Long said, adding the eight-tree or 20 per cent limit was a “considerable amount of lumber.”

Long called the sometime heated tone of the Tuesday debate “disturbing.”

Opponents and supporters of the interim ban made their pitches to council at the Monday meeting that voted to give preliminary approval.

Roland Seguin said “a large silent majority” opposes a tree cutting ban, something he said would interfere with property rights.

“Cutting trees should be our decision,” Seguin said.

Kerri Ross said Langley needs a tree protection bylaw like other Metro Vancouver municipalities have.

“I don’t understand why people are afraid of proper management,” Ross said.

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