About three dozen people packed White Rock City Hall chambers Tuesday to voice their opinions and concerns regarding the city’s policy for tree management on public lands.
While emotions were tempered, frustration was evident as residents questioned and criticized points ranging from slope stability to the city’s definition of an “established view.”
Rob Thompson, the city’s director of engineering and municipal operations, conceded view is not an easy thing to define.
“It’s in the eye of the beholder, it really is,” Thompson told the crowd. “I struggled with this in developing this policy.”
The meeting was the result of controversy that erupted in January, after trees on city land in the 15100-block of Royal Avenue were removed because they were blocking views. The applicant’s request had initially been denied, but was granted by council on appeal – allowed for in the policy that was approved by council in June 2010.
Removing that avenue for appeal was among several suggestions for change in a revised tree management policy that Thompson presented to council this past July.
Other suggestions included replacing a provision that allows residents to apply for the pruning or removal of any tree on city land with one that allows applications to prune or remove a tree that has grown to obscure an established view; and that applications regarding city trees only be considered from White Rock property owners who have lived at their property for at least two years.
Thompson also suggested that applicants be made to prove a view has become obscured by growth; and, have support of 80 per cent of respondents living within 30 metres of the tree in question.
Receiving public input on all of the revisions was the point of Tuesday’s meeting.
Suggestions from attendees that received wide support were for the policy to be made a bylaw; for violation fines to be higher; and for the time residents have to oppose or support an application to be extended beyond the current two weeks.
The tree policy also needs to deal with those residents who plant on city land without permission, often as a means of extending their own property, said Larry Robinson.
“People planting trees on city land, those trees should not be protected,” Robinson said.
Thompson noted that problem is rampant in White Rock, rooted in a history of people simply being allowed to do what they want with city land. In some areas, homeowners have erected fences on city road allowances, and are benefiting from property they don’t pay taxes on, he said.
“People just take it for granted that it belongs to them, and it doesn’t,” he said.
Doug McGinn, whose application on Royal Avenue sparked the debate earlier this year, said whatever policy results, it needs to consider the views of everyone.
“We have to find a medium here,” he said. “It’s easy to say cut nothing.”
Other suggestions for the tree policy were for it to include private trees as well; that it ensure trees are dealt with at a time of year that won’t further impact their health; and that attached values of trees be “dramatically increased” to reflect “appropriate international standards.”
Two areas of concern that Thompson and city arborist Aelicia Otto said couldn’t be addressed in the city’s policy were that of trees on the waterfront – on BNSF land – and of trees in BC Hydro right-of-ways. The city has no jurisdiction in either case, Otto said.
A second public meeting on the policy is set for 6-8 p.m. Sept. 22 in council chambers, 15322 Buena Vista Ave. Thompson told Peace Arch News comments from both meetings are to be summarized, with proposed revisions expected to be brought back to council in October.