Gibsons tree bylaw process criticized at public hearing

A proposed tree preservation bylaw in Gibsons went to public hearing Sept. 14, even though it didn’t have to.

Mayor Bill Beamish opened the hearing by saying although a public hearing is not required for this type of bylaw, council felt it would be an effective way of getting input.

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“Given the limitations on meeting together we felt that the public hearing was the best process to do this,” Beamish said. “We felt that this [hearing] would give people an opportunity to speak to council, to make submissions and to be heard on this matter.”

The 38-page bylaw sets out an extensive list of protected trees such as arbutus, Pacific dogwood, Garry oak, cedars and hemlock and establishes procedures that would minimize tree removal, prevent damage or destruction of trees, and impose mandatory conditions for tree replacement.

In a presentation to explain the bylaw, Town staff said one of the reasons a new bylaw is being proposed is that “clearing larger lots for development in addition to individual tree removals by homeowners has led to an incremental decline in canopy cover that is difficult to offset on a limited amount of public land… Unregulated tree removal on both private and public land can affect trees on adjacent land and the overall ecological function of the urban forest.”

The written submissions were nearly two-to-one in favour of the bylaw, but the speakers who came forward were evenly split.

Those in favour tended to highlight their support for the bylaw’s overall goals; the main objections were that the bylaw is too complex, doesn’t address issues like view protection and imposes penalties that are too harsh.

There were also objections about the process.

Town resident Dennise Dombroski said in a written and oral submission that she objected to council moving forward without input “from a committee of citizens as was originally proposed.”

The owner of a local tree service, Murray Walker, told councillors that while he agreed a new tree bylaw is overdue, the bylaw “puts serious roadblocks and red tape and even financial burdens on homeowners” and “takes away a property owner’s right to maintain their own trees as they see fit and grants that authority to [the Town].”

He also said that even as a professional he found the wording of the bylaw “tough to follow.”

One of the more extraordinary objections was that the section of the bylaw authorizing Town staff “at all reasonable times to enter upon and inspect any lands” to check on possible bylaw violations amounts to a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

While the bylaw is scheduled to go to council for third reading on Sept. 15, several speakers on both sides of the issue suggested councillors pull the bylaw back for more public consultation and possibly impose a moratorium on tree cutting until a new bylaw is adopted – something Beamish acknowledged as the hearing was wrapping up.

“It’s a balance we’re trying to find,” Beamish said. “I appreciate that everybody does at least have the understanding that trees need to be preserved, that trees are important and that trees are a valuable resource and provide a valuable function in our community and around our community, and those are important starting points.”


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