Councillors in Gibsons say they’re disappointed they’re only hearing now that BC Housing wants trees beside its supportive housing project on School Road removed, despite the fact an arborist recommended it in September of 2019.
A report from director of infrastructure services Dave Newman, presented at the March 17 council meeting, said, “Although nothing specific was mentioned as a condition … the goal of retaining the mature fir trees within the road dedication along the O’Shea Road frontage was understood by all parties.”
But BC Housing and its contactor Metric Modular have now come to the Town with the arborist’s report showing “possible issues for the retention of the trees.”
Newman told council the arborist found issues with the future stability of the trees “as they now sit” and recommend the trees, which are on Town property about a metre from the property line, be removed.
“There’s some concern the roots will be impacted by the excavation necessary to construct the foundation of the building… The arborist is concerned that might further impact the health of these trees,” Newman said.
Newman’s report also acknowledged the delicate position removing the trees would put council in.
“There may be challenges in communicating council’s decision should council approve the removal of the trees as there has been some scrutiny of recent decisions about trees made by council,” Newman said in the written report.
“In addition, there was mention made during the various processes that were required to allow the development of this property, that the trees would be retained and that they provided some screening of the building.”
“[This is] not good news,” said Coun. David Croal. “Throughout the whole process of this supportive housing [project], the big factor was the gaze among other things, so we’re sort of sitting here with a bit of egg on our face at the moment.”
Croal and others on council said they were dismayed and disappointed that the tree removal request was based on information BC Housing and Metric Modular had in 2019, but did not share with the Town at the time.
Coun. Stafford Lumley said keeping the trees figured into his support for the project.
“That was part of my decision and it comes up now?” Lumley said. “Would we be removing these trees if this development hadn’t come up? Was this on the radar for the Town? I really feel uncomfortable going back to the neighbours. It was such a controversial topic. It’s been so quiet and now we’re going to say, “Oh by the way, we’re cutting down the trees.’ It would be like reliving the horror show over and again.”
“I’m very disappointed,” said Coun. Aleria Ladwig, who has consistently voted against the project. “The developer knew all the way along – I don’t know why they didn’t bring this to us. It does seem very deceptive to me now… They should have said right from the beginning those trees will have to go.”
“I agree it seems deceiving,” added Coun. Annemarie De Andrade.
“Even the architectural renderings of the building showed the trees at the time and there was a certain satisfaction they were going to stay there and we told people they were going to stay there,” said Mayor Bill Beamish. “It’s very frustrating.”
Council voted unanimously to keep the trees in place, and request a staff report on options for a bond to cover the future removal of the trees if necessary after construction and provision of new trees elsewhere in Gibsons as compensation, as well as a requirement to have BC Housing come back to the Town with a detailed landscape plan for replacement of the trees before removal would be approved.
BC Housing is expected to start construction soon, but there was no timeline given for the report on the trees.