After a whirlwind 72 hours, Langford council voted to approve its tough new tree protection bylaw during a special council meeting.
Langford Mayor Scott Goodmanson reiterated comments he’d made the previous day, saying the city’s hand had been forced by several instances of unpermitted tree cutting.
“We did not want to be doing this right now,” Goodmanson said. “We felt our hands were being forced by a small number of people stepping outside the tree regulations.”
A number of residents spoke in favour of the bylaw, although there were several who were angered by the requirements to have trees assessed by arborists to verify they are dangerous trees prior to having them cut, as well as the short turnaround time for the bylaw.
“This bylaw is going is to cause a lot of hardship,” said Langford resident Nirmal Johal. “The cost is going to put a large burden on a lot of people.”
The city addressed some concerns, noting the bylaw does not prevent people from trimming a tree of branches, so long as it doesn’t kill the tree.
The bylaw prohibits the cutting of any tree with a trunk diameter greater than 20 centimeters measured at a height of 1.4 metres above the undisturbed grade of the land. There are several exceptions in the bylaw, but also stiff penalties. Under the Offenses Act, council can seek financial compensation through the courts of a minimum of $5,000 per tree. The city’s bylaw department can also impose a fine of $1,000 per tree.
The bylaw is a temporary measure meant to give council more time to develop a comprehensive tree management plan.
One resident suggested the fines be pooled into a fund to help cover the costs for residents of getting a tree assessed, something city staff said they would study.
The tree protection bylaw was first presented in a special council meeting on Monday after it was added to the meeting as an extra item. Initially, the agenda only had one item on it, calling for an in-camera meeting for the “receipt of advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege, including communications necessary for that purpose.” But prior to the meeting’s 1 p.m. start date, the extra item was added. Then the special council meeting on Wednesday was announced, to allow residents to have their say.
Coun. Colby Harder said the quick turnaround initially gave her pause but likened the bylaw to a tourniquet.
“It’s hard to have a discussion with no trees left.”